Travel: Shepherds Huts & Llama Trekking in the Surrey Hills

Looking for a weekend getaway with a difference? How about a shepherd’s hut in the Surrey Hills with a herd of llamas?

Photography courtesy of The Merry Harriers

‘Does it have a loo?’

This was the first question my mum asked me when I told her I was ‘glamping’ in a shepherd’s hut. And yes, it does. We’re far beyond yurt levels here, you see, more at caravan levels, but cooler. Way cooler.

Inspired by the basic accommodation thrown together by farmers to, quite literally, watch their flocks by night, modern shepherds hut have come a long way – especially those found at The Merry Harriers in the Surrey Hills.

Just a quick train ride from London (less than an hour from Waterloo to Milford and then a quick cab ride), it’s an idyllic getaway for city folk craving the countryside.

It was hammering with rain when we stepped off the train in mid-August (ah, the great British summer!), and as we probed the taxi driver for sympathy, he pointed out that the heat wave of the past couple of weeks probably wasn’t ideal when staying in a tin-roofed hut, either.

A good point. But still, I’d never turn down a heatwave. That fiery ball in the sky coinciding with a ‘staycay’ is like striking gold and I’d happily take a couple of sticky nights in exchange for long, sunny days roaming free.

But we’d packed our cagoules and, like all hardy Brits holidaying on home turf, we intended to whole-heartedly crack on.

 

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Any misgivings about our timing evaporated on arrival at The Merry Harriers, however. It’s a glorious pub, looking every inch the traditional village watering hole.

Steeped in history, the pub and guesthouse dates back to the 16th century, and the walls are lined with the names of the landlords over the years. Out back is an expansive, leafy beer garden that demands the quiet enjoyment of a local ale and a game of giant chess.

Jake, the manager, greeted us with genuine warmth and showed us the way to our shepherd’s hut. Our visit came about a month after the first lockdown ended, meaning that things were still a little… unusual.

Rather than showing us around our hut, Jake was only able to show us to the door, give us a rundown of everything we needed to know and leave us to it. Not that this was a problem – anything you need is a phone call or quick trot over to the pub away. The team is super friendly and chatty and happy to help in any way they can.

‘Entering the glorious little shepherd’s hut through the stable door was quite a giddying experience’

Entering the glorious little hut through the stable door was quite a giddying experience. It’s roomier than I thought it would be, with a corner kitchenette, complete with mini fridge (hello complimentary bottle of wine!), a bed at the far side, positioned to face out of the windows with the headboard forming a room divider, a couple of sheepskin-lined chairs with games table, and a swish, contemporary shower room that exceeded all expectations.

Oh and, in case of rainy days, there’s a smart TV complete with Netflix, too.

It’s the perfect balance of contemporary and country chic, with splashes of colour, cosy textures and little llama trinkets making it irresistibly Instagrammable.

Outside, there’s also a couple of loungers, as ideal for sunbathing if you hit the heatwave as they are for stargazing or toasting marshmallows over the firepit on chilly nights.

And should that chill persist, there’s even a wood-burning stove indoors, making these little huts appealing all ideal year-round.

The rain that threatened to dampen our spirits soon cleared, so we popped into the pub to grab a walking map and some helpful hints and toddled off to explore the pretty Surrey Hills.

The map marked out four circular walks from the pub, ranging from 50 minutes to 2.5 hours. We took the 60-minute option, taking in Hambledon Village – with its postcard-pretty cottages and perfectly manicured cricket ground – and Hambledon Common, but managed to extend it to a good two hour walk after missing a turn.

Still, it made the beer taste even better when we made it back to the pub. And yes, we did catch a shower, but managed to time it with arriving at the cricket pavilion, which sheltered us nicely.

The furthest walk, a 6.7-miler doable in 2.5 hours, takes in the neighbouring village of Hascombe, where you can drop in at The White Horse for drink or a spot of lunch in the pretty beer garden, before heading back across the Hurtwood, a vast expanse of land known for its plentiful wild blueberries, Scots pine and, more recently, expanses of pretty purple heather, thanks to a wild heather regeneration programme.

‘Behind The Merry Harriers’ beer garden lurks something that you won’t find in your typical country pub – a herd of llamas’

As you would hope for a pub that’s a popular stopover for walkers and cyclists, The Merry Harriers serves great food – hearty enough to satiate after a day out in the fresh air, but with a touch of finesse and a sprinkling of pretty micro herbs. The generously portioned honey-glazed ham, eggs and chips defeated me (and I’m an eater). I can also highly recommend the Ceasar salad, the chargrilled hunk of salmon fillet and the Surrey Sirloin.

But behind The Merry Harriers’ beer garden lurks something that you won’t find in your typical country pub – a herd of llamas.

Eight lovely llamas live in the paddocks just behind the inn, and you can head out into the countryside with your very own woolly companion on a llama trek, with the option of adding an afternoon picnic (with champagne, if you’re feeling fancy).

A charmingly unique way of walking the trails of The Greensand Way, it was an activity that we just had to try, and so we headed out for an afternoon picnic trek.

Our dates for the afternoon were the adorably cute Truffle and the rather cheeky Goji, a feisty character with a look of rebellion in his eyes (worrying, as he was carrying the picnic).

Our lovely guide Clara, a student studying wildlife conservation and hanging out with llamas part time, briefed us before setting out on how to handle our new furry friends and avoid the dreaded llama spit!

I was charged with leading from the front with Goji, and despite a few jitters about being in charge of a wild animal and a picnic, we made it out of the paddock, onto the trail, past a few bemused dogs owners, and up to the top of Hambledon Common without too many snacking stops. And zero spitting incidents.

‘A llama trek is such a lovely way to spend an afternoon – not only are you out in the wilds of Waverley, but you’re also in the company of these wily and wonderful creatures’

Our picnic spot was a beautiful viewing point atop a hill, taking in undulating heathlands full of heather and the unspoilt woodlands of the Surrey Hills. The perfect place to unfurl a blanket and enjoy a picnic.

A llama trek is such a lovely way to spend an afternoon – not only are you out in the wilds of Waverley, but you’re also in the company of these exotic, inquisitive, stubborn, wily and wonderful creatures.

Another great way to supercharge your afternoon is to take a trip to the micro-distillery next door for a gin-tasting experience. Run by Ian Cox, a guy who put in a good shift in the city before deciding it wasn’t for him, The Village Spirit Collective is part of a growing community of makers and artisans called Coal Yard Creatives, many of which offer workshops and experiences for those who like to roll their sleeves up.

Now this is how to staycay. Whether you’re after a quiet weekend break or something a little longer (our neighbours opted for a full two-week stay and even had a BBQ wheeled over to their hut), these little shepherds huts have it all.

There’s just one thing you must do – crack open a bottle of English sparkling wine, stoke up your hut-side firepit and spend an evening under the stars. If only you could bottle that feeling and sell it…

The Merry Harriers, a de Savary property, has received the Visit England We’re Good To Go Covid-secure industry standard. Shepherd’s huts start from £195 B&B per night and llama treks start from £55.20 per adult (£27.60 per child aged 8-13 years old). See merryharriers.com



 

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