Why you should be staying in one of these New Forest shepherd huts
- Credit: Archant
To get away from it all in a shepherds hut says Natalie French
No longer basic shelter for weather-worn sheep-keepers, today shepherds huts are small, but perfectly-formed retreats - complete with wood burning stove, a comfy bed and uninterrupted views of rolling countryside. What’s not to love?
We escaped to the beautiful village of Fritham in the North of the New Forest National Park. This idyllic village is popular with twitchers and walkers – along with the ponies and pigs that are often spotted grazing on the green.
Our home for the night could be found nestled on the top of hill, amongst 60 acres of working farmland – and, most conveniently, staggering distance from the award-winning Royal Oak pub.
This little gem of a pub has been owned by Neil & Pauline McCulloch for the past 18 years and was recently named Pub of the Year 2016 by the Southern Hampshire branch of CAMRA – the Campaign for Real Ale. It’s a real family affair, with both daughters Jenna & Cathy and their partners (not forgetting baby Holly) all working for the business. After receiving many requests for accommodation, and much research, the family opened New Forest Shepherds Huts in October last year – and they have proven popular!
Jenna led us across the beer garden to our home for the night - one of three shepherds huts situated in a paddock full of buttercups. With child-like excitement I peeked inside the hand-built hut to see a cool, scandi-inspired interior and uber-functional design - with handy hidden storage and pull-out table and box seats. The double bed was surprisingly comfy and we had our own shower suite and kitchenette, but it was the little details that stole my heart: from the cool lighting, mini radio and hurricane lamp, to the Nordic-style fleece blanket and little nods to the surrounding countryside. The wood burning stove was lit – upping the cosy factor and quashing any concerns of being cold.
The verandah, equipped with table, chairs and, well considered, citronella candle, offered the perfect place to relax with a book and a (take out) vino or two from the pub. I was delighted to see the traditional view remained the same – as bleating, blue-dyed, lambs leapt across the field opposite and broccoli-like trees burst on the horizon.
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Surrounded by a beautiful mixture of forest and heathland, you really are spoilt for choice when it comes to walks, and all can be accessed straight from your hut. We were happy to discover a hand-written book of walks, with maps, in the hut, so we donned wellies and opted for a 3-mile loop by Eyeworth Pond, which is signposted from behind the pub. The pond itself is more lake-like in proportion and a great place to sit and soak up the view. We passed plenty of ponies and birdlife, abandoned dens, tree swings and a small herd of deer. I’m told that during the rutting season, in early October, fallow bucks can be seen clashing antlers on several ancient rutting grounds within the area.
After working up an appetite, we returned to the pub to be greeted by Liguori’s pizza van – which visits the Royal Oak every Thursday from 6pm – 8pm, serving delicious wood fired pizza. We joined the lively throng of locals and feasted on a couple of the specials: pear, rocket, blue cheese and walnut; and ‘Spanish’ - combo of chorizo, pepper, jalepeno with lashings of chilli oil. All washed down with award-winning cask ale and a nice prosecco from the bar. The atmosphere was great and super family-friendly, with all the village kids running loose on the green outside, whilst the little-ones played heartily in the beer garden.
If you’re not staying on a Thursday, it’s worth noting that the pub doesn’t serve food in the evenings, but you can pre-order home-cooked meals or a barbecue pack to enjoy from the comfort of your hut. The heavenly breakfast hamper is definitely worth ordering - locally made sausages, black pudding smoked bacon, local eggs, tomatoes, mushrooms and bread and butter.
If you’re around for lunch, Ploughman’s is king at The Royal Oak. Expect locally-sourced delights such as; Lyburn cheeses, New Forest Smokery oat smoked trout pate and Salt beef with cucumber pickle. Fresh dressed crab is on the menu in the summer months, whilst Upton of Basset’s pork pies are a big hit all year round.
With a full belly, we merrily returned to our little hut and watched the night fall over our woolly friends. There’s no denying that there’s something quite romantic about Shepherds Huts – an escape into times gone by, but with a modern twist. If you feel the need to switch off (there’s no wifi) and escape the hustle of every day life, then New Forest Shepherds Huts comes highly recommended. Just lie back and think of life on the hilltops… Baaa!
Take me there
• An escape to the New Forest Shepherds Huts costs £90 per night.
• Check-in from 3pm, depart by 10am.
• The Royal Oak, Fritham, Lyndhurst, SO43 7HJ
• 07464 545428; www.newforestshepherdshuts.co.uk
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