By Chiara Spagnoli Gabardi
It’s well known that Marie Antoinette so missed country life that her husband, Louis XVI, offered his beloved wife an escape from the ritualized public life in the Palace that she found so suffocating. This escape was a replica of a rustic village, evoking the simpler life, with thatched cottages and a functioning dairy farm. Far from the elaborate life and rituals of the palace, she would spend day after day being a ‘shepherdess’ surrounded by her closest friends. Apparently, it was the place where she was happiest.
Similarly, many British urbanites are growing dissatisfied with their high-powered lives in London. Surrounded by constant noise, skyscrapers and people, people and more people, they crave an escape to the countryside, where they can be surrounded by flora and fauna. A place where they won’t be judged by their accent, handbag or post code. And glamping with the Merry Harriers offers exactly such an experience.
Glamping With The Merry Harriers In The UK Countryside
The United Kingdom has been witnessing a rising demand for glamping holidays, with travellers who used to patronise big hotels now preferring more rustic agritourism accommodation to reconnect with nature and embrace outdoor living. More than 17 million camping and caravanning trips were taken by UK adults in 2016, a figure which is expected to rise to more than 21 million in 2020, transforming the caravanning market into a £3.2 billion business.
Forget the traditional shabby tent you may associate to camping – glamping brings the wilderness experience to a level of deep comfort, whilst respecting the environment. Holidays include options that may range to luxury yurts, sophisticated motorhomes and enchanting shepherd’s huts. The latter is the one I had the pleasure of experiencing myself.
In the heart of Surrey, within the charming village of Hambledon, there is a 16th century inn, that has the landlord’s names dating back to the early 1700’s written on the pub walls. Welcome to The Merry Harriers, a place that has just recently has developed a remarkable glamping experience by restoring five Shepherd’s Huts, surrounded by a pastoral ambiance. This outstanding destination offers a magical country getaway a mere fifty minutes from the hustle of London.
The Shepherd’s Huts
I experienced my own slice of pastoral paradise by sleeping in the most charming of the Shepherd’s Huts, and waking up each morning to the beauty of the South Downs National Park and Surrey Hills.
Inside my glamping hut, I had everything a regular home would provide: an en-suite bathroom with a magnificent large shower and luxury toiletries, a small kitchenette, a coffee machine, a fridge and a wood burning stove to keep me snug and toasty while sleeping in the breezy countryside.
With no traffic, no street noise and no bright lights, I slept deeply and soundly each night here.
Farm to Table
Although I had a wee kitchen in my hut, my meals at The Merry Harriers were taken in their jolly pub.
Food here is bountiful and scrumptious, with menus designed by Head Chef Sam Page. He uses the freshest locally sourced ingredients to create traditional platters from the region, including bangers and mash, a variety of soups and salads, and of course, English pies and desserts.
Some of the ingredients from Hambledon include wild garlic, nettles and blackberries; not to forget the incredible selection of local Real Ales and wines from the Surrey vineyards.
Perhaps the most memorable moment of my stay was the Llama Trek I had with Matt, who tended them. He explained that these creatures are part of the camelid species, and are extremely hygienic compared to horses, cattle, sheep, and goats. In fact, llama manure can be used as a rich fertiliser, and most importantly they can be used as grazing animals for pasture maintenance, since they can eat up to two kilograms of greenery a day.
As Matt and I walked quirky Mongo and handsome Louis, he explained to me how at The Shepherds Inn also organises treks with children, since the llamas are very good around kids, and are often used as therapeutic pets.
I know you will all be wondering whether I was spat on by a llama, and the answer is no. Their targets usually aren’t people; llamas most commonly spit as a show of dominance amongst themselves or other creatures.
Exploring the Surroundings
This area of outstanding natural beauty offers some of South East England’s most stunning and accessible countryside walks. Hambledon, Hascombe and Dunsfold are characterised by the enthralling wilderness and paths that range from very steep to flat and gentle. There are so many trails that you can wander upon to immerse yourself in nature, traversing the ancient Wealden Forests.
In Hambledon Hurst ,you can see roe deer leaping amongst the trees, which are splendid with bird song. Four hundred year old cottages peer from behind copses, beech hedges sprout from long-lost banks on ancient boundaries and pits survive from old brick clay diggings.
As you roam across the woods you will finally arrive at the Hambledon Church of St Peter & St Paul, which was was mentioned in the Domesday Book in 1086 and was originally founded by Renault Flambard. Amongst its illustrious curates there was also Skeffington Hume Dodgeson, who was the brother of Charles Lutwidge Dodgeson, better known as Lewis Carroll.
When I arrived at the church, there was no one there and it was closed, but a kind volunteer serendipitously appeared and not only did he show me the sanctuary, filling me in on every minute historical detail, but he also gave me a tour of the highlights of Hambledon.
He showed me the Cricket Field (that has made this civil parish the ‘Cradle of Cricket’), and pointed out the two ancient yew trees in the graveyard of the Hambledon Church. The smaller, younger tree was planted in 1400 AD, whereas the giant tree with a girth of a whopping 10m was planted in 800 AD.
I carefully entered its hollow insides and couldn’t help but marvel – this was the first time I had ever been in the bowels of a living tree. I must say, it was one of the most overwhelming experiences of my life to stand inside a living thing that has spent over 1200 years on the planet!
After my experience in this tree, I could truly understand Marie Antoinette. You may have all the riches in the world; you may even be a queen. But there’s nothing – absolutely nothing – as powerful and marvellous as connecting with nature on this planet, and I’m very glad I went glamping with the Merry Harriers so I could remember that.
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