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Master Builders (Hampshire)

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Address: Buckler’s Hard / Beaulieu Estate / Hampshire / SO42 7XB

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      26.03.2013 13:10
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      Beautiful historic riverside hotel in the New Forest.

      A spur of the moment look on booking.com to see if we could find somewhere to stay in the New Forest revealed that we could have a room for two for £69 plus £20 extra for our daughter to share the room, in The Master Builders Hotel at Buckler's Hard near Beaulieu in the New Forest. We were pleased with this price as it wasn't too much more expensive than alternatives given such as a Premier Inn in Southampton. As we were hoping to visit the Motor Museum at Beaulieu this hotel was perfectly located as it is only two miles further down the river.

      The Beaulieu Motor Museum is signposted from junction 2 of the M27 motorway which leads from Southampton into the New Forest and I would recommend following these signs right into Beaulieu and then follow the road to Limington and Brokenhurst signs from here and shortly after a turn on the left will be signposted to Bucklers Hard and then again on the left about a mile further on the driveway into the hotel is signed.

      **Buckler's Hard**

      You may have heard of Buckler's Hard; it's a tourist attraction in its own right and you can pay to visit a tourist centre just past this hotel or like us you can just choose to stay right in the heart of the historic village. What makes Buckler's Hard so special is that it is the point on the Beaulieu river where a ship building yard used to stand in the 18th Century. When I looked at the remains of the slipway on this beautiful stretch of river I assumed it was small sailing type boats that were made as these are the type of boats that can now been seen in the marina. I was shocked then to discover that I had underestimated the scale of production on this site quite considerably; picture HMS Victory and that is exactly the type of ship that started life at this picturesque spot. Paintings inside the hotel show exact ships that were built here and I was so impressed to see one painting of the Spanish Armada where no less than three of the ships originated here, one of which being Nelson's personal favourite, HMS Agamemnon.

      As recently as the Second World War this area was used for the construction of dummy landing craft which were then used to confuse the Germans and lead them to think that the British invasion of Europe would come from Calais rather than Dunkirque. The remnants of a recent archaeological dig were evident on the water front where the archaeological team had been looking at this 20th Century use of the area. My husband says that he remembers seeing a Time Team dig where they based outside of the hotel investigating the 18th Century use of the land.

      **The Master Builder's House**

      The Master Builder's House was built in 1729 and was home to Henry Adams, a renowned shipwright. It stands right on the edge of the water overlooking the old slipways and forms the end of a terrace of red brick built cottages with a symmetrical terrace just opposite. These cottages with the village green and gravelled track through the middle are a famous British landmark and are ever so pretty. There is nothing industrial about this landscape now. The views from our room were across the green to the cottages opposite and across the wide river which is full of sailing boats. It is as picturesque a setting as you could ever wish to stay in and knowing its historical importance made this an exciting location for our mini break.

      This end portion of the terrace was converted into a hotel during the last Century and is now run by the small chain, Hillbrooke Hotels. It consists of the main building where you can stay in chic or luxury rooms and there is also a newer block where the standard rooms are located, but they have less good views. We were lucky enough to have been given a 'chic' room, room 32 - Fervent, up in the attic.

      The main house also houses the restaurant, reception, the beautiful lounge with large inglenook fireplace as well as French doors overlooking the river. The hotel also operates as a pub and the restaurant is also open to the public, even serving breakfasts for sailors moored in the marina. Outside is a large terraced area with picnic tables and also a good sized lawn which has a giant chess set on it to keep little ones amused. A gravelled carpark is plenty big enough for all customers.

      **Reception**

      My first contact with reception was via a telephone call as I prepared to book online as I wanted to check that the additional bed in a room was suitable for a nearing adult sized teen and also to query local sports activities. The receptionist was extremely helpful even looking up horse riding on the internet for me. They weren't able to offer the price I had located on the internet however so I returned there to finalise my booking. Their own website advises that a room for two is priced from £130, which presumably would have been the standard room, so well worth hunting around for a good deal. It also suggests that a minimum of 2 nights must be booked at a weekend whereas we were able to book just the one night.
      On arrival the friendly receptionist quickly located our booking and asked the normal questions about wake up calls, restaurant booking and newspapers and then showed us to our room. Checkout and payment was also efficiently handled.

      Reception and the corridors and stairs are all painted in quite a dark blue colour with dark wood floors or a fairly weathered blue carpet on the stairs which can appear a bit gloomy. It is clear inside how old the property is as you feel a little drunk as you climb the sloping uneven stairs. As it is so old it has not been possible to install a lift. The ground floor was mostly level but there is even a step to access the newer block, so I wouldn't recommend this as somewhere to stay if you have mobility difficulties.

      **Our room**
      The hotel advertises that its ethos is 'relaxed friendly service in quirky surroundings'. As we were shown into our room we were definitely met with quirky surroundings. Our first impressions were that it was vast and also very red. The room was in the attic with three dormer windows as well as a smaller window in the end wall, that all provided good ventilation once opened as it was stifling when we first arrived. There is no air conditioning. The sloping walls were all painted in a historical red colour with a white ceiling and lots of old beams. A large ornate rug really set off the cream carpet and made the room feel cosy. Furnishings were all in dark wood or black wrought iron and red blinds and white bed linen and lamp shades finished off the soft furnishings.

      An entrance hallway leads into main part of the room and a large wardrobe is in here as well as a suitcase stand. The main room has a voluminous Queen size bed with a wonderfully comfortable mattress and feather pillows that we both had a really good nights sleep in. The headboard and pictures on either side are rather erotic carved features and possibly a little unsuitable for sharing a room with your teen, but great if it's your wedding night! My daughter found the mattress a little on the hard side on her daybed, but she seemed to sleep well enough on it and being wrought iron it looked really good. We did have to request reception to bring the bedding up for this as it hadn't been made up despite booking for three. A cream wooden fretwork folding screen brightened up the look of the room and could also be used to divide the main and daybed if more privacy is required. Other furniture included a fun oversized armchair, bedside tables, a dressing table / writing desk and mirror, a chest of drawers with a flat screen TV on it with temperamental reception, and a coffee table with tea and coffee making facilities and bottled water. There was also a complimentary bottle of a locally made spirit. Despite being an attic room there was plenty of headroom.

      The en-suite bathroom carried through the beamed and red theme and contained a large bath with shower attachment - there is not a wall mounted shower as the bathroom is within the eaves with no proper wall to fix one too. The toilet was the only thing that let this room down; the water pressure just wasn't adequate and several flushes were always required! A pretty shelf above the sink contained miniature toiletry bottles - shampoo, conditioner and bath / shower gel, shower cap and vanity set and a hair dryer was also provided. Towels were plentiful and thick and fluffy and I should also mention that the white bed linen which is apparently made from best Egyptian linen felt thick and had a wonderful fresh newly laundered smell.

      A welcome note from the manager was left on the bed which basically hoped that we had a good stay and offered assistance if required and reminded us that we could buy tickets for local attractions for a 10% discount at reception - shame we'd been to the paying attraction that we wanted to do before checking into the hotel! A useful folder is also included in the room with details about local attractions and a bit of history of the area and the hotel as well all the practical information that you need to know such as breakfast times and emergency numbers.

      All in all we were really pleasantly surprised by this room and found it to be clean and comfortable with everything that we needed.

      **Is the food as good as the room?**

      In a word - yes - we enjoyed both the evening meal that we ate in the bar and our breakfast. A quick glance at the restaurant menu revealed that this was somewhere to go for a special meal as it is a bit pricey, so we opted for the bar as it was serving traditional bar food at slightly higher than average prices and fitted better with our requirements. The bar is open to the general public and seemed to be a very popular place, but we did manage to secure the last table at about 7 o'clock. As with the rest of the building it retains its rustic feel with dark uneven wooden floorboards and stone walls and fireplace. Service was quick and friendly and we were very pleased with the quality of the food.

      My husband and I both chose a ploughmans which came served on a wooden chopping board. I was a bit concerned about the hygiene of serving on wood as I know that that bacteria can be harboured in the wood, but we seem to have come away healthy. This cost £11.25 plus £3.50 each for the pot of chips that we chose to add. It consisted of pork pie, New forest scotch egg, Godminster organic cheese, salad, chutney and bread. It was good that everything appeared to be locally sourced, but if I was being picky I would have liked a bit more seasoning in the scotch egg and I found the pastry a little chewy and some more bread would have been good. The cheese was delicious and I enjoyed the salad leaves but it lacked any other salad content and I felt that there should have been some tomato and cucumber included as a minimum. That all sounds very negative but it was well presented and I did really enjoy it. The chips which were served in a little silver bucket were chunky and crispy and perfect for how I like them. My daughters battered fish and chips came served with mushy peas and tartare sauce in little pots and she really enjoyed her plentiful portion, as did her Dad who polished off the leftovers. This cost £12.50. A good range of drinks was available, but surprisingly they had run out of lemonade, which I've never come across in a pub before.

      The menu choice is limited, but I think that this was a positive as they could concentrate on preparing this food well and as it was busy they could serve quickly. Puddings such as crème brulee and chocolate brownie and ice cream all cost £6 but we were too full to contemplate these. There are no starters on the menu but some of the side orders could be used as a starter if required and sandwiches are also available for about £6. Food is served over lunch time and from 6 - 9.30pm daily and they also serve afternoon tea from 3 - 6pm which would be lovely to eat out on one of the benches in the garden in summer.

      Breakfast is served in the tastefully decorated restaurant. The bluey green painted woodwork and booths with red and white striped seats and the dark wooden floorboards felt very restful and this was a beautiful room with French doors leading onto the patio and views of the boats in the marina. There are lots of paintings in this room of sailing vessels and some of these are labelled to show ships that were built at Buckler's Hard.

      A table was laid out with assorted cereals, miniature pastries and a bowl of fruit salad which disappointingly seemed to be almost exclusively apple. Orange and cranberry juice was available in jugs as well as a banana smoothie, which my family tell me was delicious. Tea and coffee and toast were brought directly to the table by the waitresses. I felt that these elements of the breakfast were lacking and I would have liked to have seen more fresh fruit choices and yogurts and possibly some delicatessen items. A good array of cooked breakfasts was also available however such as muffins with salmon and egg and bacon sandwiches. We all chose to have the full English cooked breakfast with fried eggs. This was tasty and although not huge quantities it was nicely filling. The eggs were perfectly cooked with the yoke runny and a very thoughtful touch was that of the two slices of bacon one was more well done than the other to hopefully cater to all tastes. My husband complained at the lack of baked beans but in my opinion that was a good omission and another good omission was that they had run out of black pudding. These breakfasts are available for £14 for people not staying in the hotel.

      **Summary**

      We thoroughly enjoyed our stay at The Master Builders House hotel. We loved the historical interest attached to the building and the outstanding location. We were impressed with the size, comfort and cleanliness of our room and also with the friendliness of the staff. As there is so much do in the New Forest that we didn't have the opportunity to do on our short stay I'm absolutely sure that we will be re-visiting the area and we will definitely try to stay in this hotel again if we can access a good price like we did this time. I would recommend it to anyone else wanting a good base to visit the New Forest.
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