A couple of years ago, my friend Sally and I spent a few glorious days cycling in the New Forest. As it is such a unique and fascinating place to visit (cycles clamped onto the back of your car or not) Husband and I decided to celebrate our 27th wedding anniversary there last week. We stayed in an excellent, family owned hotel – but more of that shortly…
The New Forest was created by William the Conqueror in 1079 when Winchester was the royal capital and he wanted somewhere handy to hunt deer. It’s one of Britain’s newest and smallest national parks, designated in 2005 and covers 218 square miles across Hampshire and Wiltshire. The free roaming livestock, amazing scenery and 141 miles of footpaths attract about 15 million visitors each year. Apart from cycling, walking, horse riding, fly fishing and bird watching, the New Forest has many other attractions including Paultons Park, the National Motor museum at Beaulieu (the auto jumbles are particularly popular apparently), Buckler’s Hard and Marwell Zoo.
The area’s most famous residents are the 3000+ New Forest ponies which have right of way over cars and, although they appear to be wild, are all owned by people known as Commoners whose birthplace (Lyndhurst) gives them historic rights to graze animals – so you’ll also spot plenty of free range cattle, pigs and sheep. An organisation called the Court of Verderers represents the Commoners and helps look after the preservation of this unique area and its age old traditions. Sherlock Holmes author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, nursing heroine Florence Nightingale and Alice Hargreaves, the inspiration for Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, are all buried in The New Forest. There are some quirky place names here too, such as Sandy Balls, Anthony’s Bee Bottom and Little Stubby Hat.
So, if the New Forest appeals to you as a destination, where to stay? Well, Husband and I can thoroughly recommend the 4* Bell Inn in Brook. If you want an attractive hotel with excellent food and happy, well trained staff then this could also be the place for you. Brook is rural yet only one mile from the M27, so easily accessible and close to many of the attractions you’ll want to visit. This historic Grade II listed hotel has been independently owned by the Crosthwaite-Eyre family since 1782, so couldn’t be further in style from an impersonal hotel chain. As our waitress said – the Bell likes to make sure its customers are happy.
Accordingly, there are 28 tasteful en-suite rooms (some are dog friendly) with flatscreen TV and Egyptian cotton bedlinen. Free parking and wifi, a relaxing bar serving real ale and, if you like golf, you’re in luck as the Bell Inn owns two 18-hole courses. Both are close to the hotel – one is manicured, the other is the oldest course in Hampshire and a totally unique challenge as you’ll find yourself playing across heathland, sharing greens with wandering livestock!
What really impressed us though, was the award winning food courtesy of head chef, Mark Young. In fact the hotel was awarded a second AA Rosette in June 2018, so it’s not just my tastebuds that had such an enjoyable time! Mark’s menus showcase the New Forest’s abundant local produce offering an ‘estate-to-plate’ experience. To give you an idea of what was on the seasonal menu, we feasted on Parsnip & Celeriac Veloute with homemade sourdough, Potted Lymington Crab, Chicken Schnitzel with caper butter and a refreshingly tart redcurrant compote, and acorn-fed Swallowfield Pork with a moreish potato croquette. Put simply, it’s very good food served in a relaxed, informal atmosphere. What’s not to like?
The excellent location, caring staff and mouthwatering food is almost certainly why The Bell Inn made it onto Hotel Guru’s chic UK hotels selection. If you’re planning a trip to the New Forest anytime soon, bookmark this article and you’ll be sure of a great welcome.
BTW The Bell’s current midweek deals are:
Sunday: £99 per couple for dinner, bed, breakfast and a glass of champagne
Monday – Thursday: £129 per couple with dinner
Set lunches: £16.50 two courses or £20.50 three courses
Click here for the Bell’s website.