One of the great things about the New Forest is that there are so many places to walk and explore with children. In this post I'm sharing some tips for making the most of walking in the New Forest with kids, along with some advice on motivating those who are less keen to walk!
Be animal aware
It’s really helpful to make children aware of the animals that they might encounter in the New Forest and how to react to them.
Horses and ponies
Used to humans and traffic alike, horses and ponies are a common sight in the New Forest. They love food and have been known to ‘break in’ to campers tents to help themselves to food, we’ve also had experience of being followed by ponies when we are eating in out in forest. Whilst it’s unlikely that they will react aggressively it’s worth being aware that if you are packing a picnic that it’s worth popping this into a rucksack rather than into the bottom of a child’s buggy.
Safety wise if you are passing a horse or pony, give them space where possible. If passing in a confined space, over a bridge for example, make your child aware not to walk directly behind a horse or to shout whilst next to one.
It’s common to come across whole herds of cattle in the New Forest. Male cattle with horns can appear intimidating but just as with horses, give them room pass peacefully.
Deer in the New Forest are skittish and shy. Maximise your chances of seeing deer by wearing neutral and darker colours and keeping quiet.
Many people walk dogs in the New Forest every day, it’s uncommon to go for a walk and not see one. Many are not on leads so if you have a child that’s not confident around dogs, explain that you might see some on your walk and that if they feel unsure or nervous to quietly come to hold your hand, as opposed to shouting ‘Argh dog!’ and waving their hands (which might provoke the dog to run over to them).
What to pack for a walk in the New Forest
A rucksack is always a good idea, even if you don't actually have anything to take with you it's handy to have one incase your child gets too hot and starts taking off layers, or on the off-chance that you discover 'treasure' (from pinecones to animal skulls!)
A plastic bag is also always handy for litter or putting muddy boots in at the end of a walk.
Experience has taught me to pack a small packet of tissues for any less than charming snooty sneezes or emergency toilet crises!
During Autumn and Winter we leave the walking boots at home and opt for wellies. Some tracks can become really boggy, particularly in the week following rainfall.
The weather can turn (as you can see by the photos in this post!) and there’s not many places to shelter, especially in Winter when the majority of trees are without leaves. Waterproof and wind proof is always a safe bet, lightweight with layers being the best.
The mobile network signal has improved drastically across the New Forest in recent years, and although there are still patches without any signal at all, many areas do now have coverage. I once sprained my ankle when walking on my own, a couple of miles from where I had parked my car, and yep, you guessed it, I had forgotten to take my mobile phone with me. Gah!
A GPS walking app is a bonus, I use free Walkmeter GPS Pedometer, which I set as a I start walking.
This app helps me keep track of distance walked, calories burnt and so on, but I find it most useful for when I get a little lost or am unsure which direction to get back to car. Being able to look at the route that you have walked is a godsend and this app have saved me more than once!
For children who aren't keen on walking
Not every child gets excited by the thought of spending an afternoon walking, here’s a couple of proven ways to help motivate little people.
There’s nothing like the promise of a picnic to motivate! In the warmer months, a typical picnic that can be eaten sat on a blanket is always a winner. Involve your child with the picnic planning, ask them to create a list of picnic snacks they would like to take, then go shopping together to gather the goodies.
In the colder / wetter months I’ve found that a ‘soup picnic’ works wonders!
Pack a thermos of soup and a couple of crusty rolls and you are on to a winner. Find a log or enjoy it standing if the ground is too wet.
Taking toys out of their every day surroundings and into the woods to play is really good fun. Playmobil people work really well and spark your child's creativity. Gathering twigs and leaves to build a den for play figures is always good fun.
Painting, weaving colourful wool about trees, tying up bunting and making a den - doing something that you usually do indoors outside.
^ warming up post-walk
Do you have any tips to share? Drop them in the comments below or drop me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.