The New Forest is fantastic as a year-round destination to revisit across the seasons, and autumn is a wonderful time to enjoy the rich tapestry of colours that envelop the woods and heathlands. It is also quieter and more peaceful, as the bustle of summer visitors calms down. This article focuses on one of our days out during this season. As a family, a visit to the New Forest usually involves spotting the ‘Big Five’ grazing animals – ponies, donkeys, deer, cows and sometimes sheep. In October the list increases to six, with pigs added to the list!

Pig Pannage in the New Forest

There are many traditions and laws in the New Forest interweaving the history of the lives of commoners, residents of the New Forest, and landowners, including royalty. One of these relates to commoners being allowed to release domestic pigs to graze on the acorns, chestnuts, or beech mast, known as pannage or ‘common of mast’. This is a practical way of getting the nuts, poisonous to ponies and cattle, off the forest floor. The pigs provide a natural hoover, and they get to enjoy the nuts and the freedom to roam – a win-win for animals and farmers.

The pannage period varies by year and is determined by the Verderers of the New Forest and Forestry England but is usually from late September through October. It can be extended depending on the crops of nuts. It will be interesting to see how global warming may affect the timings. In ancient times, pigs would roam in the thousands but there are only hundreds nowadays. Each pig is tagged and ringed.

The pigs wander where they want, including on the roads, so there is a good chance of spotting some, but not to touch. We have witnessed a pony getting very angry with some pigs and kicking out so, whilst they might be domesticated, care and respect around them is a must. Groups of pigs make for an entertaining sight trotting along and rooting around, doing a valuable job keeping their fellow four-legged residents safe.

After a bit of pig spotting around Bramshaw, we wanted to tick off a further two things off our list: a trip to Burley to enjoy the village without the crowds, and a cycle ride on one of the many routes across the Forest. We always enjoy an outing to Burley with its variety of independent shops and cafés on offer. Plus, there are nice walks starting from the Burley Cricket ground car park.

The kids love being up close and personal with the ponies and donkeys and seeing how they coexist with the shops and cafés – plus deciding which one they think is the prettiest! The drive to Burley is always scenic, whichever way you come in, and stopping for coffee or lunch, or even an autumnal ice cream, makes for a pleasant interlude. The car park is close by.

Castleman’s Corkscrew

Now it was time to get immersed in the autumnal beauty of the New Forest – the mosaic of browns, reds, green and cream. It helps going on a sunny day to get the full glory of the colours enhanced by the light and shade. Under the trees or out in the open vistas, it is a magical time of year. Riding across the open countryside is simply glorious.

There are hundreds of walks and cycling options in the forest. The New Forest National Park offers a map with a wealth of great ideas: we really like the old railway route, known as Castleman’s Corkscrew. Autumn is also a great time to pause and stay over at one of the many charming hotels, cottages, B&Bs, and even camping for the hardier. There are many options suited to all budgets and party sizes. We stayed at the Holmsley camp site recently, which has a fascinating history linked to its position on the former World War Two airbase, and children can ride all around the site.

Pick your own snack

Another early Autumn tradition is blackberry picking. Are they ripening earlier due to climate change? We associate blackberry picking with warm jumpers and an autumn feel but a lot of blackberries are ripening in the summer now. Whatever the time, the children love the opportunity to get their pots and head out to get a bit messy blackberry picking – and eating! Who can go past a laden bush during blackberry season without stopping to try? Coming back and making the perfect blackberry (or blackberry and apple) crumble – probably one of our favourite puddings. And to accompany… Cream, custard or ice cream?

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