Why you should move to the New Forest
- Credit: Picture supplied by John D Wood
Nature’s playground and a retreat from everyday life; there’s a lot to be said for upping sticks and moving to the New Forest
If it is space you’re after, and lots of it, then it is the New Forest that you want. Found in the far south-west of the county, the New Forest is 219 square miles of woodland and heathland dotted with honey pot villages and roamed by ponies, donkeys and cattle - plus sheep in some parts and pigs during pannage season (usually autumn, but extended to 21 December this year due to a bumper crop of acorns). That is how the New Forest works; this is a landscape created by grazing animals, which are owned by local residents with commoning rights.
The New Forest is not that new. It was established circa 1079 as a royal hunting ground by William the Conqueror. It is not that foresty either. Yes, there is woodland - around 1,000 ancient trees have been recorded. However, there are also lawns, wetland and the most extensive area of heathland (over 10,000 hectares) in Europe.
The New Forest has succeeded in emerging relatively unscathed into the 21st century. Its designation as a National Park in 2005 has provided some protection from development while raising its profile as a leisure destination, attracting cyclists, runners, walkers and sightseers. Those trundling over a cattle grid into the New Forest for the first time must wonder if they’ve strayed into a children’s fairy tale. Film critic and New Forest resident Mark Kermode has described the New Forest as Narnia. It certainly offers an escape from the modern world, attracting holidaymakers and second homeowners. Some familiar faces are able to squirrel themselves out of sight down its unmarked tracks (among them TV presenters from varied disciplines, such as Chris Packham, Murray Walker and Esther Rantzen).
The A31 cuts through the middle, linking to the M27 and M3, while mainline stations at Ashford, Brockenhurst and Sway provide services into London Waterloo with a journey time around an hour and a half at best. However, the New Forest is generally regarded as a bit too far for long-distance commuters to trek on a daily basis.
The ongoing fallout from this year’s pandemic has been a game-changer. Suddenly the New Forest is a destination hot spot for the house hunter. We are undergoing a massive cultural change – not only with regard to our approach to office-based routine, but to our lifestyle expectations. Travelling into city centres is out. Access to the great outdoors is in.
In all likelihood, working from home is here to stay for many. Those in suburban London and the built-up Home Counties are eyeing up the New Forest, being tempted to venture off-piste. No longer will buyers need to stay close to Forest villages with the best commuting credentials - such as Brockenhurst or Bramshaw. The Forest’s furthest, lesser-known and hidden corners are being discovered. In the north and west these include picturesque villages such as Hale and Hyde, and elevated wooded enclaves like Highwood, where the contemporary bird sculptor Geoffrey Dashwood has his eyrie, with breath-catching views across sweeps of countryside to Cranbourne Chase.
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The New Forest also offers a wide variety of interesting property. There’s no such thing as a typical Forest home. They range from grand country houses and old farmhouses to Hansel and Gretel thatch cottages and imaginative new builds - some are architect-designed contemporary creations of angled glass that make the best of their views.
Other needs and expectations are met. Schools perform well. Almost every primary and secondary school is rated at least ‘Good’ by Ofsted; ditto Brockenhurst College. Independents also impress – in particular Forres Sandal Manor (near Fordingbridge) and Walhampton (near Lymington) both judged by the Independent Schools Inspectorate to be ‘Excellent’.
Sporting opportunities range from golf and horse-riding to watersports on the Forest’s rivers and coast. The shopping experience is agreeably diverse. Villages and market towns, among them Brockenhurst, Fordingbridge, Lymington, Lyndhurst, and Ringwood, provide a selection of established names and quality independents. These range from AGA to Whistles and Lidl to Waitrose in Ringwood on the western edge of the Forest. In addition there are some fantastic farm shops and village and community stores where you can quickly feel part of the local community. Eating out also runs the gamut, from traditional tea rooms and cosy country inns to inordinately glamorous country house hotels.
Overall this is a different way of living – slower, yet more satisfying, more outdoorsy, and more community led. Could this be a modern day fairy tale for grown-ups? Possibly - if you can afford the house prices, which reflect the increased demand.
What the agent says...
Rob Batten, Director, Spencers New Forest
“The New Forest area has long been a hot spot, but since lockdown it seems to have jumped up another level in terms of popularity.
“It’s a mix of buyer profiles – from young families through to older couples bringing forward retirement plans. All our offices are reporting a surge in demand and we’ve been selling some of our most expensive houses ever.
“The stamp duty holiday has added fuel to the fire among lower priced properties also. People who were going to move next year have brought forward their plans - they’re trying to catch this wave before it flattens out.
“We’ve been seeing a lot of buyers who can afford to buy without selling. They decided that the experience of being in London during the pandemic was very restrictive. They looked to the New Forest and could see that life down here during lockdown was amazing really - having all this space to walk and exercise in.
“People are still working from home for the majority of the time and this may well be a long-term shift. A lot of the buyers we’re seeing say that they had always dreamed of moving to the New Forest; now they are realising that dream. This pandemic has made people reassess their lives and, within a very short period of time, they’re making some major decisions. This is reflected in high levels of market activity. For example, the number of sales agreed subject to contract for September for our business are 150% up on last year’s level.
“Lettings are also experiencing a shortage of properties with on average between five and ten potential tenants for every house. We have people from London taking rentals for a year or two who just want to get a foothold here.”
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