Walk Distance: 5.4 km
Walk Duration: 2 hours leisurely stroll (including stops at Reptile Centre & Knightwood)
OS Map: OS Explorer OL 22 New Forest; OS Landranger 195 Bournemouth & Purbeck / 196 The Solent & Isle of Wight
Suitable for: Babies in carriers, all-terrain strollers* , shorter pushchair detour option. (*At time of writing, a gate is broken on Warwick Slade Heath meaning a stroller would need to be lifted over until fixed).
Walk features: Oldest tree in New Forest, Reptile centre, toilet facilities, possibility of spotting New Forest ponies, woodland walking.
The New Forest has so many lovely walking options for families and this is just one great example. The walks starts from the Millyford Bridge car park, just over 3 km west of Lyndhurst. Alternatively you can begin the walk from either the Newforest Reptile Centre or the Knightwood Oak car park if you prefer. The toilet facilities are located at the Reptile Centre, just in case this influences your decision!
From Millyford Bridge car park, return to the road you entered on an cross over to the grassy common on the opposite side. Walk along the common, following the roadside until you reach a rather odd looking construction at the far end, just to the left of the roadside. This is the Portuguese Fireplace – a commemoration to the local efforts of the Portuguese army in the First World War. Portuguese soldiers set up a camp here and helped locals in producing timber to be used in the war effort. The fireplace is from their old cookhouse and has been restored and left as a memorial to their work.
To the right of the Portguese Fireplace a grassy path runs alongside the road before reaching a gate on the left-hand side. Follow this path and go through the gate into the trees of the New Forest beyond.
Follow the track through the New Forest woodland and continue until you reach a small pond. Here there is the chance to spot dragonfly and possibly frogs, tadpoles and even newts. Bear left at the pond and continue the walk along the forest track.
The forest path eventually emerges at the New Forest Reptile Centre car park. The New Forest Reptile Centre is clearly visible to the left of the path and consists of a series of specially designed enclosures which house the UK’s only all-native collection of native frogs, toads, lizards and even snakes. Entry to the centre is free and its a good chance to have a closer look at these fascinating creatures up-close. Be prepared to be quiet and patient though – you are unlikely to spot the creatures on a quick passing stroll as they have plenty of foliage to hide away in.
Those who prefer their feathers and wings to the slimy and slitheries will enjoy the temporary summer information booth next to the New Forest Reptile Centre run by the RSPB. With binoculars set up on the busy bird feeder nearby and a live camera feed coming from one of the fairly rare Goshawk nests (Goshawks were nearly extinct in the New Forest in 2000) in the nearby forest, this is a lovely stop for children to engage with nature and learn more about the local wildlife. Both the Reptile Centre and the RSPB information centre are only open during the summer month – please check the website for details.
To continue the walk, turn left off the path and past the New Forest Reptile Centre enclosures, over the grass towards a wooden gate. If you need a loo break before continuing there are public toilets available in the car-park by the Reptile Centre. Go through the gate and past the white gatekeeper’s cottage on your left-hand side. Just beyond the cottage on the opposite side of the road you will see a grass path leading away from the road to the right and over the heathland.
If you are walking with a pushchair, this is where you will really need an all-terrain stroller as the going can get quite boggy and hard work in places on the heath, particularly after rain or in the winter months. The path also becomes a little harder to follow as it wiggles through the heather here but if you keep heading diagonally right towards the bottom of the heath and the sound of the road beyond then you will be fine.
(If you prefer a pushchair friendly option then go back to the New Forest Reptile Centre and retrace your steps through the gate towards the Millyford Bridge car park. Just a short way beyond the Reptile Centre you will find a path on your left leading back into the woods. Follow this and it will eventually lead you back to the return route to Millyford Bridge described below by a shorter route. N.b. this option means forfeiting the visit to the Knightwood Oak).
On the far side of the heath at the hedge boundary with the road just beyond, turn right and follow the hedge-line until you come to a wooden footbridge. Cross over the bridge and follow the path straight on. You will see a wooden fence ahead to the left – keep to the right of it and continue on your path, heading straight for the tree line ahead. At the edge of the forest, turn right and follow a boundary fence until you come to a wooden gate with a grassy path beyond.
At time of writing this gate was jammed shut and we had to lift over our all-terrain pushchair. I have contacted the New Forest NPA for an update on if/when this will be fixed and will revise the advise on the walk accordingly when I received information but for now, please assume you will need to be able to lift any pushchair over this one gate.
Once through the gate, follow the wide grassy path beyond into a less-densely forested glade. Here take some time to explore and if you have a picnic, it’s a good spot to stop. To the right of the glade as you enter you will find the Knightwood Oak. With a gigantic girth of 7.38 meters and thought to be around 600 years old, this noble tree is thought to be the largest and possibly oldest in the New Forest. Read the children’s classic ‘Children of the New Forest’ by Frederick Marryat before your visit and it will add to the Knightwood Oak’s fascination – here is a tree which had already been in place for a hundred or couple of hundred years before the events of the English Civil War the book is based on even took place in the New Forest.
It’s broad trunk is thought to be a result of ancient pollarding methods, where trees had their upper branches removed for timber whilst still growing, producing wood especially good for boat-building amongst other uses. This promoted a dense mass of lower branches and foliage perched on top of the trunk and by keeping the tree in a semi-juvenile state, helps the tree maintain a long-life and slow-growth.
Back on the main path in the Knightwood glade there two oak trees planted by and in honour of Queen Elizabeth II and her husband Prince Phillip. Follow the path past these two trees, passing them on your left and emerge from the forest onto a grassy verge by the side of a road. Opposite is the Knightwood Oak Car Park.
Turn right and follow the roadside past the entrance to the car park. A short distance beyond the car park on the right-hand side of the road there is a grassy path leading right and directly back into the forest. It is the first track you will find on the right after leaving the car park behind you but is quite small so you need to keep an eye out!
Follow the path back under the atmospheric shade of the New Forest trees and the path joins a wider track. Continue straight on this path, enjoying the easy walking and beautiful surroundings. The path rises a little before later joining a gravel track. Turn right along this gravel path and continue walking until you reach the small pond you passed at the start of the walk.
Those returning to a different car park and not wishing a detour to visit the Portuguese Fireplace should turn right by the pond here and pick up the walk directions from the start of the description on the page above. Those returning to Millyford Bridge car park or detouring to visit the Portuguese Fireplace – carry straight on keeping the pond to your right and you will come to the gate you first entered the forest through. Turn right, pass the Portuguese Fireplace on the common on your right hand side and retrace you steps to the Millyford Bridge car park.
Map of Route:
This walk starts from Millyford Bridge Car Park, just west of Lyndhurst in the New Forest. The car park can be a bit tricky to find – put coordinates N50.86958, W1.620800 into your Sat Nav or Google Maps to pinpoint it, or turn left at the New Forest Inn on the road out of Lyndhurst and follow until you see a sign for the car park. Alternatively you can park at the Reptile Centre or Knightwood Oak Car Park and begin the walk from there instead.
View Millyford Bridge Walk in a larger map
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