Best Rides: Low-traffic and traffic-free cycling in the New Forest around Brockenhurst

Route info
Distance: 24 miles
Allow: 3-4 hours including lunch
Terrain: easy, with some hills
Download: GPX file
Local maps: view here 
Refreshments: pub lunch stop in Burley
Suitable for: adults and older children 

Why go to the New Forest?
Cycling in the green open spaces of Hampshire's New Forest is a world away from the bustle of London, but is only 90 minutes from Waterloo by direct train. Christened the 'Nueva Forestra' by William the Conqueror nine centuries ago, today the National Park comprises over 200 square miles of forest and moorland, criss-crossed with excellent, often traffic-free cycle trails. The National Park even has a coastline, and some charming pebbly beaches along its southern perimeter. The more adventurous can hop over to the Isle of Wight, which is accessible by ferry from Lymington.

What are the route highlights?
Expect to encounter wild ponies, deer and pigs, along with Highland cattle, bluebells and buttercups (in season), welcoming pubs, inexpensive cycle hire (if needed), and – best of all – miles of car-free cycle tracks and low-traffic roads. Our route should take 3-4 hours with lunch, but it's easily possible to extend or shorten it with a good map (see below). 

Who's the route sultable for?
Certainly in the warmer months, cycling is extremely popular in the New Forest; indeed, this is one of the few places in the UK where you can expect to see the elderly and young children cycling on the roads. The off-road trails are typically wide and firm, so all but the skinniest tyres will survive. Much of the park is gently undulating rather than hilly, although the north-west area towards Fritham is more challenging and this route contains one moderate hill in the middle.

NB: Mountain bikers seeking technical routes will be disappointed in the New Forest, chiefly because the Verderers – the landowners and grazers who manage the forest – don't allow riders off the gravel tracks. Frustrating when horse riders enjoy free access to the whole forest. 

How to get there?
South West Trains runs regular direct services to Poole and Weymouth, all of which stop at Brockenhurst (and other stops in the New Forest too). All trains carry at least six bicycles. See the South West Trains website for its cycle policy. There are numerous car parks in the New Forest, but do yourself and everyone else a favour and leave the car at home because motor traffic on the main roads, particularly around Lyndhurst, is hellish at busy periods. If you're travelling from Southampton, there's a short ferry hop from the centre of town to Hythe on the edge of the New Forest.

Travel tip
Network railcards give one-third off rail fares across South East England. They cost £30 for a 12-month pass, but you'll soon get your money back if you travel out of London regularly.

More rides in the area?
Ordnance Survey Explorer map 22 is an excellent guide to the countless minor roads, cycle tracks and bridleways in the area. Cyclexperience hire shop (see below) rents out handy route guides and map holders with its bikes, and has some example routes on its website. We based our route on 'Burley on your backside'.  

Where to stay
It's possible to visit on a daytrip, but if you want an extended stay then the New Forest is blessed with numerous campsites, as well as B&Bs and hotels with prices to suit most pockets. Sadly, the most scenic and remote campsites have no toilets, which means they're limited to campers with their own facilities (a spade won't do). Holland Woods campsite is large and well equipped, but with plenty of trees to break up the space so it doesn't feel over-crowded even in busy periods. There are plenty of B&Bs in the heart of the Brockenhurst, with Merut offering very clean doubles from £60.

Bike shops and hire
Cyclexperience right next to Brockenhurst station provides good-quality bikes, along with paper route guides. Get there early on summer weekends because its convenient location right next to the train station can mean queues. There's a well-stocked Cyclex shop a few minutes from the station too, while Forest Leisure Cycling in Burley does spares and repairs.

Food and drink
The White Buck in Burley is our suggested lunch stop, about halfway around our route. It's a fine mock-Tudor pub, with a large garden that catches the sun perfectly. Rainbow Fish Bar in Brockenhurst. At the end of your ride, the Foresters Arms in Brockenhurst attracts locals and tourists, and offers decent food and drink. Ringwood Ales are brewed just to the west of the National Park and are found in most pubs. Further afield, the Royal Oak in Fritham is recommended for its kegs of beer and beautiful garden views, while The Lamb in Nomanslands does good pub grub.

What else could we do?
Horse riding, hiking, museums, sailing – there's no shortage of things to do in the area.  

Where can I get more info?
The official information site or Trip Advisor are good places to start.