A retreat at the heart of the New Forest

A pony grazes near Brockenhurst
A pony grazes near Brockenhurst
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Arrive in Brockenhurst and you seem somehow to step back in time.

The quintessentially English village nestled in the heart of the New Forest maintains a serenity and gentle pace of life that seems increasingly difficult to find.

The central lawn at Careys Manor

The central lawn at Careys Manor

Ponies and donkeys graze freely on its open green spaces, people pass the time of day as they walk along the road, and the beer in the handful of hostelries flows leisurely and invitingly into the glass as the light of day fades.

It is perhaps too easy for residents of Portsmouth to forget that this taste of country life so very different to that of our city is barely more than half an hour away by car.

That’s near enough for a day trip of course, but a true get-away-from it all should properly involve at least a night’s accommodation.

The village has several choices of hotel, each offering its own little bit of history.

Among these is Careys Manor, an imposing building which, as the name suggests, was once the manor house.

It ceased to be a private dwelling just before the Second World War and, during the hostilities, played its own small part in the D-Day landings, being used as headquarters of the 50th ‘Northumbrian’ Infantry Division, which formed the core of Assault Force ‘G’, tasked with storming Gold Beach.

Undoubtedly the men about to embark on that great crusade were looked after as well as possible at the grand old house, but they would surely be amazed at the enhancements made since then.

The house itself is still centrepiece of the hotel, giving an air of grandeur and history as tangible as the sweet smell of woodsmoke that permeates the lobby from an ever-smouldering fire.

But nowadays, the manor house is much expanded and wholly modernised. Its Senspa includes a 14m swimming pool, steam room, sauna and Jacuzzi as well as a gymnasium and a beauty treatment centre.

Those are a huge draw for visitors, as are the three restuarants on site - Le Blaireau, a Parisian-style brasserie, the Zen Garden. offering Thai delicacies, and the newly-opened Cambium, where executive chef Paul Peter relishes in serving dishes inspired by the forest itself (let me say that the fillet and slow-braised cheek of beef must surely be nigh-impossible to beat).

The hotel is rightly proud of its reputation - based exclusively on public feedback, the Tripadvisor Certificate of Excellence has been awarded to Careys Manor Hotel for the fourth consecutive year and independently to SenSpa in its own right for the second consecutive year.

In giving their ratings, guests have shown their appreciation for the venue, where most of the well-appointed rooms sit around a central square of immaculately-kept garden - a quiet retreat within the far larger retreat that is the forest itself.

For just a stone’s throw from that tranquil quarter, those aforementioned ponies and donkeys graze on verdant grass as life goes on in the forest at a pace that soothes the heart.

For those of a faster disposition, the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu is just seven miles up the road and of course there are other traditional favourite destinations - the tea-room village of Burley, the blustery haven of Lymington and the glades and walkways of the forest itself are all on the doorstep.

But for those who choose not to stray, Brockenhurst itself offers traditional shops and proper pubs, including the hostelry dedicated to the Victorian snakecatcher Brusher Mills - a legend in these parts.

Careys Manor is a far cry indeed from the mud hut in which he lived in seclusion deep in the woods but he surely would have appreciated the same peace and tranquility that it offers.

Useful links

New Forest official visitor site

Careys Manor hotel