Following the Norman Conquest, William the Conqueror designated this wooded corner of southern England as a royal forest for the pleasure of the king and his court. The area was cleared for regal entertainment at the expense of more than 20 small hamlets and farms; hence it was considered a ‘new’ forest, although it was even then an ancient landscape. The New Forest was first recorded as Nova Foresta in the Domesday Book in 1086. It is the only forest described in that all-encompassing tome in such detail, so it was evidently unique. These days you don’t have to be royal to enjoy this marvellous open space. There are ponies and cattle roaming free and the villages with their thatched cottages are chocolate-box picturesque.
Balmer Lawn Hotel was first built as a private house and hunting lodge around 1800, although I suspect it would have been smaller at that time. It was rebuilt and fashioned into something more like what you see today in around 1850. There have been further improvements in recent times following a fire in 1970. It’s a large building set behind an open field, or lawn, where still can be seen cricket matches in good summer weather, to the delight of tourists, no doubt.
Plenty of history here. During World War One the hotel was used as a field hospital. Several years ago refurbishment works uncovered spent ammunition, empty cigarette packets, and a priceless collection of WWII documents under the floor of bedroom 10. One can see the documents, now framed, in a hallway at Balmer Lawn and one can imagine the conversations in the bar in those dark days. But Balmer Lawn is contemporary, renovated and full of amenities that are very much of these less fraught days.
It’s imposing from the outside, for sure, although once inside, Balmer Lawn seems to have something of a reverse Tardis effect: its scale becomes somewhat more cosy and accessible. The reception sports an original clerk’s desk complete with inkwells, which possibly harks to Victorian times. The adjoining seating areas are homely and welcoming and there are several more private spaces for quieter moments or for groups. These seating areas are also used at breakfast time and for light lunches. The bar leads off to outside tables which are popular in the summer for a glass of Pimms and a snack.
Perhaps that is the strength of Balmer Lawn – it has appeal for everyone. There are those who are looking for a few days of quiet tranquillity. They crave a nice country walk starting from the front door, a corner with comfy armchair and good book, a cup of tea at one’s elbow and a great dinner at the end of the day. It’s all here.
That might not be an appealing vacation for everyone. Sometimes one looks for a hotel with first-class sporting facilities, as well as being well-placed to take advantage of local activities such as fishing, riding, shooting and watersports. Balmer Lawn has two pools, a spa, squash court and an all-weather tennis court. There is a well-appointed gym with equipment which will be familiar to those with temple-like bodies: Steppers, Treadmills, Rowers, Exercise Bikes, Cross Trainer (I have no idea), Multi-gym and Free weights. Balmer Lawn has a partnership with Brockenhurst Manor Golf Club; the course is situated just 5 minutes’ drive from the hotel and is considered a premier golf course in the heart of the New Forest.
Balmer Lawn has 54 rooms on 3 floors but there are lifts. Those rooms range from traditional country house to modern and contemporary. They are individually designed and decorated, and some have balconies with views across the cricket lawn. Choose a room that suits your style and you can even bring the dog! The staff here are friendly and helpful so requests from 2- or 4-legged guests are never too much trouble.
Balmer Lawn is recognised, unsurprisingly, as one of the best hotels in the New Forest region. Its restaurant, Beresford’s, has become a gastronomic destination for locals and visitors. It has leisure facilities that make this an all-year-round resort. But it also offers calm and a hint of luxury with flexible space for the interests of the whole family.
Balmer Lawn Hotel
Phone: +44 (0)1590 421 107
Fax: +44 (0)1590 623864
Hotel review by Chrissie Walker © 2018