Nobody likes braggarts, Brian! I roar into the wind as my father-in-law, who has just blown out the candles on his 70th birthday cake, whizzes past me on his cool rental electric bike.
Next is Grandma Trish. Wearing a bright orange anorak, she weaves the gravel paths that criss-cross Brockenhurst’s old growth woods with ease.
Cross-generational competition? It’s our favorite sport. The kids, Belle, ten, and Cleo, eight, spurred on by leg strength and the promise of a Mr. Whippy from the ice cream truck that rolled onto the moor, spit mud off their rear wheels at me.
Jo Tweedy and her family go glamping in a luxury safari tent at Green Hill Farm Holiday Village (above) on the Wiltshire border. From here they explore the New Forest – a “56,000 hectare English adventure playground”.
Happy campers: Jo (centre) with her family
And the final insult comes from a strolling caramel-colored cow showing me a clean pair of hooves as I stop to get water.
The New Forest, Hampshire’s thousand year old royal hunting ground – referred to as ‘Nova Foresta’ in the Domesday Book of 1086 – remains our family getaway no matter the season.
On a blue sky day like today, this 56,000 hectare English adventure playground offers a compendium of outdoor activities; Bike rides through cool glades, steer a crab line thrown off Lymington harbor wall, steer a kayak down the emerald Beaulieu River.
But frankly, any season will do for us. Autumn brings crunchy walks in Wilverley Inclosure, while mid-winter brings fireside Sunday roasts in century-old pubs. A springtime stroll through the purple bluebells at Ivy Wood? Nice.
As we leave the M27 at Cadnam, the northern gateway to the New Forest, the restful countryside begins, bathed in shades of green in early summer.
A narrow arterial road, the A337, runs south to the Solent seafront from Lymington via Lyndhurst, the tourist center with many cafes in the area, and further south through the village of Brockenhurst.
One of the luxury tents at Green Hill Farm Holiday Village. “I could live here,” Jo admits
Pictured above is the campfire at Green Hill Farm, where toasting marshmallows is a late-night pastime
A shiny Airstream trailer sells fish and chips at the campground
The views that unfold as you drive include forests, wild moors, hamlets dotted with inns, chic five-star spa hotels, and an abundance of wildlife, from ragged donkeys to heavenly-looking white ponies and sturdy black-and-pink pigs sniffing through farmland.
Brown tourist signs direct visitors to popular attractions; Peppa Pig World at Paultons Park is a preschooler’s (and Boris Johnson’s) dream ticket. The National Motor Museum, next to Beaulieu Abbey, delights 007 fans with its ‘No Time to Die’ exhibit, with Aston Martins, sleek tuxedos and Q’s stunning gadgets among the exhibits.
Our base for this Grandparents Go Glamping trip is a luxury safari tent at Green Hill Farm Holiday Village on the Wiltshire border. Lodges, tents, caravans, pods and glamping are offered on 75 hectares of meadow.
When we open our tent accommodation, each age group marvels at different things. Listed in order of my own esteem: There is a proper shower, comfy beds with billowing duvets, dishwasher, induction hob, fridge, two sofas and a huge TV. And, somehow doable in a structure made entirely of wood and fabric, there’s also a wood-burning stove to keep things warm at night. On top is a clever little oven that revitalizes our leftover pizza into delicious wood-fired slices. Outside there is a wooden porch with a wood fired hot tub at one end of it. Each tent comes with a wheelbarrow and we load chopped logs from a free woodpile nearby.
The burner in the tub heats the water; and when we’ve had dinner and explored, the thermometer on a rubber duck tells us it’s 40 degrees. There are no jets, so it’s practically a hot bath under the stars; kinda wonderful after nine miles on the bike.
After a late-night bath, Belle and Cleo climb into a cozy wooden cabin bed – complete with a love heart window – and marvel at how cozy everything is. A cozy twin bedroom and a spacious double bedroom at the rear make up the rest of the layout. i could live here
Kayaking on the emerald Beaulieu River – pictured above, which runs past the village of Beaulieu – is one of the many ways Jo says to enjoy the New Forest
Pictured is a pretty street in Lyndhurst, the area’s cafe-rich tourist hub
Jo and her family pass Douglas firs on the loop trail in Bolderwood (above), a vast area of woodland west of Lyndhurst
Campers pitching their own tents – from £20 a night – are also in luck, sharing the same facilities as the glamping crowd. Two large tents double as Ember Restaurant and Bar overlooking a playground, small splash park, and campfire where marshmallow toasting is a late-night pastime.
A shiny Airstream trailer selling fish and chips is parked on our first night, and one morning we treat ourselves to a £6.95 fries as a treat. Made-to-order pizzas and meats – including an expensive £24.95 8oz rib eye – are on the evening menu.
It is a site with a conscience. A small proportion of profits go back to the community and the brand behind Green Hills, Lovat is the first UK holiday park company to receive B Corp certification for its commitment to sustainability.
Jo stops for a meal at a pub in Minstead, which is down the lane from the church where Sherlock Holmes author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is buried (above).
Seven nights in a six-person luxury safari tent at Green Hill Farm Holiday Village are available from £250 per person (0333 200 1010, lovatparks.com). For information on the New Forest see thenewforest.co.uk.
Our last port of call is Bolderwood, a vast area of woodland west of Lyndhurst. It is part of a network of British forests being celebrated to mark the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee. Behind the free car park, restrooms and shaded picnic area is a Douglas Fir loop trail. The girls and Grandpa Brian enjoy their daring as they leap narrow, bendy logs that bridge the creek that criss-crosses the 90-minute trail.
Meal? The New Forest can show you a gourmet plate. In Brockenhurst there is the Michelin recommended The Terrace at The Montagu Arms as well as The Pig, the number one choice for trendy young things. In Lymington, the Elderflower Restaurant caters to a sophisticated crowd, but it’s the pubs – which creak with history and serve up hearty IPAs – that have our hearts and stomachs.
We choose The Trusty Servant, an unpretentious inn with rooms in Minstead. The pub is surrounded by thatched cottages and Sherlock Holmes author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is buried in the church down the road.
An end-of-holiday treat is the four-star Balmer Lawn Hotel, a five-minute drive from Cyclexperience, where we hire our bikes at Brockenhurst Station.
A little embarrassed, I call ahead to confirm that our post-adventure attire might not be the fanciest. A quick toilet refresher and we’re deep in the New Forest, chasing an Earl Gray with a Rene Jolly whistle and, little fingers outstretched, deciding which finger sandwich to grab next. What fun we had and as sure as the seasons change we will be back to do it all very soon.