What it’s like living in Ringwood

Furlong Centre with smart shops, pavement cafes and colourful hanging baskets

Furlong Centre with smart shops, pavement cafes and colourful hanging baskets - Credit: Emma Caulton

Is the quiet old market town of Ringwood changing its identity? Emma Caulton visits

Ringwood is like an island, bounded on the west by the River Avon, to the north by Blashford Lakes and to the East by the New Forest. Unsurprisingly, it can feel geographically isolated from the rest of Hampshire, particularly as it nudges up close to the Dorset border.

Ringwood developed at a crossing point over the Avon and has a long heritage of brewing. All the ingredients were there: clear waters, locally-grown barley and travellers with a thirst. Indeed it is probably best known as the home of Ringwood Brewery - the first of the country’s microbreweries (although it was bought by Marston’s in 2007).

Recently this old market town has been undergoing a process of re-identification. This has included a successful reinvention of the old cattle market into the Furlong Centre, a stylish shopping enclave with quality names from Aga to Waitrose and Joules to Hobbs. There are cafes with outside tables, colourful hanging baskets, and a programme of events that includes live music, craft markets and farmers markets.

Following the Centre’s opening, concern was expressed about the survival of Ringwood’s High Street with its partly hidden courtyards, picturesque Market Place and waterside gardens. However it appears to be thriving. It is still home to a weekly Wednesday market, an influx of eateries has included Framptons, Koh Thai Tapas and Noisy Lobster, and a good mix of independents includes the likes of Allum & Sidaway jewellers, Fox in the Forest and Willow Interiors. The very latest addition, although not strictly on the High Street, is Bakehouse24 - an artisan bakery set up by a London-trained baker who is bringing his expertise back to his home town.

Locals tell me Ringwood is a lovely place to live with easy access to both Forest and coast, and a strong sense of community. Annual events include popular Ringwood Carnival, and there are lots of clubs and societies, including Ringwood Town Football club and a well thought of drama and music society. There’s a recreation ground with a variety of facilities and there’s also been ongoing talk of building an arts centre. Families are attracted by the easy-going, family-friendly vibe and decent local schools – although Ofsted reports a mixed bag that includes ‘outstanding’ St Ives First School, and ‘good’ with ‘outstanding’ sixth form provision for Ringwood Academy. However Ringwood Junior apparently needs to pull its socks up – admonished as ‘requires improvement’. As for independents, there’s Moyles Court School in a historic house set in 14 acres of grounds, and Ringwood Waldorf, an alternative independent school based on the principles of Rudolf Steiner.

Housing is mostly a jumbled up hotch potch of periods with quaint thatched cottages right up against an Edwardian villa alongside a 1960s house. Down lanes heading into the Forest you will find converted barns and country houses. In Poulner, north of the A31, are leafy suburban closes of small developments of bungalows and family homes with examples from every decade from mid-century onwards.

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And then there’s an anomaly: a private estate called Avon Castle. West of Ringwood, in the lush Avon Valley, it comprises big, individual properties, such as swish Huf-haus houses, all glass and angles, in large plots, many with river and far reaching country views. Rumour has it that premier footballers are buying into Avon Castle, attracted by its privacy, as well as London types looking for country life combined with contemporary living.

So what are the downsides to Ringwood? The pervasive drone of the A31 which bisects the town. On the upside this brings good accessibility to road networks (it’s a fairly easy run through to Bournemouth in one direction, and Southampton and Winchester in the other).

As for the future... Ringwood lies outside the development controls and restrictions of the New Forest National Park Authority, and so there will be opportunities for development and growth. The area certainly seems to be increasing in popularity. You can’t help wondering what next for Ringwood?


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