embracing the unexpected with visit britain
This past September, I had the opportunity to travel somewhere new with Visit Britain. It was my first time to the U.K., first time solo traveling abroad, and first time not knowing eeexactly where I was headed to. That's right - I stepped onto a plane only knowing that I would be exploring somewhere in Great Britain (!) Crazy. I can't say I would've been able to do something like this prior to my eight months abroad with Conrad. That adventure helped me to embrace spontaneity and feel a (tad) bit less anxious about travel. As in...my flight anxiety's going steady at an 8 down from a 10 ( but that's a post for another day).
When I arrived to London, there was a white envelope waiting for me at the hotel I was sent to. Sounds like a movie, right? I was asked to open it on my Instagram stories - Something you can watch via the "Visit Britain" stories highlight on my feed if ya'd like. The contents? My destination.
Dorset + New Forest! Where the charming countryside meets the roaring coastline.
The next morning, I had time for a quick stroll around the neighborhood I stayed the night in before catching a train. Waterloo's foggy streets were surprisingly quiet, the air smelled of coffee, a small market was being set up, and windows were being washed. I love mornings in a new city. I grabbed a quick coffee at a tiny shop called Coleman Coffee Roasters, it was good, and headed on my way. I still had no idea exactly where I was going. I was provided a code, the time my train was leaving, and the handle of the local Instagrammer I would be sharing these experiences with - @porthjess! I would meet her later that night. When I arrived to the station, I input the code into a ticket machine and found out that I was hopping on a train to Hampshire, England. Something I found hilarious seeing that I'm from New Hampshire, New England. Like. I'm smiling as I type this. And it's really not even that funny?! Get it together, Liz.
Morning in Waterloo
The Travel Cafe
Coleman Coffee Roasters
After a couple hours of fighting sleep on the train (jet lag is real), a taxi picked me up from the station. Ten minutes later, we pulled up to THE most stunning hotel entrance. I think I might have actually said "Who? Me?" when the driver opened my door. The picturesque facade was adorned with flowers, a fountain, and straight up charm. The Chewton Glen is really something else. The kind of place where the shampoo is actually very nice, the bed feels like 12 down comforters stacked upon one another, and there's avocado toast on the menu at your continental breakfast. Woah. Before Jess arrived I had a bit of time to walk around and take some photos. While exploring, I came across the hotel's stunning kitchen garden that opened up into a field of apple trees. Absolutely stunning:
Later that night, I was thrilled to find out that our first activity would be a visit to Keyneston Mill - England’s largest private botanic garden dedicated solely to aromatic plants! If you don't know, I am in the process of launching my passion project soap company, Wild Lather, so my inner wannabe botanist geeked. out. The next morning, after a delicious avocado toast, we said goodbye to Chewton Glen (it was a tough one) and traveled onward.
Keyneston Mill was a dream. As in - I'm pretty sure I asked them if I could book my wedding there. Upon arriving, Jess and I enjoyed a tour of the essential oil distillery before a walk through of their gardens. They are organized into "collections" such as: the spice garden, cutting garden (for flowers!), trial plants, and scented woodland (think cedar and pine). Ahh the property is filled with so many aromatic plants that even the air was beautifully scented. As if it couldn't get better, they also have a cocktail garden filled with herbs you can hand pick for a DIY botanical drink in their beautiful dome:
After a delicious lunch with the founders, David and Julia Bridger, we ended our visit with an invitation into their private essential oil lab to check out some of their latest creations. So inspiring! I can't wait to return. You know, for my wedding.
After lunch, we hopped back into the car and checked our phones. One of the coolest aspects about this campaign was that our Instagram audiences decided where we would go next via the poll function in stories. Two sites along the Jurassic Coast were up against one another: Old Harry Rocks and Durdle Door. The former won the vote by 20%. And I couldn't wait. These chalk formations mark the most easterly point of the Jurassic Coast - England's first natural UNESCO World Heritage Site:
It had been a windy one mile walk to and from the coastline. By the time we arrived back to the car it was getting late and we were getting hungry. Luckily, Visit Britain had one more surprise up their sleeves for us: Dinner at the stunning Abbots Court - a rural boutique hotel nestled in the woods! We were warmly welcomed by the sweet owners, Niki and Jez, and enjoyed the most delicious meal from Chef Alex Naik (who one week later, won Dorset's Chef of the Year!). Couldn't be happier for him, it was such a beautiful experience.
After dinner we checked-in to the Balmer Lawn Hotel in the heart of New Forest - One of the largest remaining tracts of unenclosed pasture land in the south-east of England. This means there are wild horses here. Lots of them (!) At breakfast the next morning there was a lot of excitement amongst the locals. That's when someone told us that it was the first day of Pannage season. An annual tradition where hundreds of domesticated pigs are free to roam the forest to eat the fallen acorns. This is because large quantities are poisonous to horses and cattle. It's a lucky event if you happen to see them and that morning, they were right outside the hotel's entrance! The sound of them cracking the shells was the best.
After pulling ourselves away from the piglets, Jess and I checked our phones to see the results of the day's poll between the village of Beaulieu's Palace House or spotting Wild Ponies at Hatchet pond. I thiiink you can guess which one won:
I might have cried. Just a little. After this we headed to the tiny and charming village of Beaulieu. Since it's also located in New Forest, wild horses were just casually sharing the sidewalk with the locals! Amazing. After grabbing a delicious and locally sourced bite at Monty's Inn, we met up with New Forest Activities for an archery lesson. Something both Jess and I surprisingly really enjoyed! It took me a bit, but by the end I finally hit a couple bullseyes. We ended our day with a beautiful dinner at the Balmer Lawn Hotel. Something that really struck me during my time in Dorset and New Forest was the value seen in locally and ethically sourced food. Mmm so. good.
A big thanks to Visit Britain for making my first trip to the U.K. such a memorable one! And for showing me a side to England that I wouldn't have known to look for otherwise. The absolute best part were the people I met. So kind and welcoming. I can't wait to visit again.
View from the Balmer Lawn Hotel my last morning