Peter Morrell goes back to his roots to re-discover the charm of the area and savour the dramatic improvement on the food scene
It’s name may be ‘New’ but in fact this huge undeveloped tract of land in Hampshire was established as a royal hunting ground by William the Conqueror in 1079. The creation of the Forest meant the clearing of about 20 hamlets and it’s claimed that divine retribution contrived for two of William’s sons, Richard and William Rufus to both be killed there while hunting deer.
The first stop on my trip was to see the ‘Rufus Stone’ which marks the spot where in 1100 Sir Walter Tyrrell shot an arrow which ricocheted off a tree before killing King William Rufus. An inscription on the iron clad stone tells the story. Tyrrell fled to Normandy although he need not have bothered, the King was unpopular and hardly missed.
I was lucky enough to have spent the first 17 years of my life in the New Forest so this was a journey of re-discovery, arriving at the Stone it was good to see that little had changed, apart from the gravel car park. It was all the same including the nearby Sir Walter Tyrrell pub which has still got that picture perfect chocolate box appeal.
I had booked into the Burley Manor Hotel as it is well located and very close to all the attractions in the area. I was with my wife and wanted to show her my childhood home, so before booking in we went on a tour of the sights.
As we drove we kept our eyes peeled for domestic pigs which are free to roam for two months during the acorn season, it’s known as pannage and is strictly controlled by Verderers, the keepers of the Forest. The end of August was a little early but visitors in September and October have more luck in spotting large sows with their litter of piglets. The bustling town of Lyndhurst was a short drive away, it has boutique style shops and tea rooms galore, and there is a good tourist information office by the car park.
On the outskirts of the town is Bolton’s Bench, named after the Duke of Bolton. A hillock crowned with a large, spreading Yew tree is surrounded by open grassland and it’s here that horses, donkeys and cattle congregate. These animals are all owned by locals or commoners who have grazing rights in the Forest. This is the place children love and is the ideal spot to get some great pictures of the wildlife.
We drove down towards the coast, approaching Brockenhurst the road goes over the Lymington river and by the bridge kids are still using the river as a ‘swimmin hole’ as I did when a child. Arriving in Lymington, the quaint cobbled streets and town quay are still the same but the town has now got a more upmarket and sophisticated feel, borne out the forest of skeletal yacht masts in the harbour.
Time to book in to the Burley Manor and it was just as romantic as I imagined, right in the heart of the Forest at the end of a long drive. The building dating back to 1852 positively glowed in the late afternoon sun. Our room was the epitome of country house living, it was large, double aspect, had a huge four poster bed, Victorian roll-top bath and was decorated in restful colours. Although the building is old the bathroom and amenities are state of the art following a £1.8 million refurbishment last year.
An exploration of the grounds revealed a swimming pool, additional suites with French windows in a separate building and the new Temple Spa, on the cusp of being opened, which will be offering a range of well-being treatments. Burley Manor is in the middle of an 8 acre deer park and as we arrived back on the terrace from our tour the large deer herd appeared in front of us.
One the Burley Manor’s claim to fame is the quality of its food. It relies heavily on local ingredients but Executive Chef James Forman has introduced a distinctly Mediterranean twist to the menu. We had a drink before dinner in the comfortable bar, it just had to be craft beers from the local Ringwood Brewery, they proved to be a good choices. Dinner is served in a bright airy room with an attached conservatory, we chose the latter as it gave extensive views over the terrace and the grounds.
We studied the menu while nibbling on home-made bread dipped in rosemary and garlic olive oil. The list of dishes was quite small and they certainly lived up to the eclectic reputation of the cuisine, it was pleasing to see so many vegetarian options. The hotel offers afternoon Tapas and these are also available as starters for dinner, although tempted by Tapas my wife and I chose squid and quail respectively from the starters section.
The pan-fried squid, served with rocket and chilli was packed with flavour, my quail had a great depth of taste and sat on a Mediterranean salad. Both dishes were well presented and were an inventive mix of ingredients. Interestingly the hotel’s suppliers are listed in the menu so you can learn more about the provenance of the food.
After being tempted by the roast venison with Swiss chard and chermoula seven spice lamb my wife’s choice of main was roast cod with puy lentils and a parsley sauce. It was moist and had a sea fresh flavour. My roast duck showed equal style, it was pink and tender and served with some delicious heritage beets and carrots. Our side of truffle polenta chips were an added bonus.
There is a good wine list which has been curated by sommelier Carlos de Baross and features a good range from both old and new worlds. Our match for the evening was an Argentinian wine, the Tilia Torrontes from Salta, the grapes are grown at high altitude and large temperate variations give the wine delicate and aromatic tropical fruit aromas.
Indulgent desserts were available as well as the incomparable Lyburn Cheese but the first courses had been so enjoyable and filling that we just shared two scoops of rich ice cream.
And so to bed… and an exceptional night’s sleep, made possible by a comfortable bed, total darkness and blissful silence, a welcome change from London.
Next morning was the treat of the full Burley breakfast, sausage, egg, bacon and white pudding, for the more health conscious there is also a buffet and if you are tempted champagne and vodka for buck’s fizz or a bloody mary.
We had thoroughly enjoyed our stay at the Burley Manor, the rooms are well appointed, the atmosphere was relaxed, the staff were charming and the food certainly lived up to its promise. The hotel is perfectly situated so it had also given me the opportunity to re-visit the past, the New Forest has retained its charm but the big change has been the quality of the food, which has come on leaps and bounds.
If you are a culinary traveller then The New Forest Food and Drink Festival runs from 31st October to 6th November 2016 and Burley Manor will be hosting the Vegetarian Forest Feast as part of the program.
The Burley Manor Hotel
Burley, New Forest
For more about the New Forest Food and Drink festival go to
For information about The New Forest visit