Things to see and do in Fordingbridge
- Credit: Emma Caulton
Fordingbridge defies expectations. Get busy, busy, busy in this seemingly quiet corner of the New Forest with a landscape dominated by the River Avon. Emma Caulton feels enthused
Fordingbridge gets forgotten. In the north-western corner of the New Forest, where Hampshire abuts Dorset and Wiltshire, it doesn’t draw attention to itself – unlike Beaulieu, Burley and Brockenhurst in the southern part of the Forest. That means it doesn’t draw the crowds either. Even in the height of summer you can find a quiet spot to retreat and draw breath. The town itself is full of intriguing independents, including a gem of a bookshop with piano for browsers to play, architectural salvage yard, fashion and interiors boutiques and a selection of cafes. But round and about there’s a variety of activities to be discovered to keep the lively and curious occupied.
Step out for a walk along the Avon Valley Path – a 34-mile route running from Salisbury to Christchurch through water meadows and across chalk downland. It can be divided into five manageable sections - such as Downton to Fordingbridge and Fordingbridge to Ringwood. The Avon Valley is said to have a wider variety of flora and fauna than any other chalk river in the country and is a particularly important area for birds (so dog walkers are asked to take care during the nesting season, April to July).
Alternatively, step back in time. About four miles west of Fordingbridge, Rockbourne Roman Villa is the remains of a large courtyard villa unearthed in 1942 by a local farmer. It’s all fairly low key, but there’s an interesting museum, Roman costumes for children to dress up in, and the recreation of a Roman herb garden. The villa is open (2017): 11am-4pm, Thursday, Friday and Sunday from April 1 to July 25 and September 4-30; daily from July 26 to September 3; Sunday only October 1-30.
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Following a visit to the Roman villa, stop by the Rose & Thistle in Rockbourne village, a cosy, thatched cottage of a pub serving good food with a focus on local produce. If you’ve been walking the Avon Valley Path, try The George in Fordingbridge, an 18th century inn on the River Avon, alongside the medieval seven-arched bridge.
Take a trip out to the Foresters Arms at Frogham, known as the donkey pub as there always seems to be a couple outside. It has a rustic chic style with tartan, antlers, scrubbed tables and parlour lampshades. It is a regular for cyclists and walkers as it is an achievable distance from Fordingbridge and Sandy Balls Holiday Village. Frogham Fair is in the field next to the pub on July 29 2017.
You could continue time travelling; this time to Elizabethan England via Breamore House (three miles north of Fordingbridge), an elegant Elizabethan manor house completed in 1583 and still looking much as it would have done back in the day. It has been in the same family since 1748, and it is their possessions, gathered over 10 generations, which form the contents of the mansion today, including fine tapestries, 17th century needlework and rare James 1 carpet. While there, you could get lost in the prize-winning maze or explore the Countryside Museum which provides an insight into village life in the past with its full-size replicas of a farmworker’s cottage, a smithy, brewery, dairy and more. House and museum open: afternoons only, Tuesday and Sunday, April and October; Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Sunday and Bank Holidays, May to September.
Breamore itself sits prettily in a time warp with one of the best preserved Saxon churches in the country and something like 82 listed properties - a rich chocolate box selection of timber-framed and thatched 17th and 18th century barns, cottages and lodges, manor houses and farmhouses.
Perhaps you would rather step things up a gear or two. Want some fun in the style of Total Wipeout? Compete with friends and family on New Forest Water Park’s floating obstacle course with its flippers, slides, rockers, rollers, overhanging climbing wall, giant iceberg and more. Getting soaked is compulsory. Other activities include cable wakeboarding, kayaking and stand up paddle boarding.
Check website (newforestwaterpark.co.uk) for opening times as these vary depending on activity and time of year. Activities of some sort are available from end of April to early November, and daily for most of July and August (times vary from 10am, 11am or 12noon to dusk or 7/8pm).
Maybe you prefer to swing your way through the treetops on a Go Ape adventure at Moors Valley Park. Take to the trees on rope ladders and zip wires, swinging into nets and braving Indiana Jones-style planked crossings high up among the branches. Those not keen on heights can instead cycle or Segway along miles of woodland trails on terra firma. Open daily Easter, Half Term and Summer Holidays –opening times vary (check goape.co.uk).
Eat, Sleep, Relax
Let’s start with Sandy Balls Holiday Village, in Godshill, a couple of miles east of Fordingbridge, set in acres of parkland and woodland and bounded on one side by the River Avon. Accommodation includes lodges with hot tubs and glamping pods, and there’s plenty to keep families active including archery, falconry, horse riding and pools (indoor and outdoor).
In contrast The Three Lions, in the hamlet of Stuckton, south-east of Fordingbridge, is a country inn with restaurant and rooms. It is consistently recommended in the Good Food Guide. The kitchen is headed by chef/proprietor Mike Womersley (ex-Lucknam Park) who serves delicious French-influenced dishes. Fabulous.
My Fordingbridge - Laura Stainton-Burrell, Hockey’s Farm Shop
We consider ourselves lucky to live within the New Forest National Park. Our two nearest towns, Ringwood and Fordingbridge, have a wonderful selection of coffee shops, restaurants and shops, but we don`t need to go further than across our lawn to our own butcher’s, farm shop and cafe, Hockey’s.
We bought the business, as a family, in November 2013 and have spent many hours and pounds creating what today is a thriving business. The addition of a cafe, which we opened last year, has meant that our customers can enjoy a coffee, a meal, even a glass of wine or beer after wandering around to see our array of farm and domestic animals, including four alpacas! We are proud to have won a number of awards, both for our ethical stance, the CPRE Best Rural Business Enterprise, plus two Gold Star Great Taste Awards for our rare breed British Lop pork. There are also many wonderful local producers whose products we sell and promote.
The New Forest is in our blood. Jonny, my husband, and I and our families have lived locally since the ‘60s. Robin, my father, spent a number of years as a volunteer ranger and still loves to birdwatch and chat to the locals. My nephew, Jack, has become a Young Commoner and now has a small herd of cattle. My sister, Emma, and I have horses and have ridden on the Forest most of our lives. Running our own business is time consuming and living on the premises makes it even more important to take time out; walking and riding in the Forest is my favourite way to pass my time, and living where we do means a walk to one of the local pubs, such as The Royal Oak, The Foresters or The Alice Lisle, is a great way to spend a few precious hours off.