Take a trip to Lymington to enjoy the timeless beauty of the New Forest

CYCLING along the windy sea wall, it would be easy to get distracted by the big skies or the lush green marshland, miss a turn and end up among the reeds and ponds below.

I’m in the Lymington and Keyhaven Nature Reserve. To my left are the waters and shifting sandbanks of the Solent and beyond, the Isle of Wight, which seems just a pebble’s throw away.

To the right are the marshes speckled with yellows and whites from wild poppies and sea campion.

The marshes host a changing seasonal cast of birds, from little terns nesting on the beach to predatory peregrines hovering above. It feels timeless. But had I visited this southern corner of the New Forest 300 years ago, it would have been far less pleasant.

The smell of coal fires is the first thing any visitor would have noticed.
In 1733, there were flames burning day and night, heating 163 giant pans of sea water — all part of one of the country’s largest salt works.

Windmills stood in rows, pumping seawater, while ships sailed in and out of the harbour, delivering coal and exporting salt as far as Newfoundland and Norway.

The last salt house closed in the 1860s and these days, human activity on the marsh is limited to the walking and cycle paths that connect the harbour town of Lymington in the north with the hamlet Keyhaven to the south.

My ride through this flat and soggy stretch of coast began at Jaunt-E Bikes in Keyhaven, which offers custom cycles modelled on Eighties choppers.
With panniers and ultra-padded seats, these retro-cruisers are comfy enough for the most Lycra-averse explorers.

Quaint quayside

It provides customers with a library of custom cycle routes available on a free app, including my ten-mile off-road loop (inland through the nature reserve and then back along the Solent Way sea wall).

At the halfway point is Lymington, a Georgian port town with cobbled streets and a quaint quayside that grew fat on the salt trade.

Here, I tucked into my picnic lunch (£15) packed in the pannier, complete with fresh scones and home-made sandwiches, before joining the long queue for a coffee at the popular Coffee & Drift cafe.

Bikes can be rented for days or weeks, so cyclists with more time can take the 30-minute crossing to Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight, a sailing with fantastic views of both coastlines.

Following my custom map, I return via the marina, passing the oldest seawater lido in the UK.

Dating back to 1833, the 110-metre long Lymington Sea Water Swimming Baths boasts 200 metres of inflatables with space for stand-up paddleboarding, too.

Out of town, the sea wall leads me back along the coast, past the last of the old salt houses, slowly sinking into the marsh.

Luxury living among the trees

FOR the best of both worlds, combine stunning sea views with a tree-top stay.

Shorefield Country Park, tucked between the New Forest and the beaches at Milford on Sea, has recently launched two luxury treehouses in a secluded wooden grove.

Silvertree, where I stayed, and neighbouring Coppertree are more luxurious than any treehouse has a right to be.

A giant redwood would struggle to hold the weight of these woodland pads, so while they sit among the trees, they’re not treehouses in the strictest sense as they are held up on enormous stilts.

But they are cleverly elevated among the canopy, meaning every window offers stunning views of the leaves and branches of a grove of mature oaks.

Master bedrooms in the three-bed, six-person properties have free-standing bathtubs and monsoon showers. There is even underfloor heating.

Conical roofs make for soaring ceilings, while a spiral staircase and church-like lancet windows play up the fairytale design. There are individual thermostats and TVs in all the rooms, a huge smart TV in the living room and the latest Sonos Move waterproof speaker for parties indoors and out.

A huge wooden decking includes a hot tub, pizza oven, sun loungers, gas barbecue and outdoor heaters.

The holiday park itself has pools, tennis courts, gym, fishing lake and spa.

Nearby is Peppa Pig World, Hurst Castle, Beaulieu Motor Museum and, of course, the New Forest.

But my advice? Pick a rainy weekend and hole up in this luxurious little perch.

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