A group of friends and I spent three nights camping in the New Forest, UK at the end of the English summer. We go on annual camping and festival trips together; it’s our favourite, spending-savvy thing to do to be in the outdoors, play games and drink and chat into the wee hours around a campfire.
It was my first time camping in the New Forest, though my friends had camped here before and recommended it. I must admit, I was sold at the mention of wild ponies. We settled on a campsite just over 4km from charming and quintessential New Forest town Brockenhurst and 7km from Beaulieu, famous for its National Motor Museum. England’s south coast can be one of the country’s most expensive regions, but with a pinch of self-catering and cheap ground rent, you can expect to be in for a wholesome and cost-effective trip.
Petrol: £30 (£15 for me) topped up between two people got us there and back from London comfortably.
Accomodation: £35.74 per person for three nights. There were eight of us in the group, with four tents and pitches. We found a 15-percent-off discount code to use at our campsite – it’s always worth checking for offers.
On the ground
5pm: On our way down we stop off at a supermarket and stock up on food for a camp stove breakfast the next day (£15 each between two people).
7:30pm: With four cars heading down, we’re in a race to see who arrived first. We were (just!) beaten by one of the other duos, and subsequently checked in. The campsite is sprawling; a seemingly infinite terrain of lush grass, bushes, heather and forests, and we immediately spot wild ponies, donkeys and cows roaming about. We find a perfect corner big and flat enough to be comfortable (after sweeping the ground of pine cones), then swiftly set to work on setting two tents up. When others join us after dark, we all pitched in to help put up their tents with only torches and car headlights to assist us – all part of the fun!
10pm: Our stomachs growling, we head to Brockenhurst town for some late-night food. We scouted out a few historic pubs with beer gardens, fires and live music, but alas, all of the kitchens had closed. Time for some fast food – and quick.
We trundle over to the other side of town to find a brightly lit Chinese restaurant about to close for the night. Allowed in just in time and with a gigantic menu to choose from, we get more than we could probably handle. I order a veggie set menu including crispy seaweed, veg, rice and noodle dishes (£10 per person). Grabbing our not-so-little bags of hot food, we dash back to the cars and head back to camp.
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11pm: Devouring our combos of sweet and sour and sesame-based delights, we gather in my tent (we have the best fairy light and cosy blankets set-up). After some beers and catching up, we hit the airbed sacks for the night.
9am: A decidedly relaxed sunny morning at the campsite cooking breakfast and getting ready, each of us either on beans, sausages, coffee or washing up duty.
11am: We head out to coastal maritime town Lymington, wandering through markets, record stores and nautical-themed shops, and making our way down the steep cobbled streets to the harbour. Tempted by a children’s pirate boat tour, I was told our group was probably a little more suited to the scenic boat tour, and that we could bring our own food and drink. We buy boat tickets (£7.50 each) and head to a supermarket for some G&T and beers (£4.50 for me) and snacks. We also swing by a cafe for a fresh crab sandwich (£5 each).
1pm: The weather had been pretty decent up until now, but in tune with a typically British summer it starts to rain on the boat trip, and gets remarkably chilly all of a sudden. After the boat docks, we take shelter in a nearby pub, but it seemed everyone else had the same idea. We decide to literally raincheck and head back.
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3pm: We detour, hoping to pick up some goods for a fire later on. We manage to find fire-lighters and kindling, but it was a struggle to find something to place the fire in as we had no fire pit. Someone came up with the genius idea of using two dog bowls as it wouldn’t damage the grass and would keep the fire in! Some of the others contributed to the cost and we were pretty pleased with ourselves.
4pm: The rain eased off by the time we got back, but something else was in store for us…two of our tents had been zipped open entirely, and we discovered a mess of crumbs everywhere. Turns out when the campsite says ‘no food to be left in tents due to hungry horses’, they meant the horses could even get their teeth into sealed packages! We’d left all other food in the cars but thought sealed bags of crisps and bread would be fine. Apparently not.
After a clear-up session we chilled out: read books, took naps and then played football, frisbee and board games in the golden hour sun, before getting ready to go to one of the pubs we’d been admiring in Brockenhurst.
7pm: After meandering through the forests in the evening light, we went to a pub called The Huntsman, which boasts a varied food menu and an enormous plant-filled garden, adorned with fire pit and heaters. We ordered a whole bunch of things, from Bloody Mary cocktails and craft ales to two mouth-watering sharing camembert cheese platters. For my main, I chose a delicious, piquant veggie chilli with polenta fries, and we each helped ourselves to each other’s dishes when struggling to finish. We split the bill eight ways (£27.50 each).
11pm: We retire indoors to play board games, then order two taxis which other chipped in for (ours was alarmingly and entertainingly customised with neon lights paired with dance music).
Midnight: Back at camp, we were ready to attempt the makeshift fire, and it worked! Still feeling creative, we managed to also use an airbed pump to blow on the fire to keep it going. The night ended with a few drinks and telling scary stories around the campfire, which was definitely as cliche as it sounds.
9am: Having opted for a non-electric pitch, we don’t have a fridge with us, so have to make do with some leftovers from yesterday’s brekkie: coffee, slightly chilled milk, bread and beans. We manage to toast the bread on the stove, so beans on toast was actually pretty good for no extra cost!
11am: This is the day with the best weather forecast, so we head to a little pebbly beach at Barton-on-Sea. About half of us get into our swimming gear and dived into some pretty mighty waves. Once I got past the huge breaks the water is relatively calm, and not as cold as the English Channel can potentially be, probably because it was the end of summer.
2pm: Needing to restock our energy after drying off, we make our way to a cliff-top eatery with the most amazing view over the sea. Hankering after some fish and chips, it was as if the restaurant read our minds as it’s their speciality offering. I get a plate of scampi and chips accompanied by a hot chocolate to warm up (£11.78). Some of the others buy a rounders bat and ball from the adjoining shop and I’m eager to play.
4pm: Back at the campsite, we have a carefree afternoon of games in the sun. A number of families packed up at the end of the weekend because of the school holidays coming to a close, so we have a ton of space to ourselves to run around like big kids. We play rounders and hide-and-seek ‘40-40-in’ until we’re exhausted.
6pm: After a stroll in the woods, a few of us pick up disposable BBQs and food for dinner at a supermarket (I chip in £10). We have burgers, grilled halloumi, peppers, corn on the cob and toasted marshmallows, and finish our last few cans of beer. After a gorgeous pink sunset fades away and the evening air leaves us a little cold, we play board games in the tent and sleep under a clear, starry sky.
11am: Glum to be packing up our tents and saying goodbye, we go to a charming local garden centre and cafe for breakfast. I order smoked salmon, eggs and a latte (£9.97). I’m looking out for cute house plants to add to my collection and walk away with a cactus plant as well as a plant mister (£10).
1pm: After a stop at the beach in Portsmouth on the drive back for ice cream (£1.65) I’m ready to get home to my bed and four walls, and am pretty exhausted after such a fun weekend, but I’ll definitely miss camping under the stars. Until next summer!
Overall spend: £112.90 + accommodation (£35.74) + petrol (£15) = £163.64
Notes: I’d recommend travelling around the New Forest National Park in a car as otherwise it’s pretty difficult to get around. Next time we visit we might make sure there’s a local pub within a shorter walking distance, but it was great to be in a remote spot in the great outdoors.
As a group we weren’t strict on who paid what, and splitting costs randomly between us over the long weekend made for a stress-free time. There’s always something to chip in for on a trip like this, so I do think that this is the most organic way to do it. We all had such a fun time, and so many of the activities were free.
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