The Great British Countryside
No one romanticizes the countryside more than city people. Us Londoners have a habit of getting away as often as possible. But sometimes the best type of breaks are actually right on your doorstep.
The contrast between the British countryside and London surprises me every time. In the day-to-day grind of cramped tubes and rainy pavements, I forget how different life is just a short train (or car) ride away. That you really don’t have to board a plane to find the sun and a slower pace of life.
In places like Devon, Hampshire, New Forest and the Cotswolds, you can find rolling hills bathed in sunshine, laid-back villages and all the perks of your trip abroad.
Where to Stay in New Forest
Sandwiched between Bournemouth and Southampton in the south of England, New Forest is actually England’s smallest National Park. But don’t let that deceive you. It would take nearly 7 hours to walk the park from top to bottom.
The park is home to several beautiful towns and villages, as well as plenty of attractions and activities, such as hiking, biking, horse-riding or deer safari. There is also an activities centre in Beaulieu which arranges canoeing, kayaking, ropes, archery, and more.
Brockenhurst is one of the largest villages and easily reached by train from London’s Waterloo in under 2 hours. The village is well-known for its ponies and donkeys, which are free to roam the streets and woodlands. You might also see deer, cattle and pigs, although they prefer to hang out further from the crowds.
Brockenhurst is just 4 miles south of Lyndhurst, another popular village in the heart of the forest. I chose Brockenhurst for its impressive selection of hotels, pubs and restaurants, and easy access from London. It is a quintessentially British country village with tea rooms, thatched houses, and charming medieval churches typical of the region.
Hotels in Brockenhurst
Brockenhurst has a great variety of accommodation, from spa hotels and big country manors to small and cozy B&Bs. I recently noticed several fellow bloggers and Instagrammers raving about the award-winning Pig Hotel, with stellar reviews from the Telegraph and boutique hotel experts Mr and Mrs Smith. The hotel’s description of really a restaurant with rooms is all I need to hear for my belly to guide my body towards it.
Unfortunately, both hotels I had my eye on, the Pig and the Huntsman, were fully booked. I underestimated just how popular New Forest is, especially in the beautiful autumn period. Luckily, I managed to find us two rooms in a lovely cottage hotel.
We were very lucky to get a booking at the Cottage Lodge in early November with just two weeks notice. I’m also really glad that happened because I probably wouldn’t have picked it otherwise.
Cottage Lodge is actually #1 on Tripadvisor for hotels in Brockenhurst, where guests really appreciate the cozy comfort of the hotel, value-for-money and convenient location, just five-minutes walk from Brockenhurst train station.
While I was tempted by some of the bigger, fancier hotels, Cottage Lodge ticked all the boxes on price, comfort and convenience. It’s also an eco-friendly hotel and winner of the 2016 New Forest National Park Authority Sustainable Business Award. All the wooden furniture has been handcrafted by local tree surgeon Rob Dyer from locally sourced wood.
Since we planned on spending more time outdoors exploring the forest and villages than inside the hotel, the rooms, restaurant and common living space was all we would need.
We boarded the 18.30 train from Waterloo on a Friday evening, arriving at the Cottage Lodge somewhere after 20.00. I booked us a table at the hotel’s restaurant White Tails for our first night and the trendy Huntsman for the second.
White Tails serve homey British staples in a casual cottage dining room. While some dishes were better than others – the whitebait and scotch eggs were excellent! – it was overall a good experience. We devoured a deliciously baked camembert (before I could take any photos, of course), several starters to share, a main dish each and two bottles of wine.
After dinner, we took a bottle of wine with us to ‘the snug‘ (their common area) to play some card games (Exploding Kittens and Uno, don’t judge). We had already checked into our rooms, Bolderwood (double room) for George and I, and Gillies Holt (four-poster) for our friends. The rooms were perfect. Warm, clean and cozy with great en-suite bathrooms. I highly recommend Cottage Lodge to anyone looking for a cozy place to rest their heads.
On a rather cloudy but thankfully rainless Saturday morning, and after digesting a fantastic Full English at the Cottage Lodge, we set off for a 1-hour forest walk. Some 2 hours later, we decided it was time one of us got out Google maps. Seeing that we were halfway to Lyndhurst, way off the hike route we set out on, we figured we might as well go check it out!
Lyndhurst struck me as a bit fancier than Brockenhurst. I guess because of the giant Ferrari and Maserati dealership at the end of the high street. The high street is bigger and buzzier than Brockenhurst, although coming from London that’s exactly the sort of thing I wanted to avoid. So I was really happy with my choice to stay at Brockenhurst.
After nearly a 4-hour walk trampling through the forest, we needed a pub break! We went to the gorgeous rustic-chic Fox and Hounds pub for some beers and food and later took a taxi back to Brockenhurst.
The Huntsman of Brockenhurst
For our second and last night, we booked dinner at the Huntsman, also a restaurant with rooms type of concept. It struck me as a very London interpretation of country chic. You would expect to find a place like this in Shoreditch, not Brockenhurst!
Their specialties are steak and wood-fired pizzas, although it was the pizza that impressed me most. I loved their twist on a Hawaiian with caramelised pineapple, prosciutto and sun blush tomatoes that were a winning combination.
Forest Walks and Wild Horses
My favourite thing about New Forest is… the forest itself. It has this incredible wild and free feel to it. You can actually walk through the open woodlands, off any paths or roads, and stumble across beautiful white ponies in their habitat.
If you plan on hiking the forest, tall wellington boots are absolutely essential. Consider this a golden rule for most of the British countryside. Trampling through marshes and wet soil is a lot of fun in wellies, and literally the opposite in any other kind of footwear.
Where is your favourite country escape?