Tried & Tested (and given the thumbs up) by our Ed-in-Chief
The Danish concept of Hygge – pronounced ‘hoo-ga’ – has become somewhat of a lifestyle trend here in the UK recently. Whilst many places race to jump onto the hygge bandwagon, some have been delivering their own brand of comfort, warmth and friendship to people since the 16th-century.
We pulled on our chunky knits and headed deep into the Surrey Hills to The Merry Harriers pub in Hambledon to try its ‘Hygge Holiday’. What we found was a big-hearted pub that has no need to label itself ‘hygge’ – because this great British bolthole makes winter bearable just by being its quirky, sincere self.
This article has been produced in partnership with The Merry Harriers
About the Merry Harriers Inn
This modest-looking red-brick pub, sat on a quiet lane near the busy A3 (only an hour by rail from London), is as hygge as they come. The owner, Peter de Savary – a hotelier and local resident – revamped the place a few years ago but lost nothing of its historical charm or hospitable, cosy nature.
Timber beams still line the ceiling and the huge Inglenook fireplace flames at all hours of the day. Etched into the pub’s bulging white walls, are the names of former landlords, dating back to the 1700s – clear evidence that the Merry Harriers been doing something right for over 400 years.
Behind the large oak bar, the wonderful team (led by the brilliant manager Mikey) and are happy to be on first name terms with you; as are the locals who come here to seek solace in local craft ale and the crackle of a hearty fire. Walkers and cyclists come and go, fresh from the Surrey Hills, whilst muddy dogs peek out from under tables.
Once you’re inside, the Merry Harriers is not the sort of place you want to leave – nor do you have to. The Inn offers a good selection of boutique accommodation: there are four rooms above the bar, six in the large garden and five colourful shepherd huts across the lane in a private meadow.
All of which are styled in the familiar colourful De Savary way, one you may recognise if you’ve stayed in his other gems: the Eastbury Hotel in Sherbourne and the Beachcroft Beach Huts in Sussex.
And, there’s one more merry twist waiting at the Merry Harriers (in case its warmth, friendliness and comfort isn’t enough): the pub has its own herd of llamas – 12, in fact, – waiting to meet you in the paddock to the rear of the pub and trek with you through the Surrey Hills, picnic in tow.
The Location of the Merry Harriers
Close enough to London, Reading and Brighton to be reachable for a weekend, yet remote enough to feel a million miles away from civilisation. The Merry Harriers is the ideal excuse to escape urban living for countryside bliss, with minimum effort.
You’ll find it in the ‘blink-and-you-will-miss-it’ Surrey village of Hambledon, near Godalming, home to a church, a village hall and a lovely community-run shop and cafe. Reach the Merry Harriers by car on the A3 or by train: the nearest stations are Witley and Milford with direct services to London Waterloo.
The pub is tucked into the beautiful Surrey Hills, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and a location mostly undiscovered as a weekend destination.
Expect inspiring views, stunning parks, downland scenery, hill forts, ancient ruins and national trails – all ready to explore by foot right from the Merry Harriers’ (helpfully, there are walking and cycling trail maps in the rooms and available from the bar).
Venture a little further afield than Hambledon and you’ll discover some of Surrey’s most-loved attractions, including the RHS Gardens, Petworth’s magnificent 17th-century country house and 700-acre deer park, and Thursley National Nature Reserve. Bored you won’t be, trust us.
Accommodation at the Merry Harriers
In total, the Merry Harriers has 15 rooms (all of which are looked after by the lovely residential manager, Martine). Four rooms sit snug on the first floor of the main inn, six rest quietly in a converted timber barn next to the large garden to the rear of the pub and lazing in a pretty meadow of their own are five homely shepherd huts.
Each one comes with a simple, soothing countryside elegance to the interior design that blocks out 21st-century noise. And all are furnished with additional touches to help you enjoy the small joys of life: natural wool blankets to wrap yourself up in, hot chocolate to drink under the stars and soft double beds for early nights and late mornings.
We stayed in one of the Merry Harriers’ shepherd huts, set in front of the pub just across the lane. Our hut (Hut number 1) was impressively spacious, the interior was Nordic in style with white wooden walls, sheepskin throws, and a storybook bed made of chunky dark timbers. Bright, floral blinds hung at the windows, protecting us from the November chill outside, and there was a small wood-burning stove to keep our well-being stoked. Our soles were looked after by the underfloor heating.
The hut was stocked with good things, including a Hygge Welcome Pack (hot chocolate, marshmallows to toast over the outside firepit, a copy of The Little Book of Hygge, two thick woollen blankets, and a bottle of local fizz chilling in the ice bucket).
And that wasn’t all. The small kitchen area was set with complimentary teas, coffees, and nibbles – plus, there was an empty Village Spirit Collective gin bottle which we could have refilled at the local gin distillery a few metres away. There was also a hot water bottle (should we need it), a smart Netflix-ready TV to watch in bed (should we get bored of the countryside views spilling in from the windows) and a surprisingly large en-suite (complete with a super-sized shower, giant bath towels, toiletries and two luxury bath robes).
Our shepherd’s hut was a hygge joy to stay in. Warm and quiet with a large reed-fringed pond just outside and juicy countryside views wrapping around it. In fact, watching the autumn wind whip leaves from the trees, whilst buried deep in bed under the duvet with a tea in hand, was a moment of ‘slow’ that we just didn’t want to end.
Experiences at the Merry Harriers
As a charming countryside pub, the Merry Harriers delivers in abundance, especially for those exploring the Surrey Hills. With the additional experiences the pub offers (as well as various events held through the year), it’s also a destination that anyone can happily stay, whether they’re the outdoor type or not. From wine tasting and dog-friendly packages to hygge holidays and romantic hideaway stays, there is a lot going on at this modest-sized pub.
Llama Love: The inn’s signature experience: a 2-night DB&B 2 stay in accommodation of your choice, plus a 2 ½ hour llama trek ( more of a gentle walk) through the countryside – with a stop for a picnic lunch carried by your llama. And what a hoot trekking with a llama is.
You’ll be paired up with Mungo, Goji, Champagne, or one of their furry friends for the outing, led by expert llama guide, Clara. As pack animals, llamas trot happily alongside you with the faithfulness of a St. Bernard and the gait of a ballerina.
Apart from diversions into the hedges for a juicy snack, our llamas were obedient and placid given their hefty size and reputation for spitting. And the time we spent walking with them was a lot of fun – it certainly made us laugh out loud more than once and, in true hygge style, kept us ‘in the moment’.
Overnight Ginfluencer: For the Merry Harriers not to make use of the gin distillery just next door to the pub would be a crime. Fortunately, the savvy team have paired up with the wonderful Ian, founder of the Village Spirit Collective, to offer an overnight DB&B sip and stay experience that’ll leave you more than merry.
The Village Spirit Collective makes gins based on flavours loved by the people in the local communities (or ‘Ginfluencers’ as they’re called), rather than the botanicals from the surrounding countryside. Hence Haselmere Gin, developed with Haselmere Ginfluencers, and Vann Lane Gin, developed with Hambledon Ginfluencers and named after the road running through the village.
The distillery itself is part of Coal Yard Creatives, a small community of artisans based in individual units in the Old Coal Yard, Hambledon. Ian’s distillery is a silver wonder with a trendy New York loft vibe and a laboratory-chic stainless-steel bar where you can sink his fabulous gins all night long (or until Ian needs to return to his home and wife).
As part of your Ginfluencer experience with The Village Spirit Collective, you blend your own gin using individually distilled botanicals mix with a drop of water. It’s a smart method that we’ve haven’t seen used before and one that ensures your palate isn’t overcome as you blend. Safe to say, we blended as many as we could before we fumbled back to the Merry Harriers with a feeling of contentment in our bellies that can only be described as healthily hedonistic.
Food at the Merry Harriers
Enjoying good food with friends is very much in keeping with hygge. And there is plenty of opportunity to do this at the Merry Harriers. The food here is unashamedly nourishing and wholesome with a straight-forward menu of traditional dishes so you’re not left blinkered by choice or blindsided by the prices
Pie of the Day, Fish & Chips, Crab and Prawn Linguine are some of the comfort options that fill your plate and stick to your ribs, keeping the chill at bay. The starters and desserts are equally unfussy but just as tasty and we expect the Sunday lunches deliver a hug on a plate, too.
Like the main meals, breakfast is hearty portion of quality local produce served in the gastro-pub style restaurant by a chipper team. A special mention has to go to Debbie in the kitchen who came out more than once to check we were enjoying our food. Debbie, we really were – your breakfast was a triumph.
Hygge is about finding comfort, pleasure, and warmth in simple, soothing moments such as a cosy atmosphere or the feeling of friendship. All of these things the Merry Harriers offers in abundance, especially as the winter nights draw in. In fact, there’s almost no need to have a ‘Hygge Holiday’ package that pins extra bits onto the Merry Harriers’ experience (although we enjoyed ours) because the inn delivers hygge naturally anyway.
If you want to read a book by the log fire with the dog sleeping by your feet, you can. The staff won’t hurry you to buy another drink; they respect your pace and space. If you want to share a hot bowl of chips whilst chatting to the family next to you, go ahead.
This is a pub where no-one is a treated as a stranger. And if you want to stay overnight – which we thoroughly recommend – you’ll bed down with a smile on your face, full up with good things and merry to the soul.
- Traditional inn, dates back to the 16th century
- 15 rooms available, including shepherd huts
- Range of experience stays on offer, including doggy stays
- Within easy reach of London, Reading and Brighton
- Private parking is available
- A friendly herd of llamas live just behind the inn
- Easy access to the South Downs National Park and the Surrey Hills
- Classic pub food with local ingredients
- Peaceful rooms and shepherd huts
Find the Merry Harriers
Surrey GU8 4DR