Michael Edwards explores Balmer Lawn Hotel in a forest that is no longer new
General Eisenhower issued D-Day orders. King George V, Queen Mary, and Winston Churchill visited. This former 19th-century hunting lodge, a hotel since the 1940s, has some history.
When the hotel’s team was working on Room 10, they discovered a stash of wartime documents marked “Top Secret”. Some of those documents form part of an exhibition telling the Second World War story of Balmer Lawn. Much to the hotel’s disappointment, there were no startling new D-Day revelations amongst the “Top Secret” documents, just an in-depth picture of Canadian servicemen preparing for Operation Overlord.
For the last quarter of a century, Balmer Lawn Hotel has been privately owned by the Wilson family, who have developed Balmer Lawn Hotel’s reputation for warm and welcoming hospitality. Son Henry has created his own little piece of brewing history: developing a Pale Ale, Smokin’ Deer, that is a frequent order at the bar.
Today, Balmer Lawn Hotel, with a Zen-calm spa, is a luxurious base for exploring the New Forest and beyond. Relaxing pastoral hues and rural textures of bronze, leather, and wood welcome guests to the serene setting.
Though the New Forest is neither new nor a tree-packed forest. When William the Conqueror decreed that the New Forest was a royal hunting ground, way back in 1079, he used “forest” in the Norman sense of the word. For him it was hunting terrain. In fact, the New Forest National Park contains low heathland, lagoons, mudflats, and salt marshes. It is home to each species of Britain’s reptiles.
Yet, the New Forest National Park is also home to some of Europe’s most ancient trees. Oaks grown to replace those cut to build Admiral Nelson’s fleet are now ready for felling. Amongst the ash, beech, firs, and pines, some oaks are four centuries old.
Even the Balmer Lawn name, thought to be a long-ago copying error of Palmer Lawn, tells the story of pony-grazed lawns. A visit to the New Forest Museum at nearby Lyndhurst introduces the forest’s distinctive vocabulary of verderers who manage the forest and agisters who run the drifts that are annual check-ups on the ponies’ health. Every pony is owned by a commoner. The pattern of each pony’s tale reveals where in the forest it comes from. Auctions for the sale of ponies still quote yesteryear guineas.
Of the Balmer Lawn hotel’s 54 rooms, some overlook a lawn that is now the home of Brockenhurst Cricket Club. Spacious luxury balconied rooms, with two-metre-wide beds in front of silver-leafed wallpaper, are perfect for watching summer cricket or merely gazing out over the forest. Other rooms feature grand four-poster beds.
Those balconies look down on the awnings of The Lodge, an eating area whose blankets, heaters, and rugs, plus two alpine-styled huts decorated with skis, create an apres-ski ambience. Guests’ dogs are welcome in The Lodge.
More formal dining is available in the 2 AA Rosette Beresfords restaurant. At the far end of the restaurant, a full-wall mural of a wine cellar sends a signal that wine is taken seriously.
Local ingredients used with creative flair make eating at Beresfords a very special delight. A haunch of venison comes with butternut squash fondant, red cabbage and celeriac purée. Whilst the salmon rests on a bed of smoked Dorset cheddar and sweetcorn risotto accompanied by mussels and watercress.
Even on comfort food puds there are innovations. A walnut crumb and rhubarb sorbet give crunch and contrast to a deep treacle tart whilst the bread and butter pud is laced with chocolate.
Equipped with cycle racks and wellies by the front door, Balmer Lawn Hotel invites guests to explore the New Forest. But cars should not be forgotten. Nearby Bucklers Hard, where 150 villagers worked long days to build three ships for Nelson’s 27-strong fleet at the 1805 Battle of Trafalgar, tells the story of how around 2,000 oaks were felled and crafted for each of those ships.
A two-mile walk from Bucklers Hard to Beaulieu passes the Deeping Marsh birdwatching hide where migrating ospreys and sandpipers alight to feed. Lapwings, redshanks, skylarks, and reed warblers are more regular visitors.
Although Beaulieu is within striding distance, its estate with the renowned motor museum, gardens, house, and art gallery really warrants a full day’s exploration.
Back at base, there is always the temptation of the Saltus Spa. Treatment rooms are named after trees and the relaxation room with its wood sculptures creates a peaceful location for pampering. Depending on the season, there is an indoor swimming pool and an outdoor pool too.#
At the heart of the New Forest, the Saltus Spa is a place to indulge the body, relax the mind and revive the spirit. Who needs to go to Japan for forest bathing when you’ve got Balmer Lawn Hotel in the New Forest?
Tell Me More About Balmer Lawn Hotel
Balmer Lawn Hotel, Lyndhurst Road, Brockenhurst New Forest SO42 7ZB
T: 01590 623 116 E: email@example.com.Uk
Prices start from £165 for bed and breakfast in a standard room.