With us all slowly getting accustomed to a ‘new normal’ way of life, and the inevitable temporary narrowing of our horizons, we thought we would stay true to trend, choose a local staycation and a Tried and Tested property review within a one hour radius of our own doorstep. With such a short journey from home it also made it more feasible for us to consider an experiment – taking along our one-year old cat Miso on her very first catcation (a trending hashtag in the making, surely?!).
The extremely kind folk at The Merry Harriers Shepherd’s Huts, being a very pet friendly place, welcomed the idea with open arms/paws, so whilst we would usually be frantically arranging a sitter, instead we packed up Miso’s favourite toys, blankets and biscuits and headed off with her to the Surrey Hills for a couple of days in the blazing sunshine!
Having been to Surrey many times over the years, the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) was surprisingly new to us, and we weren’t quite sure that we were expecting the scenery we witnessed as we approached The Merry Harriers on the outskirts of Hambledon village. It was suddenly all winding roads and rolling hills as we drew closer.
The Inn is immediately distinctive, its historic 16th Century facade exuding historic charm in abundance (you can even see landlord names on the pub walls dating back to the 1700s). We pulled up and noticed the brightly coloured row of quirky shepherd huts that were a new addition late 2018, enviably set in a field and overlooking a tranquil pond, opposite the main Inn. One of these was to be our temporary home for two nights, the striking teal coloured Hut 4 to be precise!
Pulling open the door to our cute hut after a friendly and smooth check-in, I think our first couple of impressions were: a) that actually it was more spacious than we’d imagined a shepherd hut to be (as this was our first time staying in one) and b) it was very Miso-friendly – nowhere for her to hide or cause mischief.
It also brought back some very fine memories of our Latin American travels including the Inca Trail in Peru, as the decor and colour scheme of the huts is totally in keeping with the llama theme – think Peruvian indigenous costume colour splashes, bright cushions, llama ornaments etc all adding to the overall style along with nice touches like a wood headboard with industrial bed lamps.
The space comprises one open-plan main living space with a central bed to one side, looking out towards the pond through the hut’s front windows. They really have thought about how to maximise the views! There is a handy kitchenette area with tea & coffee (Nespresso), two fur-throw adorned chairs and a bistro table, flat-screen TV on moveable stand, a wood-burning stove, a luxurious bathroom with walk-in rain shower suite, fluffy bathrobes, amenities and underfloor heating. Outside you have your own teak loungers and a fire pit for the compulsory marshmallow toasting.
Miso got her bearings, and we gave her a quick lap of the pond, which was to be her favourite spot during the trip, especially at night as her nocturnal energy kicked in and she could go mothspotting! We then made our way over to the Inn for dinner and to explore the grounds. Being city centre dwellers, decent pub gardens are something of a rarity for us, so we were in total heaven at the spacious garden, with freshly renovated furniture (lockdown time put to good use by the team!). The garden itself also leads to the Llama farm, so really quick and easy to go and visit the furry Peruvian friends.
At this point it is probably worth highlighting the food quality at the Inn, which really impressed us over two days. A really varied breakfast menu with great coffee (a necessity for me!), serving vegetarian and meat options, then an a la carte menu for lunch and dinner with some really food envy-inducing dishes including incredible steak, perfectly cooked salmon and Asian curry – so heaps of variety too if you are staying several nights. Even the desserts like the Inn’s own twist on an Eton mess were so appetising. Eating was a real joy here, a great short break for those who want to glamp but not compromise on their gourmet treats. We were also very impressed with the Covid-19 measures inside the Inn; very efficient yet unobtrusive signing and one way systems in the Inn, so they had clearly given it lots of thought without making it detract from the guest experience.
After dinner we headed back to our hut which looked glorious at dusk. We would usually be the first to light the private fire pit outside our hut, but our stay coincided with heatwave weather so we decided against it – we felt too hot for more heat. So we rested up for the evening and woke up totally refreshed from the comfortable bed.
Early morning was perfect, and we soaked up the peaceful sounds of birdsong along with that gorgeous pond view from our bed, and eventually (after a few botched attempts!) got up for our full day at Merry Harriers, which we were so excited about.
After a perfect breakfast we were introduced to Clara our Llama expert and tour guide for the morning’s pursuit, who then introduced us to our two llama trekking buddies Goji and Mungo, who initially seemed more interested in their breakfast too but soon we started trotting off to explore some of the scenery.
We were told all about the origins of Llamas, their diet, their behaviour (they love to socialise and be in herds), the history of the llamas onsite and their newest arrivals. Clara was like the ‘Llama Whisperer’ – they followed her command well and she was so knowledgeable and friendly.
Walking with the llamas felt a bit surreal, what a completely unique experience! However they were affable companions and very chilled; easy to walk with. They love to stop and graze at any opportunity, so we sometimes had to remind them to walk, but they soon remembered again. We walked them to a sublime lookout located at the top of Surrey Hills which afforded incredible views out to the South Downs, towards Midhurst. Looking out to the horizon we saw forest, healthland and greenery as far as the eye could see, no houses or evidence of human development which was so refreshing!
On the way back from the lookout, a nearby sandpit made a perfect pitstop and llama playground, where they thrashed around in llama heaven rolling around in the sand – very amusing. We opted to have our picnic (included in the tour) amidst lofty pine trees, allegedly imported to the area but, wow, they really create the setting and idyllic scene! The picnic itself was so impressive and we had really worked up an appetite, so whilst Goji and Mungo also had a well-earned rest, we sat with our hamper and enjoyed fresh sandwiches, scotch eggs, pork pies, fresh hummus and crudites, and washed it down with chilled local sparkling wine from a cooler – we thought we had died and gone to heaven!
On our return to the Llamas home territory we got to meet a few of the rest of the herd, including Champagne and Truffle, some of the younger members of the clan! Truffle was rolling down the hill when I first caught sight of him – they really are an entertaining bunch.
We would recommend this experience to anyone, families would love this as much as couples and animal enthusiasts and soft adventurers.This was one comment we also made about the overall experience at The Merry Harriers, it appeals so well to all types of guests, those like us bringing their pets, as well as families and couples looking for some countryside R&R. It’s a sociable environment, you can be as private as you wish but also get to know your neighbours as we did, who had made the short journey down from London – a short journey time of under an hour from West London, yet a world away from the usual rat race. We could totally see the appeal to Londonites looking for an easy and accessible break.
After our return from trekking we ventured on a short walk along some of the public footpaths that back the meadow where our hut was located. This brought us to beautiful corn fields, a church, some village houses and another forest to explore. Unaccustomed to countryside scenes in our everyday life, we breathed in the fresh Surrey Hills air and felt totally engaged with nature, and the area really is so scenic considering its proximity to the capital city.
Our last night involved some more great dining, amazing gin and tonics, a last night time pond excursion for Miso and restful sleep. We woke refreshed and ready for a final breakfast, Miso joined us in the pub garden again and looked very relaxed. It was her first time seeing other dogs and we weren’t sure how she would react but she took it all in her stride and had a great catcation!
And so concluded our mini family adventure and it was time to hit the road, but we agreed that this was a truly unique place – friendly, quirky and so relaxing, despite being so closely connected to everything. We vowed to return, and would highly recommend the experience to anyone considering an easy yet fun countryside adventure. Thanks Jake, Clare, Jess and the rest of the team – top marks from us (and Miso!).
Find out more about the Merry Harriers Shepherd’s Huts or enquire to book a stay here.