I was fortunate enough to win the short break to the Bell Inn in the New Forest with the condition that I share my experience with fellow Silver Travellers, how could I resist! Late March, a dearth of sunny days here in the midlands, damp and miserable this week following on from a taste of Spring the week before and so we pack the waterproofs and off we go! One of the joys of my retirement is embracing travelling, exploring in the changing seasons, not feeling I have to chase the sun any more.
It was a pleasant journey, good roads with little congestion, the benefit of choosing when to go, no flight check in, no time pressures whatsoever, the only concern where to have lunch. That was a problem easily solved, we follow the satnav instructions and turn off the main road and immediately we are in another world, a cattle grid across the road and our first sight of the ponies, on the verge contentedly grazing, totally oblivious of us interlopers in their world. Peace descends, and it gets better. We are here, The Bell Inn, an inn in the traditional sense, attractive frontage, sanctuary for ‘weary travellers’. Although we’re not, weary that is and so decide to leave check in for a while and go explore, we are hungry after all! There was a pub across from the hotel, The Green Dragon, but we went a little further afield, drawn by sight of the forest in the now emerging sunshine. There were plenty of places for lunch and we chose one at random. With so much competition we couldn’t really go wrong and we enjoyed a leisurely meal.
We explored a little further before returning to check in to the hotel. The Bell Inn interestingly is allied to a golf club which adjoins the grounds and may be of interest to you golfers, play as guests maybe or take a walk on the footpaths crossing it, the hotel staff were eager to point the way.
We found the hotel to be beautifully and tastefully presented, traditional oak, plaids,warm and welcoming, a guest lounge as comfortable as your own sitting room, home from home without the chores.
The restaurant and bar areas all followed the same theme which enhanced the ‘informal comfort’ furthered by every member of staff we met, nothing was too much trouble.
Our room was on the first floor, (the only niggle, no lift but there was an immediate offer of assistance) a twin room with ample space. Everything bright, fresh, nothing lacking at all, and in the bathroom for less flexible seniors a bonus, a window seat, I in particular found that very useful, oh for the agility of youth!
On the ground floor, of interest to me, dog friendly rooms that were just as well appointed and fresh as our room, dogs are welcomed and catered for. Given the proximity to tracks and car parks for exploring the forest, in better weather I will definitely return and experience a very different break.
The inn is connected to a golf club, a venue for weddings, the website portrays the building, as for the friendliness and care shown to us by the staff – take my word for it! We were comfortable yet spoiled, indulged from the moment we checked in through pre-dinner drinks, (14 gins to choose from!) to coffee later.
Dinner was excellent, good choices, local produce beautifully cooked and presented, breakfast was equally indulgent. We were spoiled!
The weather wasn’t kind, rain that added to already boggy forest floor meant walking was out of the question, we decided on a tour of the local towns and a walk on the beach, Lyndhurst, Brockenhurst, Lymington, Milford on Sea, and Bournemouth to round it off.
What a diversity, watching the Isle of Wight ferry dock and leave, shopping in Lymington (sorry gents, it might cost you), blowing the cobwebs away on the clifftops, the sun breaks through and tempts us to a walk on the beach. We round the day off with sausage rolls in the gardens in Bournemouth attracting the tame squirrels and people watching.
Dinner on this second night was at the Green Dragon, we may have left it a little late judging by the indifferent service we received and the uninspiring food. No more to be said on that.
Our homeward journey was equally good with a detour to take in Stonehenge, a wonderful break overall made extra special by our experience at The Bell Inn. There are many places to stay in this part of the country, so much choice can be bewildering but for me nothing can beat welcome, comfort, good atmosphere and indulgent dining. Guess where I will be staying on my next foray to the New Forest (hopefully drier underfoot so I can explore the forest).