The name 'New Forest' is somewhat misleading, as it is neither new (it was established in 1079CE), nor a forest in the current sense of the word. It is rather it is a patchwork of areas of open heath and gorselands, intermixed with forested 'enclosures'.
It was originally established by William I as a royal deer-hunting reserve. He introduced the Forest Law, a strict and savage legal code which forbade the local peasantry from doing anything that would interfere with his pursuit of deer, forbidding them from enclosing land for agriculture, for example, erecting fences or barriers, or even owning a bow. In slight recompense, they were given the right to graze their ponies, cattle and pigs in common (i.e. running free) across the forest.
The result of this regime, together with the Royal Navy's need for oak trees during the Napoleonic wars (which led to the development of the forested enclosures) has given us a unique, if very much man made, landscape. Semi-wild ponies, cattle and pigs still roam across the forest, sharing it with several species of wild deer and leading to a very special flora and fauna driven by their grazing. The ponies especially have become a symbol of the forest, and the New Forest Pony is a recognised breed.
Of late there has been a proposal to incorporate the New Forest as a National Park, although this is controversial with the local residents who currently still operate within a quite distinct legal framework (the forest has its own special courts and governances).
The New Forest has an area of about 148 square miles, and can become very busy on a spring or summer weekend. Road traffic can be a problem on the narrow unfenced roads, which all have a 40mph speed limit to safeguard the animals. Off the paved roads, however, there are miles of unpaved forest road ideal for walking and cycling.
The New Forest is very sparsely populated, but there are several towns and large villages that have good pubs and restaurants to dine at, attractions to see and supermarkets to stock up at.
Flora and fauna
As with the rest of the UK, the weather in the New Forest is notoriously unpredictable. In the winter, it will often by rainy or overcast, with temperatures at approx 10C. In the Summer, temperatures will range from 20-35C making staying in the Forestry Commision campsites a bit hot as there are no swimming pools. Spring and Autumn can be anywhere in between.
Best time to camp is early summer, visits are possible all year round (providing you don't mind getting a bit wet!)
Southampton has a relatively small airport  which has the advantage of a direct train connection to Brockenhurst. The alternative is to use one of the London airports, and then use the train or car from there.
Bournemouth also boasts a small international airport which is located on the edge of the New Forest so easy to reach by car.
Brockenhurst has a station on the mainline railway from London to Bournemouth via Southampton, which is served by at least one fast train from each of those cities every hour. It is also served by longer distance train services from Birmingham and the north of England.
There are smaller stations within the forest serving Lyndhurst and Beaulieu, but in both cases the service is infrequent and the stations isolated and not close to the places they serve.
Train times can be found on the National Rail Planner  or by calling 0845-748-4950 from anywhere in the UK.
Much of the charm of New Forest derives from its quietness and seclusion. Consider leaving your car at home and arriving by train instead.
From the north and east, the New Forest is best approached by the M27 motorway (US English: freeway). For Beaulieu leave the M27 at junction 2 and follow the signs. For Lyndhurst and the north of the forest, leave at junction 1 and again follow signs. For Brockenhurst, use either of the above to, then follow signs for Brockenhurst from Beaulieu or Lyndhurst respectively.
From the west, you can approach the forest from Bournemouth by the A337 via Lymington to Brockenhurst, or by the the A35 direct to Lyndhurst. From further west, use the A31 trunk road which bisects the forest (with very few intermediate junctions) and turns into the M27.
The Hythe Ferry  operates a half-hourly passenger ferry and pier tram service across Southampton Water from Town Quay, Southampton to the small town of Hythe, on the eastern edge of the New Forest. During the 12-minute journey, if they are in port, the ferry passes the berth of the liners Queen Mary II and Queen Elizabeth II.
There are couple of local taxi companies providing local and long distance travel services from major airports, towns, bus and rail stations to New Forest. New Forest Taxi  and Soton Taxi  and Southampton Airport Transfer Taxi  provide instant cab/taxi booking facility.
Wilts & Dorset and Bluestar operate across the New Forest, including the New Forest Tour in summer
Entrance to the park is free.
Long-term conservation and preservation are goals of the Forestry Commission. Following their simple rules will help to maintain this delicate area. In the New Forest the well-being of the animals and the needs of the countryside come first. The Codes below are provided by The Forestry Commission.
Dog Walking Code
1. If you cannot control your dog, keep it on a lead. 2. A dog out of sight may be out of control. It must not be allowed to disturb or chase livestock or wildlife. 3. Keep to the existing tracks on the forest when birds nest on the ground (1 March - 31 July). At this time, keep your dog close by or you may be asked by a forest ranger or keeper to put it on a lead. 4. Prevent your dog fouling on footpaths and around car parks. If it does foul, remove the waste. 5. Groups of dogs can be intimidating to other forest users and wildlife. Keep them under control. 6. Be considerate to other forest users, particularly children at play and picnickers. 7. Keep well away from any work taking place in the forest. 8. Prevent excessive barking from your dog.
Horse Riding Code
1. Keep to the tracks when the ground is soft or muddy. When there is no alternative, keep to a slow pace. 2. Take an alternative route to avoid soft slopes. Riding straight up and down causes erosion. 3. Avoid widening existing tracks, or creating new ones. Keep off re-seeded areas and recently reinstated rides. 4. Vary your route on the forest to spread the wear and tear. 5. Keep to the tracks when birds are nesting on the ground (1 March - 31 July). 6. Slow down and call out a warning when approaching other forest users. Be courteous and friendly. 7. Do not build jumps or create lunging areas on the forest. 8. Keep well away from any work taking place in the forest. 9. Never ride more than two abreast. Limit groups to a maximum of eight horses on the road.
Out and About guide
1. Be safe and plan ahead - follow any signs and aim to be out of the forest by dusk. 2. Close all gates behind you unless they have been fastened open. 3. Do not pick or remove plants or flowers. 4. Do not feed or disturb the common stock - ponies, cattle and donkeys. Give them space and do not touch them. 5. Take your litter home and do not light fires. 6. Keep to the existing tracks on the forest when birds nest on the ground (1 March - 31 July). At this time, keep your dog close by or you may be asked by a forest ranger or keeper to put it on a lead. 7. Keep below the forest speed limit (40 mph) and slow down when approaching walkers, riders or livestock. 8. Do not park on verges or in gateways. Use one of the many car parks. 9. Keep well away from any forestry work and obey the warning signs.
1. Keep to the way-marked gravel tracks when cycling in the forest. 2. Slow down and call out a warning when approaching other forest users. Be courteous and friendly. 3. Take extra care when nearing horse riders. When in a group, all cyclists should pass the horse on the same side. 4. Do not startle ponies, cattle or wildlife. Go slowly and give them space. 5. New Forest is perfect for social rides, but avoid riding more than two abreast. Ride in single file if you think cars can overtake you safely. 6. Keep well away from any work going on in the forest. 7. Do not pass any vehicle loading timber until you have been told it is safe to do so. 8. Use the map, and plan to be out of the forest by dusk.
The New Forest has an excellent network of footpaths, rides and forest roads which can be used by walkers and hikers well away from any motor traffic. Indeed you are free to wander where you wish in much of the forest area.
Be aware that the distances involved are not insignificant, and the conditions underfoot can be very variable. Walking boots and decent walking clothing are advised.
With a good network of gravel rides and forest roads open to cyclists and walkers, but not to cars, cycling is a really good way to see the New Forest. Because of its popularity, there is a good selection of cycle hire outfits, which can supply adult and childrens bikes, trailers, etc. Here are some of them:
The New Forest Tour operates a tourist bus service around Lyndhurst, Beaulieu, Lymington, Brockenhurst and many intermediate rural locations, and runs with low floor easy access buses hourly throughout the summer check at: thenewforesttour.info  for times.
Additionally there is a network of conventional rural bus services running on the main routes in the forest. Traveline  provides an online travel planner for these services, which can also be contacted by calling 087-608-2-608 from anywhere in the UK.
The road network within the New Forest is fairly limited in its extent, although all the major villages are served. The roads are quite narrow and can suffer congestion from too many cars, which takes away the area's charm. As most roads are unfenced, drivers need to be constantly aware of the possibility of encountering animals on the road, especially at night. Although the forest is subject to a blanket 40mph speed limit think about yours and others' safety and drive at 20mph. You will see more that way!
The main thing to see in the New Forest is the forest itself. Throughout the forest there are areas of heathland, forested enclosures, upland streams and the free roaming New Forest Ponies.
However there are some more specific attractions, as described in the following sections.
The Northern Forest is that part of the forest north of the very busy A31 road which bisects the forest and forms something of a barrier for both visitors and the local flora and fauna. Compared to the Southern Forest, the Northern Forest is higher and has more open heathland and less woodland. With a smaller population and fewer roads, this part of the forest tends to be less busy.
Other than the forest itself, there are a few other attractions.
The Southern Forest is that part of the forest south of the A31. This is lower lying, with a greater proportion of woodland although heathland still occupies a significant proportion of the area. The Southern Forest is more inhabited, containing all the major forest villages, and tends to see more visitors.
There is a very good bike store in Brockenhurst, which will be able to supply most parts to allow you to make any repairs. The also hire bikes out.
There are camp stores in Lyndhurst.
There are numerous camp sites in the New Forest, but wild camping is not allowed.
Forestry Commision Sites
These are all run to a very high standard. They all offer wash huts with hot showers and flushing toilets, drinking water, and some have campsite shops offering gas and food etc.
The ponies here are wild and although pretty, are best left alone. Do not feed them as this encourages them to pester people for food and never get between a mother and her foal as they will kick out.