The New Forest is a fantastic walking destination for all ages, but what if you haven’t reached the stage of walking yet?
Over the last 18 months, we’ve taken our baby boy out with us as we try and test walks for NewForestWalks.co.uk.
Having a baby means time is at a premium and opportunities to go to the gym or play sport is limited – so getting outdoors and pushing a pram may well be the best exercise you get.
But its not an insignificant benefit – the NHS recommends brisk walking while pushing a pram or buggy as way of keeping fit after having a baby. There are also cardiovascular and muscle-toning benefits of walking – and of course, it’s all free!
For new mums and dads, getting out in the fresh air is proven to improve feelings of well-being and reduce stress.
In fact, it’s so beneficial that the mental health charity MIND lists walking or running with your buggy in their self help suggestions of how to prevent or help overcome postnatal depression.
So here’s our list of tips on making the most of the New Forest with a tiny tot.
1. Chose your wheels
Pushing a pram, especially on uphill stretches helps keep parents fit as well as letting the little one enjoy their surroundings.
So having a buggy that can cope with the uneven terrain and bumpy ground you’ll find around the New Forest will help.
Our Bugaboo, fitted with all-terrain wheels, is great over rough paths, tree roots or going though shallow streams and puddles.
It’s also got storage space for coats, snacks and the baby paraphernalia that you’ll need on a walk.
In its latest review of all-terrain pushchairs, NetMums ranks the Mountain Buggy Urban and Silver Cross Pioneer as the best for heading off-road.
If you have an adjustable handle, make sure it is set to the correct height to help your posture on long walks.
Of course, you may decide that you don’t need wheels or that your pram or pushchair isn’t suitable. If so, pop your baby in a front or back carrier and give them a different view of the forest.
2. Plan your route
You may need to organise walks around your daily routine of naps and feeding – but it can be surprisingly straightforward.
Baby can be walked to sleep and can nap even as the buggy trundles over bumpy terrain. And taking a little picnic can be fun.
No matter what time of year it is, there will be walks that are suitable and allow you to enjoy the forest.
The New Forest’s network of gravel paths is generally passable all year round although the paths are susceptible to potholes and puddles in winter.
However be aware that tracks used for forestry vehicles can appear firm at first but soon turn into muddy quagmires.
The forest also has low lying bogs and wetlands with tracks which again can appear accessible but can soon lead to you getting very wet and muddy underfoot. Other sandy paths may also be difficult to manoevre a pram or buggy along.
Pick a route to suit the time of year – in spring, enjoy the bluebells in the shady woodland of Pondhead Inclosure. Stunning autumn colours can be seen on our Fritham walk.
Other buggy-friendly accessible all-year routes include Rhinefield and Janesmoor Pond.
Many pubs are welcoming to families, so plan a walk starting or finishing at a pub – check our Pub Walks list for some ideas.
3. Try New Walks
It’s easy to get into a routine of heading to the same car park every time you visit the New Forest.
Although the landscape changes through the year, why not set yourself a challenge of doing a different route each time?
Team up with a friend and see how many routes you can clock up between you? It’ll get you both more active more often – and you can help motivate each other to keep getting out for walks. This can be invaluable when just getting out of the house can be a struggle in itself.
Again our list of walks will give you some ideas for new locations to you may not have tried.
4. Be prepared
Especially on longer walks, be prepared to dine alfresco with your little one. Take tubs of food, fruit and snacks as well as plenty of water to keep them fed and hydrated.
Feeding the little one while sitting in the shade of a majestic oak tree, with the sounds of the forest all around you, can help de-stress any day.
Take a litter bag for waste or dirty nappies, should an outdoor change be necessary. Bring sun cream if it’s hot or a rain cover for the buggy in case you catch a shower.
… and don’t forget snacks and water for the parents/buggy drivers too.
5. Involve the kids
Let them see anything of interest on your walk – engage and talk to them about your surroundings as they roll along.
They’ll squeal with delight at seeing the New Forest ponies – at a safe distance – and will be fascinated at touching and feeling items like leaves and pine cones as they are introduced to new and interesting textures.
It’s great to build their interest in the outdoors and the world around them. Even for newborns lying on their back in their pram, seeing the tops of trees and the open sky is a new and wonderful experience for them.
Take the opportunity to stop for a moment and enjoy the wonderful soundscape of the forest – from the breeze through the leaves to a squirrel scuttling or bird song echoing through the canopy of the forest.
Our walk from Millyford Bridge takes in the New Forest Reptile Centre and is a great opportunity to show little ones wildlife up close.
Park up the buggy and help them spot the snakes, lizards and other reptiles in the centre’s wildlife pens.