We’re lucky in that we live in spitting distance of the New Forest – which is superb for either road or off road cycling. It is easy to get to as well – either on the train, the Hythe ferry, or by hitching the bikes up to the tow-bar and driving to one of a multitude of free Forestry Commission car parks. There’s also the Isle of Wight which can be reached easily either on the car ferry from Southampton or from Lymington. In the other direction is the South Downs Way which is more hilly than the New Forest so totally different riding and less of the ‘forest’. So often we forget quite what a good location it is for a day out if there isn’t the opportunity to head away for the weekend. There are some really busy A roads through both areas, but plenty of other track and minor road options that have always done us well.
I can’t write about the routes – I leave that entirely to my husband and tend to follow him (my input is normally sniffing out an appropriate lunch stop!). I’m probably not talking about luxury per se here, but we are time poor and on the weekend day when we have the time to get out and enjoy the countryside and get some exercise at the same time, then enjoying a good pub lunch does itself exude luxury!
I’ve already written about places to go to stay in the area (Chewton Glen and Three Lions) and those to avoid if you don’t want to pay the earth for next to nothing (The Pig, just saying!!), but cycling the area opens up a completely different choice – as in this case we need good food, but when dressed in cycling attire and often when covered in mud or dust! Lots of the New Forest hotels do seem to have bikes for loan – so keep that in mind if you were staying high end and wanted to see the area without a car.
A firm favourite is the East End Arms – this is on a quiet road quite near to Tanners Lane (which has a stunning beach that is very quiet as there isn’t enough parking), not far from Lymington. It is owned by the guitarist from the Dire Straits and the food is fantastic – pub grub, but worth the price entirely. We’ve always been lucky getting a table at lunch, but it is always busy (service is not slow) so might pay to book unless you are turning up before 12.30pm.
Another that we’ve visited time and again is the Queen’s Head in Burley – plenty of outdoor seating which is good if you have bikes (and no lock) and a good menu. There is a big hill just outside the pub, but I’ve always found that it is best approached with a white wine spritzer as an energiser! Undoubtedly you will be joined by a few ponies or donkeys looking over the pub walls hoping to scrounge a few chips! There is a big garden here so it is popular with families.
If you want to spend a bit more then Monty’s in Beaulieu or The Master Builder’s in Bucklers Hard will always serve you well. Montagu Arms‘ dining rooms also do an amazing afternoon tea, but it isn’t really the sort of affair to turn up to in lycra and mud There is a very pleasant walk down (or up) the river between the two which works well if you want lunch at one and a relaxing drink at the end. Monty’s always has plenty of donkeys watching the outdoor seating area carefully. Bucklers Hard is busier as it is steeped in marine history and is an English Heritage site.
The Gun Inn at Keyhaven is quaint and full of interesting marine paraphernalia. I’ve not eaten there but it is a good stop for a pint after a yomp down Hurst Spit! The Marine, Milford, has lovely views over to the Needles and is about the same distance the other direction from Hurst Castle.
The Snakecatcher in Brockenhurst is another good choice as there is loads of garden space and again a good menu – my husband cooked his own meat on a ‘hot rock’ last time we were there! The Thatched Cottage is also in Brock – probably not the place to arrive at muddy or scruffy, but definitely worth considering – it is a pricey place to eat; however, I did see a last minute B&B deal that I would have liked to have pursued given more free time.
Terravina is an amazing place for a relatively affordable yet gourmet lunch, with very friendly and sincere service. They aren’t afraid of a bit of mud (and there are wellies and umbrellas to borrow by the front door); however’ it is probably the place to change in to cycling gear AFTER lunch to burn off some calories before enjoying a drink in their gardens at the end of the cycle!
On the Island, Cowes is probably best for stopping for a pint, but once you are out of the main town then the New Inn is a good choice if you are en route between Cowes and Yarmouth. We did once try to stop at The George in Yarmouth but unfortunately when the bar girl saw my bike she told me politely that they were shut despite a full lawn of patrons. Their loss – hot rocks or salties don’t turn away punters – but for these you must remember to take a bike lock as you can’t sit outside and keep an eye on the bling! We definitely have more of the island to see.
One non-New-Forest favourite cycling area is up and around Cheesefoot Head, off the A31 near Winchester. There are loads of route options here and a great choice of places to stop. This is a very popular area for cycling and the main car park isn’t big. The Shoe in Exton has a sweet little garden alongside a babbling brook and does some quite fancy pub food – probably best visited in the Summer to make the most of the garden. Another option (if you are National Trust members, or have the time to make the most of your entry fee) is the tea rooms at Hinton Ampner which do great cake options. Alternatively, there is a good pub, taking a left at the end of the house driveway. The Bat and Ball near to Wickham serves good food and has a good set of options compared to many other pubs, plus great views over the cricket field at the front and over the rolling downs in the garden at the back of the pub. Another is The Bluebell in Cocking which benefits from the through traffic from Cowdray that marks it as a good spot to stop for good quality pub grub.
Don’t forget the tea rooms – in Wickham Lilly’s is a fantastic find – we had a cake-based breakfast there! Hamble and Warsash shouldn’t be missed when it comes to cycling – a plethora of different places, favourites of ours are The Bugle, The Rising Sun, The Boat House (Swanwick Marina) or The Jolly Sailor.
All this talk of pubs though, it is definitely possible to go one better! Lymington does of course have a choice of Waitrose and Marks and Spencer. Stop at M&S on the High Street and stock up the panniers with fizz (we left home with glasses on this occasion) and a fantastic selection of posh picnicking items; it is fair to say that the ultimate in luxury picnics can be obtained from this particular M&S. From here we cycled across to Keyhaven and had our lunch on Hurst Castle spit much to the annoyance of others that hadn’t thought ahead in this way (we did have to carry bikes across all the stones, so had definitely earned it!).
Luxury is always what you make it – enjoying the peace of these areas with guaranteed good grub at lunchtime – that is an ideal day for my husband and I and I think we both agree living where we do is a luxury in terms of having so many options.
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