Staycations have never been more popular and while the UK can't promise the guaranteed warm climate of the Mediterranean or the exoticness of a tropical island, it still scores very highly when it comes to finding a cute countryside retreat. Enter: The Merry Harriers.
The converted country inn located in Hambledon village in Surrey, just over an hour's drive from central London, is perhaps the perfect place to stay for a weekend away. The hotel offers six garden rooms and has introduced new safety measures amid the pandemic, but for those eager to be even more socially distant from other guests, a stay in one of the cosy shepherd's huts in their neighbouring field is just the ticket.
There are five luxury shepherd's huts on their glamping site
Five colourful and modern huts surround a sweet pond and are comfortable for two people to stay in (they're also dog-friendly). Each hut has its own separate entrance, designated space for parking right by the hut (perfect for our Zipcar), and an outdoor log fire pit to relax by, so you really can keep yourselves to yourselves if you wish.
Apart from the non-traditional set up of your accommodation, the hotel's other unique selling point is their herd of adorable (and stubborn!) llamas, which you can take out on treks while enjoying a luxury picnic in the Surrey countryside. But more on that later.
Each hut is kitted out with a bathroom, kitchenette and log burner
If you're looking for a truly unique staycation with a difference, then a stay in one of the shepherd's huts is for you. It's glamping with all the comforts and every little detail has been thought of to make your stay as comfortable, and Instagrammable, as possible.
You're welcomed with a bottle of wine in your mini fridge, plus a bottle of water and a bottle of milk to enjoy your teas and coffees at leisure. Eat hut has been converted to a very high standard, complete with a small kitchenette with a Smeg kettle, an indoor log burner, a flat-screen TV with Netflix and a rainfall shower in the bathroom.
Sleep on the cosiest beds in the prettiest setting
These nice touches make the huts feel like a truly premium glamping experience, not to mention the kitsch llama decorations dotted around the space, from llama-printed cushions to llama ornaments. The faux fur rugs draped over the chairs, the neon light-up heart sign and little water bottle you'll find in your cupboard will definitely give you that warm and fuzzy feeling, knowing you've picked the cosiest staycation spot.
You're welcomed with a bottle of wine during your cosy stay
As much relaxation as you want is on the cards. Not only are the huts a lovely place to chill, but the wooden deck chairs by the outdoor fire pit are just what you need to curl up with a good book. Listening to the sound of the water feature in the pond and the neighing of the horses in the next-door field will immediately calm you. And for those unsure about travelling during a pandemic, each hut provides a lot of privacy and personal space.
Relax by your own outdoor fire pit
The highlight of our stay had to be meeting the eight resident llamas who call The Merry Harriers home. We signed up for a luxury champagne picnic and trek with two of the llamas, Goji and Mungo – two friendly creatures, if not a little stubborn! You'll quickly learn they rule the roost even if it's you holding onto their lead and guiding the way through the woods.
Our trek lasted around two hours, with our friendly guide Clara taking us down a picturesque route in the forest while chatting away about all things llama related. There wasn't one question she didn't know the answer to about her furry friends and we learnt a lot in the space of a few minutes. Who knew llamas eat for 17 hours per day? Living the good life.
We stopped for a picnic in a gorgeous setting, tying up the llamas and sitting down to feast on a hamper of sausage rolls, sandwiches, pork pies, salads, brownies, tiffin and pink champagne to mention a few delights.
Meet the resident llamas and take them for a walk
The llama trekking is a family-friendly activity, although only children above the age of eight can lead the llamas. And if a walk with a llama (who don't seem to understand the need for personal space!) doesn't sound quite up your street, you can also visit them in the field and pet them there. With adorable names like Truffle and Toffee, I challenge you not to love them. The trek was certainly a very different experience – hilarious, such fun and definitely worth a go. How many people can say they've walked a llama before?
Set in the beautiful Surrey hills, the hotel is also the perfect launchpad to visit nearby sights and it's definitely handy to have a car. You can do walks at nearby Gibbet Hill, Devil's Punch Bowl or Hydon's Ball or drive out to the historic sites of Petworth House and Arundel Castle. There are also various cycling routes on offer, not to mention a wealth of pubs to tuck into good old-fashioned pub grub or a Sunday's roast.
Tuck into some good old-fashioned pub grub at the restaurant
The Merry Harriers have their own dog-friendly restaurant too, where breakfast is included in your room rate. Tables are spaced far apart and it had a continuous buzzy feel to it. Dishes are well-priced and range from vegan chilli to the classic ham, eggs and chips to the more indulgent rib eye steak with garlic butter and fries. Unassuming from the front, there's also a large beer garden around the back close to the llama field, which is perfect for spying on your four-legged companions.
The quaint village of Hambledon is also very easily accessible and our drive from London using Zipcar was seamless. As someone who's never tried the app before, I was amazed by how simple and easy it was to locate a car near our home, unlock it through the app and set off. The price of fuel and insurance is also included in the rate, and with a no-mess policy, you're almost always guaranteed to have a spotless car.
Driving was also the more comfortable option to avoid busier trains and public transport, not to mention more relaxing and private. Zipcar's latest survey actually found that over three-quarters of Brits have their deepest and most meaningful conversations in a car.
The pub also boasts a large beer garden by the llama field
A stay at The Merry Harriers really did tick a lot of boxes. With the chance to get up and close personal with the llamas, and glamp in a cosy shepherd's hut, it really was a trip with a difference. Given that there are only five huts, you'll have to book early to secure a night's stay, but I can promise you it's worth the wait, and with staycations on the rise, they're only going to become more popular by the day.
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