It’s no secret that the New Forest is teeming with natural history. But did you know that it’s also awash with real history, too? From shipyards which served Nelson, to fortresses built by Henry VIII, to a Roman villa and one of the UK’s most famous unexplained deaths, the magical New Forest has something for everyone who’d like to experience our ancient past.

1. Best for… Henry VIII fans - Hurst Castle & Ferry.

Built on a shingle spit so close to the Isle of Wight you feel you could touch it, Hurst Castle is layered with history.

Built between 1541 and 1544 by Henry VIII as one of a chain of artillery defences protecting key points of the south coast, the forbidding fortress later became the brief and miserable home of King Charles 1 who was dragged there on the way to his trial and eventual beheading. In later years it was added to and re-designed by the Victorians.

The castle consists of a two-storey gun tower or keep, surrounded by an outer wall with three bold semi-circular bastions and a gatehouse protected with a portcullis, and there is also a beautiful lighthouse to admire and a café.

Upgrade your experience by arriving by ferry from Keyhaven, or you can always walk the spit from Milford on Sea.

 2. Best for… Maritime buffs – Beaulieu and Buckler’s Hard

Don’t be fooled by that scene in the Oscar winning Man for All Seasons movie, when the Beaulieu River stands in for the Thames. (Although it is truly lovely!) The real historical action around here is in the preserved hamlet of Buckler’s Hard. It may look like a picture-postcard Georgian village now but wind back 200 years and it was at the heart of the shipbuilding industry – Lord Nelson’s favourite ship was built here.

As well as enjoying the beautiful surroundings, visitors can also explore historic cottage displays and discover the fascinating history of the village in its Maritime Museum.

Want to linger longer? You’re in luck! The Master Builder’s Hotel (it’s the former home of Henry Adams who built Nelson’s first command ship, Agamemnon) is offering a Heritage and History break, incorporating visits to Buckler’s Hard and Beaulieu with a visit to the 13th century Cistercian Abbey there. You’ll also get to see the Victorian era Palace House, and a tour round the National Motor Museum.  A three-course dinner in the hotel’s Riverview Restaurant to the value of £30 each is also thrown in.

3. Best for… lovers of Industrial heritage - Eling Tide Mill

Overlooking Southampton Water on the Forest’s eastern edge, Eling has had a working mill on this site for more than 900 years. After being restored between 1975 and 1980 it reopened as the only fully working tide mill in the UK and now there is a museum which explains and interprets this fascinating part of our industrial heritage.

Because of the changing tides, Eling Mill only grinds at certain times. So make sure you don’t miss them by checking first on their website.

4. Best for… Anyone who loves a good conspiracy – The Rufus Stone

Don’t worry, there are no dead bodies at Rufus Stone today, just a monument inscribed with writing in a beautiful glade to mark the spot where, it’s rumoured, the hated King William II or William Rufus died after being mysteriously hit by an arrow.

Was it an accident? Or something more sinister?  Make up your mind on the short walk from the Rufus Stone car-park and then on for a pint or lunch at the pub named after the man said to have fired that fatal arrow – The Sir Walter Tyrrell.

5. Best for… Finding out about the Forest’s World War II history – including its airfields and spies

Today all is tranquillity and peace. But 75 years ago this part of the world was alive with thousands of airman, engineers, soldiers and spies, all helping in the effort to defeat Hitler and the Nazis.

Start off with a visit to the fascinating Heritage Centre run by the Friends of the New Forest Airfields (FONFA) near Bransgore, where you can discover where the old airfields were, and how they operated. Then you can either travel the three miles to the official airmen’s Memorial itself, or check out the former airfields, some of which have returned to a natural state.

Then, make sure you don’t miss out on the fascinating Secret Army exhibition at Beaulieu, which explains how spies were trained in this area during the war and what they got up to.

6. Best for… The Romans – Rockbourne Roman villa

No one knew about the existence of this ancient masterpiece until 1942 when a farmer trying to dig his pet ferret out of a hole on West Park Farm came across a large quantity of oyster shells and small, mosaic tiles. After a local antiquarian was informed the excavations began, to revel the amazing Rockbourne Roman Villa we see today.

Among the treasures to look out for are two fine mosaics and a hoard of more than 1,700 coins. There’s space to enjoy a picnic and pet dogs on leads are welcome, too.

7. Best for... A Unique New Forest experience – The Court of the Verderers, Lyndhurst

It’s an experience you can’t get anywhere else on the planet. So why not make time to attend the Verderer’s Court at the Queen’s House, which takes place every month? The Verderers are those charged with overseeing a number of matters pertaining to the Commoners of the Forest, as well as the welfare of the roaming animals. For court dates, see the Verderers’ website.

8. Best for… Lovers of old country houses – Breamore House and Museum

There’s nothing like a good, old-fashioned country house tour. Especially when that house has such a splendid history.

Breamore was completed in 1583, five years before the Spanish Armada and looks today much as it would have done to its’ original owners.

When you’ve enjoyed wandering round the property, get along to their museum, which contains fascinating displays and recreations of rural life, with some ancient old machinery and finish up with a visit to the tea-room.

9. Best for…Those who adore old motorbikes – Sammy Miller Motorcycle Museum

Sammy Miller is a motorcycling legend, 11 times British Champion and winner of over 1400 events. So don’t miss out on his museum, which houses one of the finest collections of fully restored motorcycles in the world, including factory racers and exotic prototypes, with the collection constantly evolving as new bikes are acquired.  

This is a living museum with almost every motorcycle in full running order, plus a tea-room and a play area for the kids. 

10. Best for… Grave Hunting (and plenty more) – The New Forest’s churches

The New Forest has seven medieval churches. We’re also the final resting place for spirits as diverse as Sherlock Holmes’ creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Alice Liddell (the original Alice in Wonderland), and some New Zealand and Indian War Graves.


**If you want to get even closer to our history, try booking into one of our historic hotels. New Park Manor was once a hunting Lodge of King Charles II, Careys Manor and Burley Manor were both requisitioned in the war, and Balmer Lawn Hotel served as a hospital for the World War I wounded.




Comments are disabled for this post.