Would you like to learn first hand about the life of the New Forest commoners?
Join TV star Tom Hordle and The Bell Inn for a very special experience
Commoner and TV star Tom Hordle and The Bell Inn at Bramshaw have joined forces to create a unique new attraction: a New Forest walking and lunch experience for locals and visitors.
Walk with the commoners and learn about the New Forest, then lunch at The Bell
As part of its determination to support, serve and promote the traditions and the produce of the New Forest, The Bell Inn at Bramshaw has teamed up with young beef cattle farmer Tom Hordle who featured in the popular TV show “A Year in the New Forest” and fellow commoner Lyndsey Stride, to host a series of “Commoners Walks” followed by “Commoners Lunch” at the Bell.
This is a completely new and unique New Forest experience for locals and visitors: an educational whilst immensely enjoyable New Forest walk followed by a delicious lunch in convivial company at 2 AA rosette restaurant The Bell Inn.
On a fabulous spring day we were lucky enough to take part in the inaugural experience, which we’re delighted to share for the benefit of everybody else because we were so impressed and had such a lovely time - and believe that many of you would enjoy it equally as much!
Book now for the next monthly walk!
In fact this fabulous “experience” is now on offer monthly from The Bell Inn, and you can book it here – plus see full details at the end of this article.
Commoners Tom and Lyndsey – expert and passionate about the New Forest
Tom, who is still only 26 years old, has his own farm and is steadily building his forest based business, with his herd of Hereford beef cattle - free roaming and grazing thanks to his rights of common on the open Forest. He recently took part in the TV series “A Year in the New Forest” and came across on that excellent programme very convincingly; we were all greatly looking forward to meeting him and hearing what he had to say.
Meanwhile Lyndsey is one of the New Forest commoners behind the New Forest “Commoning Voices” project (details here). She is full of wonderful facts and stories about the natural history of the New Forest and the unfolding nature taking place all the time around us.
This is a unique opportunity to meet them both, in real life and real time to delve deeply into the reality of how practising commoners live and work, and to learn at first hand what is so special about the way the New Forest is managed.
Tom and Lyndsey are not only immensely knowledgeable about the New Forest but also delightful and great communicators - which makes listening to their every word interesting and enjoyable.
Coffee at The Bell Inn and scenic drive across the Forest
Our experience began with gathering at 9.30am at The Bell Inn, where there’s plenty of visitor parking close to the main entrance. NB - at this point one needs to don suitable attire to meet the elements too: for example wellies, waterproofs and layers; trainers and sun cream; or something in between. We had been blessed with a beautiful yet still quite crisp, spring morning but we all kind of knew in our bones that we would encounter some mud along the route somewhere!
Then it was a friendly meet and greet from Kimberley and her team at The Bell over an excellent cup of coffee or tea and introduction to our walking hosts who simply could not wait to start telling us all sorts of interesting facts about the Forest.
In fact already we were learning about the various Rights of Common including the better known pasture and lesser known mast – and from this moment on we were all riveted and involved.
Tom’s Farm and Harold the Bull
A delightful mini bus journey from The Bell across this most picturesque part of the New Forest brought us into the farmyard of Tom’s Farm on the western fringe of the forest north of Ringwood close to Moyles Court, where Tom explained how he came to be here whilst Harold the Bull listened on - and here comes the first surprise. Tom was not born into a commoning family, the link is through his great grandfather Jim but whilst a young boy he felt it in his blood.
So he found a local farmer to take him on as a kind of apprentice, went to agriculture college, worked for 5 years for the National Trust and in 2010 was able to buy this 4 acres of land, on which thanks partly to a LEDA grant he built his first shed. From there he continued to develop his farm including most recently the tiny but perfectly formed living accommodation for himself and his fiancee – who’s from Dartmoor where life is even more rugged!
Tom started his beef business with a Limousin bull and the emphasis on fast turnaround with indoor “finishing” elsewhere, but then switched to Herefords who would spend their whole happy lives grazing on the varied terrains and soil types of the forest, taking twice the time to maturity - but as one of the group, a local butcher from farmersbutcher.co.uk declared, we would not taste a better beef than this!
Once everybody had saved their breath for the steep ascent onto Rockford Common there was a good deal of chatting as the chosen route across beautiful forest incorporating fabulous views in all directions became a gentle stroll past the grazing cattle and New Forest ponies, all the time with either Tom or Lyndsey stopping to point out something tiny but significant which most of us would have passed by in blissful ignorance and missed on the rich detail... although we all couldn't help spotting the open air exercise class!
Asked “why do you common?” Tom and Lyndsey’s joint reply was that forest life is all about community, family and hobby combined and you simply don’t calculate the time you spend “working”. Where others play golf or go running the commoners will be hunting on horseback for their cows on the forest. The key is that they love it, if they didn’t they would judge the return on their time investment poor indeed.
Undoubtedly everybody’s walk experience will be subtly different even on the same walk – on future walks in later spring and into the summer there will be many differences so we will now leave you to imagine and anticipate – and book yours!
And now for our well deserved Commoners Lunch!
Following the return (equally magical) motor trip back across the forest we arrived back to The Bell Inn for lunch.
Welcoming 2 AA rosette dog friendly Bell Inn
The Bell Inn is a proudly independent 18th century coaching Inn, cleverly situated just a mile away from J1 of the M27 yet also quietly nestled in the picturesque northern section of the New Forest.
Its cosy, comfy, country atmosphere envelops you as you pass through the main entrance and are greeted by the friendly reception staff. The oak and flag stoned floors are a reminder of the history of the building and the heart of the Inn is its double-sided fireplace where everybody gathers.
Guests are encouraged (together with their canine companions if they wish - in fact The Bell Inn won the 2018 New Forest Dog Friendly Restaurant of the Year Award!) to soak up the surroundings and sink into sofas whilst sampling fine local ales, then to dine in the 2 AA rosette restaurant.
As must by now be evident, The Bell is keen to support and promote New Forest traditions and produce.
The Bell Inn Chef Mark Young believes passionately in sourcing his ingredients locally and has made it his business to ferret out the best, which today included Tom’s beef on which we royally lunched in the form of a wonderful steak, ale and wild mushroom pie served with buttered new potatoes, tender purple sprouting broccoli and new season asparagus. The pudding which followed was definitely in the decadent category: a gooey chocolate cake covered with caramel, chocolate sauce and divine ice cream.
The conversation continued to flow as we lunched all together around a big table and many more interesting snippets of commoning life emerged. Then finally everybody went their separate away after a thoroughly enjoyable as well as educational experience.
Commoners Walk and Lunch at the Bell – what's included
The ticket price is £65 per person and includes the welcome coffee or tea at The Bell and introduction to Tom, transport to and from the farm following one of the most scenic routes in the New Forest (passing places only but we’re not driving!), all the time in the world for the long and delightful morning of exploration and discovery, and finally the delicious 2 course Commoners Lunch at The Bell.
Upcoming Tom's Walk dates
The next Commoner Tom’s Walk takes place this Friday 17 May and is already fully booked; the following date is Friday 7 June which currently has spaces so book now!