Lucy Halfhead meets an award-winning sommelier, visits an award-winning pub and avoids an acorn-snuffling pig on a New Forest country walk.
‘Mind the pigs!’ says Gerard Basset, award-winning sommelier and owner of our base camp, Hotel TerraVina, as we set off down the lane. Pigs? I associate the New Forest with herds of free-ranging ponies.
Basset’s right, though. A trio of muddy snouts face us at our first cattle grid. Each year, during the ‘pannage’ season, the locals let their pigs loose among the trees to devour fallen acorns, which are poisonous to ponies and cattle. The pigs are an important part of forest ecology – and, yes, they will chase you if you get too close to them.
The previous night, hoping for a more leisurely autumn outing, we’d dug out our walking boots and left the city behind, arriving in a painless hour and a half in time for a sumptuous dinner of New Forest venison accompanied by a bottle of meaty Argentinian red.
The next day, our 14-mile round route from Netley Marsh, among gloriously burnished trees, sparkling streams and the odd deer, was the perfect way to work off the calories.
We stopped at the Royal Oak pub in Fritham (023 8081 2606) for a mid-ramble refuel. Named Country Pub of the Year in the 2009 ‘Good Pub Guide’ it boasts log fires, real ales tapped from the cask and a robust ploughman’s lunch: tangy local cheddar, home-baked crusty bread and, of course, a succulent slice of ham.
Where to stay
The Hotel TerraVina 174 Woodlands Road, Woodlands, Netley Marsh, New Forest, Hampshire, SO40 7GL (02380 293 784/www.hotelterravina.co.uk). Doubles from £140 per night.