New Forest National Park, covering southwest Hampshire and southeast Wiltshire, is a treasure chest of natural and historical beauty. Originally a Royal Forest established in 1079, it became a National Park in 2005. The New Forest is the home of many fascinating sites ranging from Tudor era fortifications to grand estates and World War Two era military sites. Some of the highlights include the Neo-Gothic Highcliffe Castle and Buckler’s Hard, which played an important role during the Napoleonic Wars.
Here are 7 of the best historic sites to visit in New Forest National Park.
1. Hurst Castle
Hurst Castle has its origins as an artillery fortress from the time of King Henry VIII. During the English Civil War Hurst Castle was used as a prison, most famously housing King Charles I. It was a major fortification that was supposed to protect Britain for potential invading forces. During the 19th and 20th centuries it was further fortified, playing a strategic role from the Napoleonic Wars to both World War One and Two.
Hurst Castle is open to the public who can explore the Tudor era keep, with spectacular views over the sea and surrounding countryside.
2. Buckler’s Hard
Buckler’s Hard has a long naval history, with the hamlet being a hub for shipbuilding. Most famously, some of the ships of Nelson‘s Trafalgar fleet were constructed in this idillic little settlement.
Visitors can not only enjoy a relaxing view over the river, but also visit the Buckler’s Hard Museum, explore the shipwright’s cottage or go on a short river cruise. During summer the hamlet offers also living history tours, with actors bringing an extra flair of excitement.
3. Eling Tide Mill
This late 18th century mill is one of two remaining fully functional tide mills in the United Kingdom. The site has been the home of a mill for roughly 900 years, though the present building was constructed in c. 1785.
Following some years of decay, the structure was restored in the 1970s and opened up to the public in 1980. These days it is run as the ‘Eling Tide Mill Experience’, which consists of a visitor centre, a cafe, the main mill building and walkways.
4. New Forest Airfields
These Second World War era airfields were the largest of their kind in the New Forest. Operational between 1943 to 1946, there were 12 airfields and advanced landing grounds in the national park. Some of the most noteworthy were Beaulieu, Holmsley South and Stoney Cross airfields. Most of these have been reclaimed by nature, though some are still visible to the human eye.
The New Forest airfields are a fascinating reminder of what a role the Second World War played in Britain and how every corner of the United Kingdom was affected in some way.
5. Breamore House
This grand Elizabethan manor house was completed in 1583, with the outside changing very little in the coming centuries. Home of the Dodington family, the house was built on the former site of Breamore Priory. In the 18th century it was purchased by Sir Edward Hulse who was the physician to Queen Anne and Kings George I and George II. Breamore House is still owned by the Hulse family to this day. The home is well known for its splendid interiors, with an extensive collection of paintings, tapestries, porcelain, 17th century needlework and a rare carpet from the times of King James I & VI.
Event though Breamore House is still in private ownership, the building is open to the public, with a cafe making sure that nobody will go hungry. The house can also be rented out for events including weddings.
6. Exbury Gardens & Steam Railway
This magnificent collection of landscaped woodland and different types of gardens is located in the village of Exbury. Founded in 1919 by Lionel Nathan de Rothschild, the grounds were designed to emulate his father’s gardens at Gunnersbury Park in London. The most exceptional part of Exbury Gardens is a shiny blue steam-train that travels through the some of the garden spaces. The attraction was built between 2000 and 2001.
Exbury Gardens are open to the general public who can enjoy its beauty all year round.
7. Highcliffe Castle
This Gothic inspired house was commissioned by Charles Stuart, 1st Baron Stuart de Rothesay in 1831. The Victorian era estate was largely built out of the stone salvaged from the Benedictine Abbey of St Peter at Jumieges and the Grand’ Maison des Andelys (both in Normandy). The castle has been described by some as the most important survivor of the Romantic and Picturesque style of architecture. The structure got heavily damaged in two fires during the 1960s, though fortunately extensive restoration works were done in the 1990s.
Nowadays the estate is open to the public who can not only explore the rich interiors of the main building but also take a relaxing stroll through the exquisite gardens.