So today I’m taking you on a staycation. We decided back in July that it would be good to get away for a few days and explore some more of England. My criteria: around two-hours drive, a picturesque country village, plenty of pubs and restaurants and interesting shops. Oh and a decent place to stay. Some concentrated googling and discussion and Lyndhurst in the New Forest came out favourite. Road trip!
I do love a road trip – piling everything in the car is such an easy way of travelling. And a road trip with a pub at lunchtime as the initial destination is even better. First stop – The Trusty Servant in the tiny village of Minstead. As we turned off the motorway we were instantly embraced by the world of narrow, winding lanes, emerald greenness and our very first (of many) New Forest ponies. A very different world from lockdown London.
As was the pub! The Trusty Servant was the first pub I visited post-lockdown. One of the reasons I chose it was because of its large garden (still a bit nervous about getting close to too many people). On arrival we were introduced to pub life in times of Corona. A one-way system, no chairs or tables in the pub and only one person at the bar at a time where we ordered food and drinks from behind a plastic screen. Everything was then brought out into the garden and left on a designated table for collection. Different, but not a problem at all. We were soon settled under blue skies marvelling at the fact that we were actually at the pub again.
The Trusty Servant overlooks the green in the tiny village of Minstead which is referred to in the Domesday Book – the manuscript record of the Great Survey of England and Wales completed in 1086 by order of King William the Conqueror. So that means the village has been here for a while – nothing to do with doomsday! Just thought I’d clear that up – bearing in mind we’re living in the time of virus pandemics! It’s proper country living with cows, ponies and donkeys wandering the streets – I even met a couple of miniature donkeys. Yes, they are a thing. Very cute.
We tucked into some tasty summer dishes including Halloumi fries, ham hock fritters, devilled whitebait and a large plate of delectable local honey roast ham with eggs and chips. Hooray for pub food. I’ve missed it.
What joy to be at the pub. I’m never taking it for granted again. Replete and happy we headed the short drive through more green and winding lanes to our final staycay destination – Lyndhurst.
Lyndhurst is the capital of the New Forest. One of its most famous residents was Alice Pleasance Liddell – the inspiration behind Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. She is buried in the graveyard of the Gothic parish church of St Michaels which welcomes you from on-high as you turn into the village’s one-way system.
And conveniently – at the top of the main road opposite the church, right at the entrance to the town – sat our boutique hotel – the 15th century, Grade 1 listed Crown Manor House Hotel. (More of which later).
Lyndhurst was established as a royal hunting ground in 1079 by William the Conqueror. Nowadays it’s a great hunting ground if it’s pubs, restaurants and shops you’re seeking. It’s basically one long road leading down from our hotel (handy or what?) which is lined with independent shops, pubs, bars and restaurants.
Loving the pub crawling
The three pubs in the centre of town all have lovely outside areas. Like at the Mailman’s Arms with its vibrant colours and stunning flower baskets. On entering the pub we had to leave our contact details for track and trace purposes and they all had screens erected around the bar and a one person at a time policy.
There’s also the Fox & Hounds and the Stag Hotel where we enjoyed great local beers and a snack or two. And plenty of dog-spotting too. Dogs are very welcome in Lyndhurst which made me even happier. The garden at the Stag Hotel even had a designated dog station.
Just outside of town (easily walkable) is The Swan. More stunning flowery baskets and plenty of outdoor space. So that’s four pubs within walking distance…result!
We also discovered a stylish wine bar – Renoufs – where we did our bit to save South African wine (one bottle at a time). Always on it. They also served up delicious-looking substantial platters of meat and cheese. One for the list.
Hitting the shops
There’s also a lot of great shopping in Lyndhurst. I don’t have shopping stamina but am happy with a couple of hours if there’s interesting stuff on offer…like here. I think I bought something in pretty much every shop I walked into. Lovely gifts, home stuff and clothes, nice to spend time doing some chain-free shopping. Check out Motto, Mottotoo, Paws in the Forest, The Lyndhurst Antiques Centre, Down to the Wood and Onomatopoeia. And keep your men happy (if you have any with you) by leaving them at the Ferrari showroom doing some serious virtual buying.
What else to do
There are plenty of hiking/rambling and cycling opportunities with beautiful views and the incredibly peaceful forest pathways. There are also several golf clubs in the area if you feel the need to have a swing. Including the New Forest Golf Club which is five minutes drive from Lyndhurst town.
It’s time for dinner
Okay, so when you’re enjoying excursions, serious shopping and pub exploration you need to keep your strength up. And luckily there are once again plenty of walking distance options for dinner. This for me is a serious necessity on a holiday and Lyndhurst was quit simply perfect. Wandering down the hight street checking on menus (as ever) we spotted a lovely-looking Thai restaurant and all being Thai food lovers ran straight in to reserve a table for dinner. Well I ran in – over-excited at the thought of eating out again.
And it was worth getting excited about. The Thai Forest offered up all the usual favourites perfectly cooked and we tucked into a delightful range of prawn, chicken and lamb dishes.
I had prebooked Surfing Moo Moo before we even got there. Well, you’ve gotta be just a little bit organised. I liked the sound of their menu which included fresh oysters. It looked a little underwhelming from the street – but never judge a book by its cover. A cavernous space unfolded as we walk in, so great for social distancing.
And a lovely, varied menu that made it hard to choose. After an oyster feast (giant ones), I went for a deluxe spaghetti vongole which include prawns and mussels as well as clams.
Two great restaurant visits as my first post-lockdown. Tasty, well-presented food and friendly service and so much space to eat it in which made me feel immediately relaxed and happy. It’s interesting how Covid has affected our attitudes, who’d have thought I’d feel anxious about eating out? Thank you Lyndhurst for making it such a smooth transition. A town of such charm, with delightful food and scenery and so much to do and see. And all those pubs…
Where to stay
We stayed at the Crown Manor House Hotel. It’s historic and sympathetically modernised with comfortable, stylish rooms. in exactly the right position for spending time in Lyndhurst. So close to everything. We had a large room with plush double bed, spacious en suite and all the basics.
We enjoyed an excellent hot breakfast each morning and their restaurant comes highly recommended. Just weren’t there long enough to try it out…or several of the other places on offer. So much happening in such a little town.
It was my first post-lockdown hotel stay. Such a smooth experience. Check in and out was slick and hassle-free. I felt really safe. Staff wore face shields, there was sanitiser everywhere and a one-way system set up. Getting used to those one-wayers. And for someone who likes their personal space I’m really not minding the social distancing.
Everyone was friendly and welcoming. I think we all felt so happy to be back out there again and appreciative of a life outside of our own houses. For lots of reasons our Lyndhurst staycation will always be high on my list of happy breaks. You really don’t have to go far to get away from it all.
And fabulous to have so many lovely spots on my doorstep. Where to next? I’m working on it. Watch this space.