The Hambledon pub offering llama treks through the Surrey Hills
- Credit: Archant
The Merry Harriers, a chocolate box-style country pub in Hambledon, is the unlikely home of a herd of llamas. We try out one of the pub’s treks through the Surrey Hills
The Merry Harriers in Hambledon is the archetype of a cosy country pub, with a history that dates back to the 16th century and stunning green surroundings. But, a walk through the restaurant to the expansive pub garden reveals a rather unexpected site – a herd of llamas.
That’s because the pub has teamed up with Surrey Hills Llamas to offer its customers the rare chance to go llama trekking in the heart if the Surrey countryside. I took my animal mad mother along to try out the Merry Harriers’ B&B Trek package, which includes an overnight stay, breakfast and a llama trek.
Outdoor activities at this time of the year are always a bit of a gamble, given that the weather is seemingly governed by a roll of the dice. But luckily for us the weather gods were on our side and it stayed dry throughout our stay. Danielle Montgomery-Page, who runs the pub with her husband, Sam, told us that although llama treks are much more popular in the summer months, they are available to book all year round.
The Merry Harriers recently underwent an extensive refurbishment to include the addition of four new en suite bedrooms as well as redecoration of the pub, restaurant and private dining areas. My room was beautifully decorated in a country inn style, with cosy soft furnishings that complemented the building’s rustic architecture. Upon arrival you are given some fresh milk so you can make tea in your room – a plate of homemade brownies a lovely addition.
We had dinner in the pub’s dining area, which was dark and atmospheric but softened with the warm glow of a generous fire. A timeline of the pub’s former landlords is painted along the walls, with the brilliantly-named Absalom Bone revealed as the first landlord in 1701.
Sam runs the kitchen with a focus on local produce that is sourced within a 15 mile-radius. and has a fondness for foraging, with Hambledon nettles, blackberries and wild garlic making their way on to the menu. I plumped for beef aranchini for my starter, while my mother opted for the soup of the day. For main I had sirloin from Wakelings the Butchers in nearby Farncome and Mum went for a ploughmans that gave me huge food envy. We both finished with apple and elderberry crumble with lashings of custard – winter comfort food at its best.
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At the bar there’s an interesting selection of local real ales, wines from Surrey vineyards and the Merry Harriers Garden Cider, which is home-pressed from Hambledon apples.
Feeling sufficiently stuffed we headed to bed, ready for llama trekking in the morning. But before setting out the next day, we fortified ourselves against the cold with a hearty cooked breakfast.
All decked out in wellies and waterproofs (just in case) we made our way over to meet the llamas. There are 11 llamas in the pack and Matt, our guide, picked out Surya for me and Louis for my mum – which he told us are his two favourites. Llamas are very curious and sociable animals and as we led our new charges out of the paddock, the rest of the herd came over to say hello. As we exited the gates onto the trail that runs alongside the pub,
I quickly realised that llamas are governed by their stomachs (all four of them) and largely decide the route and pace of the walk depending on what leaves they want to eat. Surya, the alpha of the pack, seemed particularly fond of holly, while Louis, the greedy one of the bunch, was happy eating anything green.
Surya also regularly pulled me off the trail to strip bark off the trees with his teeth, which actually made some impressive patterns. Despite my assurances that he was an undiscovered artist, Matt said llamas do this to mark their territory. Something that became apparent when Louis tried to get in on the action, prompting Surya to launch a cascade of spit in his direction – missing my mum by inches.
Despite these brief hostilities llamas are extremely calm and non-aggressive animals, so children can take part in the treks too. We came across several sets of very surprised horse riders and dog walkers on our journey through the woods and the llamas were unphased each time. The same could not be said for a poor dachshund we passed, who took to hiding behind a bush.
The route took us along the trails of the Greensand Way, which was looking particularly lovely at this time of year. During the summer months the llamas can carry picnic hampers to be enjoyed at several scenic spots along the route. It was far too cold for us to consider stopping for too long but we took a moment to enjoy the views at Hambledon Common. On a fine day, you can look out over the downs to see the sea in Sussex from here, as it is a mere 26 miles away. A lot of work has been done in recent years to establish heather in the area and in August and September the hillside is said to be swathed in purple. Unfortunately Surya was finding the heather to be a rather delicious delicacy and as I didn’t want to undo the hard work taken to grow it, we headed back along the trail to the pub.
The Merry Harriers offers a variety of trek packages; the B&B Trek is £384.00 per couple and includes a one night stay and three-course dinner.
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