What’s on offer in the village of Brockenhurst
From saunas and spas to splashing about in fords… this New Forest gem shows why it’s officially Britain’s most beautiful village
A potted history
Officially Britain’s most beautiful village – described as having ’bundles of charm and history’ - Brockenhurst has, on occasion, delighted in the title of Britain’s largest village, too.
The area’s potential was spotted a long time ago – 4,000 years to be precise - in the Bronze Age when humans started burying their dead in the area.
Various groups and peoples moved in, including the Saxons who are recorded in the Domesday Book as having four small manors in the area; Mapleham, Hincelveslei, Brochelie and Broceste.
The lives of these settlements were changed completely in 1066 when William the Conqueror defeated King Harold at the Battle of Hastings and, 12 years later, created the Nova Foresta, a private hunting ground stretching across what is now West Hampshire and encompassing Brockenhurst or Broceste, as it was then.
The manor provided accommodation for the King when he visited and in later years, at New Park, just north of the village, King Charles II established a hunting lodge.
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Brockenhurst grew again during the 18th century, possibly because of a turnpike on the road to Lymington, which had become a centre of sea-salt production, and grew larger still with the coming of the railway in the 19th century.
The village continued to expand following World War II and is now home to Brockenhurst College, which has more than 2,700 students studying A Levels and vocational courses, as well as a large number of highly-regarded hotels, including The Pig, Balmer Lawn, New Park and Careys Manor and its Thai themed spa.
Food and drink
Foodies and those who enjoy a drink – or a coffee – are spoiled for choice. Careys Manor Hotel on Lyndhurst Road has three restaurants; Le Blaireau for French fare, the Zen Garden for Thai delights plus a clean eating menu, and Cambium, Highly Commended at the Hampshire Life 2016 Food & Drink Awards. The Buttery in Brookley Road does the perfect cup of tea and cake, while The Huntsman boutique hotel on Lyndhurst Road will knock you up a cheeky cocktail, or serve you an array of World beers, as well as a wood-fired pizza in glamorous and comfortable surroundings.
What’s going on?
Plenty! Brockenhurst is the home of the annual celebration of forest life that is the New Forest and Hampshire County Show – the Queen was guest of honour in 2012 when she made it the final stop of her Diamond Jubilee Tour and in 2018 it will be held on July 24, 25 and 26.
Brockenhurst may be in the middle of the New Forest National Park but its transport connections rival those of much larger towns. With its own railway station, connecting the village to London Waterloo, Southampton and Bournemouth plus all the stations in between. Brock, as it’s affectionately known, is a few miles drive from the M27 from junction 13 and is connected via roads and buses to Southampton and Lymington, where it’s possible to catch the WightLink ferry to Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight.
A splashing time
The New Forest is famous for its fords and Brockenhurst is home to two of the best. The Splash is in Brookley Road and during the summer the stream flows over the road surface, whereas it’s diverted through underground pipes during the winter months. The aptly-named Waters Green is home to the village’s second ford, which flows throughout the year. The fords are great fun to drive through but care must always be taken when deciding to cross them, especially after rainy weather.
Did you know?
Brockenhurst has a proud war record, with many of its large country homes being converted to hospitals during World War I in 1914. Indian troops of the Meerut and Lahore Divisions who fought on the Western Front were patients at Brockenhurst and are commemorated in the name of Meerut Road.
The hospitals prompted the first Royal visit to the forest since that of George III, when King George V and Queen Mary visited the wounded, and the local cemetery contains within it the graves of more than 100 Commonwealth military personnel.
During World War II The Balmer Lawn Hotel hosted secret meetings between General Montgomery and General Eisenhower as they planned the D-Day Landings, and in the run-up to the Longest Day, military vehicles were hidden amongst the trees around the village. In 1943 Canadian service personnel used Careys Manor Hotel as their HQ and the Christmas party they gave for village children was happily remembered by many for giving young guests their first taste of peanut butter!
One of the famous dancing Tiller Girls, MBE and Businesswoman of the Year, Avril Owton is one of Brockenhurst’s best-known residents and champions.
Recently retired from her ownership of The Cloud Hotel in Meerut Road, Avril now has more time to devote to her interests and causes. She’ll continue to support and inspire women in business and plans to help out as a mentor with the Prince’s Trust.
“I arrived in Brockenhurst in 1976 after my husband took over the running of The Cloud from his family,” she says. “I had four children and always said that I didn’t know the difference between a chorus line and a bottom line.”
She had to find out very quickly in 1991, when her husband sadly died and she was left to run the hotel on her own. As it turned out Avril became hugely successful, gaining an MBE for services to hospitality and her charity work in Hampshire. She is passionate about customer service and her book ‘Delighting Your Customers’ was published in 2008. She believes that Brockenhurst’s magic is down to two simple things.
“I think the New Forest is a unique place – people from London or other big cities can’t believe it when they see a pony outside Tesco’s,” she says. “It’s also a really beautiful area with so many colours; the yellow of the gorse in the spring, the purple of the heather and then the colours of autumn, and Brockenhurst benefits from all of that.”
However, she says the village’s other great strength is the fact that: “It’s 20 miles from everything. There’s absolutely everything from sailing to dry ski slopes to riding, the beach, cinema, theatres and shops.”