Tim Saunders seeks a winter bolt hole in which to to unwind with his family… My wife and I needed a break recently after our most challenging year, which saw the arrival of second daughter and the start-up of our business. In short, we were frazzled and in need of some rest and relaxation, and Sandy Balls, the five star award winning 120-acre country estate near Fordingbridge in the New Forest National Park offered just that. As I loaded up the car, I wasn’t entirely sure it was actually going to be that restful; the amount of luggage my wife and small girls seemed to require astounded me and I was exhausted before I even made it to the driver’s seat. But after a few compromises we all eventually managed to squeeze into the poor Peugeot 2008.
Southern England’s beautiful New Forest is only about forty minutes from our home but it feels like another world regardless of the time of year you visit. It includes one of the country’s largest remaining tracts of unenclosed pasture, heathland and forest. We live on a busy main road and in contrast our luxury lodge at Sandy Balls was a tranquil retreat where bird song replaced the noise of roaring traffic and irksome neighbours. We had taken a six-berth lodge and the extra room allowed both Heidi and Harriett to have separate bedrooms.
We checked in at 3pm and moments after unloading, we were swimming. At Sandy Balls there are two warm toddler pools and a main pool. We hadn’t been swimming for months and it was surprising to see Harriett with her armbands on doing backstroke as soon as she touched the water. It would be very easy to stay at the large holiday park and not venture outside because it has its own well stocked country store, launderette, gym, sauna, pub and restaurant. Pizza in the Piazza offers good quality food in bright and convivial surroundings. It really does provide a welcome break from the baked beans and scrambled eggs typical of much British self catering. Instead we savoured homemade smoked haddock fishcakes followed by duck with plum and red wine sauce accompanied by a pleasant Italian red. A dessert of chocolate fudge cake and a cappuccino to finish was a pleasing treat. So often these days restaurant service leaves much to be desired but here the staff were cheerful and genuinely interested in their customers.
Each night we all slept well on the comfy beds and our lodge coped well with the winter weather, the combination boiler keeping it warm and cosy. The onsite cycle centre had a host of bicycles available for hire. We opted for a couple of comfort bikes providing upright riding and I towed the trailer with Harriett and Heidi inside. We toured the surrounding areas of Stuckton and Gorley. Even though we opted for the quickest route the hills on the return leg really slowed us up but on our travels we saw New Forest ponies and donkeys freely roaming by the roadside and sometimes in it; a very useful traffic calming measure although slightly tricky to negotiate on two wheels.
Just down the road is Fordingbridge, a quaint market town famous for its Great Bridge, from which the town received its name, with its seven graceful arches. The town boats a large riverside park where one can meander along the riverbank draped with willows and waterside plants; close by is a great children’s play area. There is also a statue of the town’s most famous inhabitant, Augustus John, the controversial portrait painter. We returned home more relaxed than we have been for some time; the area afforded us a fabulous opportunity for quality time together as a family. Tim Saunders