Nobody likes a show-off, Brian! I bellow into the wind, as my father-in-law, who’s just blown out the candles on his 70th birthday cake, zips by me on his cool-as-you-like electric hire bike.
Granny Trish is up next. Luminous in a neon orange anorak, she carves up with ease the gravel paths that lattice Brockenhurst’s ancient woodlands.
Intergenerational competitiveness? It’s our favourite sport. The children, Belle, ten, and Cleo, eight, fired on by leg power and the promise of a Mr Whippy from the ice cream van that’s rolled on to the heathland, spit mud at me from their back wheels.
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 via an ambling, toffee-coloured cow, who shows me a clean pair of hooves when I stop for water.
The New Forest, Hampshire’s thousand-year-old royal hunting ground — named ‘nova foresta’ in the Domesday Book of 1086 — remains our family mini-break for all seasons.
On a blue-sky day like today, this 56,000-hectare English adventure playground offers a compendium of outdoorsy pursuits; cycle rides through cooling glades, a crab line dropped off Lymington’s harbour wall, piloting a kayak on emerald Beaulieu River.
Honestly though, any season will do for us. Autumn gifts crunching walks under foot at Wilverley Inclosure, while mid-winter bestows fireside Sunday roasts in centuries-old pubs. A wander through the violet bluebells at Ivy Wood in spring? Lovely.
As we dip off the M27 at Cadnam, the New Forest’s northern gateway, the restorative scenery, every shade of green in early summer, begins.
A slim main artery, the A337, cuts south to coastal Lymington on the Solent via Lyndhurst, the region’s cafe-abundant tourist hub and, further south, the village of Brockenhurst.
One of the luxury tents at Green Hill Farm Holiday Village. ‘I could live here,’ Jo admits
Pictured above is Green Hill Farm’s camp-fire, where marshmallow toasting is a nightly pastime
A shiny Airstream caravan sells fish and chips at the campsite
The views that unfold as we drive include woodlands, wild heaths, hamlets with inns, fancy five-star spa hotels and wildlife galore, from raggedy-looking donkeys to ethereal-looking white ponies and hefty black-and-pink pigs nosing around farmland.
Brown tourist signs direct visitors to popular attractions; Peppa Pig World at Paultons Park is the dream ticket for pre-schoolers (and Boris Johnson). The National Motor Museum, next to Beaulieu Abbey, is wowing 007 fans with its No Time To Die exhibition with Aston Martins, sharp tuxes and Q’s mind-boggling 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 all on offer across 75 acres of meadow.
Unzipping our canvas abode, each age-group marvels at different things. Listed in order of my own appreciation: there’s a proper shower, comfy beds with billowing duvets, dishwasher, induction hob, fridge, two sofas and a giant telly. And, somehow feasible in a structure made entirely of wood and fabric, there’s also a log burner to keep things toasty at night. On top of it sits a clever little oven which revives our left-over pizza into wood-fired slices of deliciousness. Outside, there’s a wooden veranda, with a wood-fired hot tub tucked at one end of it. Each tent comes with a wheelbarrow, and we load up chopped logs from a free woodpile nearby.
The tub’s burner heats up the water; and by the time we’ve eaten dinner and explored, the thermometer attached to a rubber duck tells us it’s 40 degrees. There are no jets, so it’s effectively a hot bath under the stars; some kind of wonderful after nine miles on a bike.
After a dip each night, Belle and Cleo ascend to a snuggly wooden cabin bed — complete with a love-heart window — in awe of how cosy it all is. A comfy twin bedroom and a roomy double at the back makes up the rest of the lay-out. I could live here.
Kayaking on the emerald Beaulieu River – pictured above running past Beaulieu village – is one of the many ways to enjoy the New Forest, according to Jo
Pictured is a pretty street in Lyndhurst, the region’s cafe-abundant tourist hub
Jo and her family pass by Douglas firs on the looping walking trail in Bolderwood (above), a vast woodland west of Lyndhurst
Campers who pitch up with their own tents — from £20 a night — luck in, too, sharing the same facilities as the glamping crowd. Two large tents double up as the Ember restaurant and bar, overlooking a playground, small splash park and a camp-fire, where marshmallow toasting is a nightly pastime.
On our first night, a shiny Airstream caravan selling fish and chips is parked up, and we tuck into a £6.95 fry-up as a treat one morning. Made-to-order pizzas and meat — including a pricey £24.95 8oz rib eye — are on the evening menu.
It’s a site with a conscience. A small portion of profits are poured back into the community, and the brand behind Green Hills, Lovat, is the first UK holiday park company to win a B-Corp certification, awarded for commitment to sustainability.
Jo stops for a meal in a Minstead pub that’s down the lane from the church where Sherlock Holmes author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is buried (above)
Our final port of call is Bolderwood, a vast woodland west of Lyndhurst. It’s one of a network of UK forests being celebrated for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee. Beyond the free car park, loos and shaded picnic spot is a looping trail that’s home to Douglas firs. The girls and Grandad Brian enjoy some daredevilry, tightroping across narrow, bendy logs that bridge the stream criss-crossing the 90-minute trail.
Food? The New Forest can show you a gourmet plate. In Brockenhurst, there’s Michelin-recommended The Terrace at The Montagu Arms, plus The Pig, top pick for trendy young things. In Lymington, The Elderflower Restaurant caters for an upmarket crowd but it’s the pubs — creaking with history and serving up robust IPAs — that have our hearts and stomachs.
We plump for The Trusty Servant, an unpretentious inn with rooms, in Minstead. The pub’s encircled by thatched cottages, and Sherlock Holmes author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is buried at the church up the lane.
An end-of-holiday treat comes via the four-star Balmer Lawn Hotel, a five-minute drive from Cyclexperience, where we hire our bikes, at Brockenhurst Station.
Somewhat sheepishly, I call ahead to confirm our post-adventure attire might not be the smartest. A quick WC spruce-up and we’re tea-deep in the New Forest’s swish side, chasing an Earl Grey down with a flute of Rene Jolly and, pinkies extended, deciding which finger sandwich to go for next. What fun we’ve had and, as sure as the seasons change, we’ll be back to do it all again soon.