The Merry Harriers, Surrey, UK
From log fires to llamas, The Merry Harriers pub promises warm hospitality and cosy comforts for a short stay in the Surrey Hills
Writer: Phoebe Harper
I have never trekked with a llama before, but just moments into our hike through the scenic Surrey Hills, I would liken it to taking a vastly oversized Labrador for a stroll.
Champagne, the large, fluffy animal continually yanking the lead rein from my grasp to pluck acorns straight from the tree, is as friendly and familiar as the lolling dogs found dozing by the fireside that I happily encountered after arriving at The Merry Harriers pub the previous evening.
From the pub’s quiet, roadside base near the quaint village of Hambledon, our two-hour llama trek offers a stunning glimpse of the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and the many walks found nearby that make this area a well-deserved paradise for ramblers and cyclists. Surrounded by small leafy hamlets, and verdant miles of rolling hills, it is easy to forget that this bucolic scene is just a 40-minute train ride from London’s Waterloo.
After being plied with a generous cooked breakfast enjoyed over friendly chatter with the pub’s incredibly welcoming landlady, with whom we are quickly established on first-name terms, the trek promises an encounter with one of The Merry Harriers’ many calling cards - its charming herd of 12 llamas. These distinctive characters are everywhere - from the pub’s logo and coasters, to the decorative cushions strewn across the sumptuous double bed that occupies one-half of the Shepherd’s Hut where we are staying - but tastefully so.
The epitome of cosy, country comforts, The Merry Harriers itself appears as a quintessentially English country pub, with the timber beams and sloping walls of a 16th-century coaching inn. Stepping through its postbox-red front door presents the warmest welcome in the truest sense of the word - both from the familiar hospitality of its staff and the roar of its ancient fireplace.
Endless chatter from locals and guests alike meets with the smell of woodsmoke and enticing aromas from generous servings of hearty pub grub in the candlelit dining room. A seasonal menu of comforting fare includes fat local sausages from nearby Godalming and sticky toffee pudding slathered in custard, all washed down with a glass or two of Haslemere Gin, which we are lucky enough to sample during a highly commended taster session at the distillery next door the following day.
Although the pub itself has four rooms upstairs and a selection of six further Garden Rooms in the converted barn bordering the llamas’ paddock outside, we are spoilt with one of the deluxe Shepherd’s Huts found across the road from the main building. Five huts are dotted around a tranquil pond setting, and each is equipped with all the ingredients for a truly comfortable stay - from hot steaming showers complete with towelling robes to a wood-burner and a complimentary bottle of local wine best enjoyed by the firepit outside. For those who may easily tire of stargazing or listening out for birdsong in England’s most wooded county, a Netflix-enabled TV awaits inside.
In true outdoor extravagance, our hut boasts a wood-fired hot tub, a rustic wooden affair whose fires are lit early on the afternoon of our arrival to allow for ultimate soaking temperature come nightfall. We kindle its fires each night as the perfect way to round off the day before retreating inside a peaceful night’s sleep, surrounded by sheepskin rugs and furnishings as thick as the llama’s wool.
After llama-trekking, gin-tasting, and feasting on the pub’s sumptuous food, a two-night stay in the Shepherd’s Huts passes in a beautiful blink. On our final evening, we can’t help but indulge in the barmaid’s recommendation of the signature house cocktail - a pink concoction that leaves as sweet a taste in the mouth as the trip itself - the Llama Love.