Great British Drives: take your time to savour the splendours of the New Forest

Nissan Qashqai Tekna+
Enchanted forest: David Williams learns that gently does it when exploring the historic woodland Credit: Christopher Pledger

You’ve heard of slow food and slow cities, possibly even of slow safari, slow cinema and slow ageing, all part of a cultural shift towards reducing life’s frantic pace.

Today we bring you the slow road trip, the antidote for anyone tired of rushing from point A to point B, of being “pushed” along by other traffic - or worrying that they might have triggered a speed camera in their dash to get there, anywhere, on time.

Those seeking that elusive, more mindful state of travel should head to the capital of slow itself, the 350 square-mile New Forest in Hampshire.

There, in 1990, speed limits on main roads were lowered to 40mph to reduce the number of drivers hitting the ponies, deer, pigs, donkeys, even wild boar, that roam wild there.

All of which makes it ideal territory for the slow road trip, starting at Lyndhurst, home not just to rows of town shops but also the New Forest Centre.

Lyndhurst, at the centre of the New Forest Credit: Robert Harding/Alamy

Its gallery, free museum charting the history of the forest (proclaimed a royal forest in around 1079 by William the Conqueror) and Tip, Leaf and Bean cafe make it the ideal de-pressurisation point after your (possibly frantic) dash along the M27 motorway, before being embraced by the restful calm of the forest itself, along the A337.

The first glimpse of wildlife comes as we leave Lyndhurst on the A35 and spot ponies grazing on heathland spilling away from the road - after setting the speed limiter on our Nissan Qashqai Tekna+ to a law-abiding 40mph.

After turning right towards Ashurst, our second glimpse takes us even closer to nature, inside the 25-acre New Forest Wildlife Park in aptly-named Deerleap Lane. There (on foot) you can meet giant otters, red deer, the European souslik, grey wolves - even bison. All happily minding their own business, all well away from the (slow) traffic.

Now, as you head towards Beaulieu, and because you’re ambling along at just 40mph, there’s plenty of time to soak up views of the rhododendrons lining the verges between rows of pretty, brick and flint cottages whose gardens stretch into the shadowy forest, until you thud over a cattle grid near Ipley Cross.

Horses roam free in the New Forest, which comprises dense woodland interspersed with heathland such as this Credit: ProjectB/Getty Images

Suddenly the dense woodland is behind you and you’re rewarded with long views over open heathland, criss-crossed with inviting hiking trails.

The vista, as you close in on the village of Beaulieu itself however, could hardly be prettier, hardly more English; herds of happy, docile donkeys wander at will, grazing the roadside verges by the sunny banks of the Beaulieu River. Visit at low tide and the mudflats team with wildfowl. There’s even a picture-perfect classic car garage at the crossroads, stuffed with perfect, shiny, (slow) old MGs, Triumphs and Austin Healey Frogeye Sprites. Or is it a mirage?

We cruise past in the comfort of the range-topping Qashqai Tekna+, sporting standard-fit creature comforts unheard of when those classic British sports cars were new. The list includes Intelligent Park Assist, Blind Sport Warning, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Moving Object Detection, Lane Departure Warning, Intelligent Emergency Braking (perfect for those wandering donkeys) and Traffic Sign Recognition (perfect for picking out those 40mph signs). I’ve never felt safer.

Or more cosseted. The Tekna+ has leather trim with what is termed “3D quilting”, electrically-adjustable four-way lumbar support and “interior ambient” lighting. Personally I’d swap the flashy 19-inch wheels for the smoother ride you get from the 18-inchers. This is a slow drive after all. And that means comfort, too.

A different kind of horsepower Credit: Christopher Pledger

The best stop for lunch is probably the conservatory overlooking the tranquil terraced gardens of the inviting old Montagu Arms, before following signs to Exbury Gardens, 200 acres of woodland heaven including quirky art installations, lakes, rare trees, miles of trails and an utterly pleasing – and slow - steam railway.

It’s all aboard at Exbury Central for a 20-minute trundle through the best the gardens have to offer, at an agreeably contemplative walking pace, before there’s just time to meander to nearby Buckler’s Hard, a hamlet harbouring a famously picturesque row of Georgian cottages tumbling down to the banks of the river.

Now it’s decision time. You could drop into Beaulieu’s famous, 250-car National Motor Museum showing gems such as the earliest motor carriages and land speed record-breakers. Or you could save it for a proper - slow - look the following day and slope off to the overnight sanctuary of the equally renowned Lime Wood Hotel and Spa, back along the B3056.

We did the latter, to stroll the hotel’s lush, meadow-encircled estate before retreating to the gently opulent Forest Hideaway Suite tucked away in its own private garden, then enjoying afternoon tea on the unexpectedly productive spa rooftop, cleverly transformed into a lofty country garden, with long New Forest views.

The 18th century shipbuilding village at Buckler's Hard, where a broad avenue of cottages leads down to the Beaulieu River Credit: Arch Images/Alamy

Life is fun at Lime Wood; they even provide “classic” pedal cars for younger guests. But food is a serious matter. You can get your hands dirty with cookery classes in their modern interpretation of an estate kitchen - or laze and eat extremely well in the elegant restaurant choosing, perhaps, one of their specialities, the Slow-cooked Braised Veal Shin Risotto Milanese (of course).

After a peaceful night hiding away in the heart of forest it’s time to double back to the National Motor Museum. Make sure you don’t miss out on the 1930s garage, or whetting your appetite with The Motorcycle Story exhibition, before winding west along the B3055 via Brockenhurst, to the splendid Sammy Miller Motorcycle Museum to gaze at the vast collection of beautiful bikes, each one in running condition.

Sammy is there most days, fettling his machines in the workshop. And while he was known for his turn of speed at the Isle of Man TT, slow is a concept he should be entirely comfortable with. It wasn’t for nothing that Sammy Miller, MBE was 11 times champion in British Trials - the motorcycle sport which, as any aficionado will tell you, is officially a “non-speed event on specialised motorcycles”.

Or, as you and I might put it, a celebration of slow and steady. How very apt.

newforestwildlifepark.co.uk; exbury.co.uk; bucklershard.co.uk; beaulieu.co.uk/attractions/national-motor-museum; sammymiller.co.uk; limewoodhotel.co.uk

THE FACTS

Nissan Qashqai Tekna+

PRICE £30,325

ENGINE 1,461cc four-cylinder diesel

POWER 78bhp

TOP SPEED 113mph

ACCELERATION 0-62mph in 11.9sec

FUEL ECONOMY 74.3mpg (EU Combined)

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