HAMPSHIRE: Relax in the New Forest

Sandy Balls lodge lr Signpostlr

L-R: Luxury six berth lodge at Sandy Balls and a signpost in the New Forest


By Tim Saunders

The most expensive of the national parks for property is the New Forest, according to This Is Money. The average house price in this part of the world hovers around the £465,000 mark.

As with many places though it is often better to visit for a little while, to get a taste of how the other half live, and then move on. The joy of travel. It is possible to do just this at Sandy Balls, the five star award winning 120-acre country estate near Fordingbridge.

My wife Caroline and I needed a break after our most challenging year, which saw the arrival of second daughter Heidi Louisa, the start of our business www.creativecoverage.co.uk and Caroline’s dad having a pacemaker. In short, we were frazzled and in need of some relaxation. As I loaded up the car, I wasn’t sure it was actually going to be restful though; the amount of luggage my wife and girls took astounded me resulting in numerous journeys back and forth. But after a few compromises we all eventually just about managed to squeeze into the poor Peugeot 2008.

The New Forest is only about 40 minutes from home but it feels like another world regardless of the time of year you visit. We live on a busy main road and in contrast our luxury lodge at Sandy Balls was a tranquil retreat where bird song replaced the noise of roaring traffic and irksome neighbours. We had taken a six-berth lodge (watch the video at travelwriter.biz) in anticipation of Caroline’s mum and dad joining us. Her dad though was still recovering from his operation. But the extra room allowed both Heidi and Harriett to have separate bedrooms.

We checked in at 3pm and soon after unloading, were swimming. At Sandy Balls there are two warm toddler pools and a main pool. We hadn’t been swimming since July and it was surprising to see Harriett with her armbands on doing backstroke as soon as she touched the water.

It would be very easy to stay at the large holiday park and not venture outside because it has its own well stocked country store, launderette, gym, sauna, pub and restaurant. Pizza in the Piazza offers good quality food in bright and convivial surroundings. It really does provide a welcome break from the baked beans and scrambled eggs typical of Saunders self catering. Instead we savoured homemade smoked haddock fishcakes followed by duck with plum and red wine sauce accompanied by a pleasant Italian red. A dessert of chocolate fudge cake and a cappuccino to finish was certainly a pleasing treat. So often these days restaurant service leaves much to be desired but at Pizza in the Piazza the staff were cheerful and genuinely interested in their customers. All cutlery and glasses were gleaming, too.

Each night we all slept well on the comfy beds apart from the first night when Harriett fell out of hers. Our lodge coped well with the winter weather, the combination boiler keeping it warm and cosy.

The onsite cycle centre had a host of bicycles available for hire. We opted for a couple of comfort bikes providing upright riding and I towed the trailer with Harriett and Heidi inside. They enjoyed it and Heidi even fell asleep at one point. We toured the surrounding areas of Stuckton and Gorley. Even though we opted for the quickest route the hills on the return leg really slowed us up and we failed to cover the distance in the suggested time. In parts I had to get off and push because I did not have the strength to pedal uphill with the loaded trailer. On our travels we saw New Forest ponies and donkeys freely roaming by the roadside and sometimes in it; a very useful traffic calming measure although slightly tricky to negotiate on two wheels. Road accidents involving these creatures are on the rise. A total of 65 animals were killed or injured between January 1 and the end of September 2013, compared with 50 in the same period last year, so caution is required when driving through the Forest.

Just down the road is Fordingbridge, a quaint market town famous for its Great Bridge, with its seven graceful arches. There is also a statue of its most famous inhabitant, Augustus John, the portrait painter. Harriett and Heidi enjoyed playing on the swings and slides there.

We returned home more relaxed than we have been for some time after spending quality time together as a family.

Those who have fallen in love with the New Forest after their stay might like to know that it is much cheaper to buy a slice than estate agents would have you believe. Vista Lodges at Sandy Balls start from just £17,250 for a share of a lodge.

Facts at a glance:

Holiday prices start from just £129 for two people staying off peak rising to £1,549 for six people at peak times.


Enjoy a meal at Pizza in the Piazza

Have a daily swim in the indoor heated pool

Hire a bike and cycle through the New Forest

Places to avoid:

There are a number of over priced pubs and restaurants in the New Forest that overcharge and under deliver. Far better to eat at Sandy Balls where good quality food is competitively priced.

For more information visit:



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