I had been dreaming of a hike with donkeys and my dog for a long time. As I went on the hunt for a dog-friendly donkey trekking experience in the UK, while I didn’t find one allowing canines yet, I eventually ran into a similiar experience… with just one small difference, instead of donkeys it would be with llamas! Who would have ever imagined that less than an hour out of London, in the beautiful setting of Surrey Hills, there was a dog-friendly llama trekking centre, pub and inn: The Merry Harriers. Disclosure: After getting in touch with them, they kindly offered us a press trek and stay. This is an independent review of our experience.
The Merry Harriers: dog-friendly inn, pub and llama trekking centre in Surrey Hills
The Merry Harriers is a 16th century pub in the middle of the countryside, in the Surrey Hills, Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. We were told that this was one of the main roads to London back when people were using horse and carts, and The Merry Harriers had always been an inn. The road has probably not changed much in width since that age and the place is still immersed in the peace of the countryside. It is nestled in a small valley between the hills, among fields with horses and cattle and the woods.
The llama field is in the backyard of the pub, so you can sit in the garden watching the llamas while you dine as they hang out near the fence. “We have had llamas for 10 years and we’ve run the treks since we had them with the old owners,” tells us Danielle, the Manager of The Merry Harriers. She notes that it has become such a completely normal thing to have llamas in the backyard.
Danielle, explains to us that the herd is going through some shifts in the pecking order since they lost their herd leader, Surya, a few months ago and the llamas are currently reinstating a new herd leader amongst themselves. Diesel is the only stud of the herd, but Danielle explains that he is smaller than the other males, so he is having a hard time establishing himself as the leader. Diesel is also the father to little Llorenzo, the new baby llama of the herd, who at 10 weeks old we see trotting happily in the field with the other grown-ups.
Llamas are friendly with people as they are with dogs, so the Merry Harriers allows canines on the treks, provided that they are friendly and don’t constantly bark or get between the legs of the llamas, and they are kept under control. “The llamas are fine around dogs, this is just the llamas’ friendly nature. Our llamas are very intuitive and they respond and adapt to the person that is leading them. They have a bond with our trekkers as they see them a few times a week and they are very in tune with who they trek with and they are able to match their character to suit who they are with, for example; we run treks for children and adults with autism/disabilities, usually with local charities,” says the Merry Harriers Team.
Apart from a pub and llama trekking centre, the Merry Harriers is also an inn and has 15 accomodation suites, with 4 Inn Rooms, 6 Garden Rooms – build refurbishing an old barn – and 5 Shepherd’s Huts – the latter just launched this year -.
A dog-friendly weekend away at the Merry Harriers
My husband was travelling with friends, but Argo and I had a special trip companion for this adventure: my mother, who was very excited about it. We arrived at the Merry Harriers on a sunny and warm Saturday afternoon. The plan was to enjoy some walks before dinner at the pub, and sleeping at the Merry Harriers’ shepherd’s hut they had reserved for us, before the Sunday morning llama trek, followed by a late Sunday lunch at the pub, and train back to London.
Glamping at the Merry Harriers’ dog-friendly Shepherd’s Huts
Just across the road from the Merry Harriers pub, next to the parking space, there is the field with the Merry Harriers’ 5 Shepherd’s Huts, looking over a pond with a water fountain and fields with horses. We were given the Shepherd’s Hut no. 3, a warm red one, with a unicorn neon lamp by the chairs at the entrance to welcome guests (which we later discovered is a feature of all the huts).
We immediately noticed that our hut had all the comforts we could dream of, a very curated space with so many small details like two little foldable reading lights fitted in the bed; a small kitchen equipped with fridge, kettle, Nespresso machine, and complimentary hot chocolate and snacks; two umbrellas for rainy days resting by the door (which luckily were not needed during our stay). There was even a small torch for making one’s way back from The Merry Harriers pub across the street at night and a shoe scraper outside the door.
There was of course a llama theme, with a lovely colourful pillow with two llamas to decorate the bed and small brick-a-brack resemblign the animal. In general, the space inside the hut was very well designed and there was is plenty of storage for clothes and bags in two cabinets on the sides of the bed, a spacious shower and all the comforts. Argo explored the hut and was ready to settle down on the floor next to the bed. He picked one side, so I already knew on where I would have slept.
My mum and I could picture us on a fresh night, lying in the wooden lounges outside our hut, on a fresh night, looking at the stars, the metal table/campfire lit and all the stories we had to catch up on after not having seen each other for a while. In the hut there was also a wood burning stove, with logs available in a basket (and a fire estinguisher for safety) and we wished we had more time there to enjoy the experience fully.
After unpacking and having a shower to refresh ourselves from the walk from the station to the Merry Harriers (more about this below), we decided to head out to explore the area. Next to the car park, we found a footpath leading uphill in the woods. One of the first things we noticed, while walking in the woods, was the air: fresh, healthy, carrying so many scents of grass, terrain, countryside. Very different from the heavy polluted air in London where smells are lost. And that quietness, only broken by birds singing.
It took us just a short walk to Hambledon’s St Peter Church, between tall trees and old red brick houses with beautiful gardens on one side, fields with sheep and cultivations on the other, overlooking gentle hills. We visited the graveyard and continued along a bridleway, with Argo enjoyed sniffing new smells at every corner.
I’d very much recommend a walk there if you have time. The llama treks take a completely different route, so you won’t be doubling the exploration if you choose to go on a hike the day before. Nice to know is that you can purchase a map of the footpaths and bridleways of the area at the Merry Harriers pub (for a modest amount: £2.50).
A night enjoying a village pub’s atmosphere and sleeping in the hut
On the Saturday evening, we experienced the life of a real village pub. We started with having dinner in the garden of the Merry Harriers: the soup of the day as a starter and Marinated Chilli & Lime Chicken Thighs with rice and salad & coriander yoghurt for my mum; bread with hummus, and Funky Mushroom & Hambledon Nettle Risotto with mixed salad for me. The food was good and very well-presented (there were even little blue flowers to garnish my risotto). Both the soup and the risotto were large portions, so the advice would be to go there hungry!
After putting Argo to bed in our hut after dinner, we continued the evening returning to the pub for a drink (fresh lemonade and juice for us, so not properly a wild night) and listening to a band playing that night, the Toxic Sausages, on the tunes of Goo Goo Dolls, Prince and other 80s-90s hits. The Merry Harriers seem to run a lot of these gigs, including monthly jazz sessions in the garden, and quiz nights, so from what we understood it must be a pretty lively place, not just the night we were there. The pub soon became pretty crowded and we were struck by the range of ages and styles of the guests, from young lads wearing t-shirts, to 70ish-year olds in tailcoat suits accompanied by their wives in fancy dresses. Something that I hadn’t seen in London before. We loved the atmosphere!
After the music stopped, the only sound you could hear from the hut was that of the water fountain in the garden. We had fallen fast asleep and enjoyed the peace until morning, wrapped in a soft duvet with some comfy pillows. The matress itself was a bit harder than the one we are used to at home, but hard matresses are ideal for the back and it was still comfortable.
We woke up early in the morning and it was time for a quick walk with Argo. Breakfast was served at the pub in a large dining room, decorated with antique prints, and included a buffet – with local products – and a rich menu from the kitchen. We weren’t hungry enough to try a breakfast from the kitchen, but other guests had the Full English and other delicacies, which looked inviting.
The (dog-friendly) llama trekking
We had appointment with our trek guide, Matt, at 10.30am on the Sunday morning. When we arrived at the llama fence, a bit earlier, we found that Matt, a well-built young lad – who to us looked like in his mid twenties, but we later discovered he was in fact 17, studying at a college with an zoo licence and planning to join the Army – was already there, preparing two llamas for the walk: white and brown shaggy-coat llama Louis and apricot-coloured coat llama Mungo, 14 and 13 years old respectively.
Argo had previously met some llamas at Mudchute Farm, in London, but this time he was very excited when he met Louis and Mungo and started whining as he was desperate to sniff Louis on the other side of the fence. Louis, on his side, started making a call, that Matt told us llama make to warn the rest of the herd of an unexpected presence. In order to give time to the animals to get used to each other and for Argo to settle, I suggested that I would have walked Argo and Matt would have led Louis, while my mum would take Mungo. As we started walking on the footpath we noticed that the best line-up was with Argo at the front, where he calmed down, although during the first part of the walk he was still very curious any time Louis came closer to him and desperate to sniff him.
Llamas are very sociable and fascinating animals and Matt told us lots about their habits, character and history. For instance, we didn’t know that llamas don’t need to drink much, as they take most of needed liquids from the greens they eat. And how much they eat! On our way, they would stop every couple of steps to eat grass, ferns, nettle, leaves from trees and even brambles. Matt explained that they have 3 stomachs and can even eat some plants which are toxic for humans. Basically anything green they can find.
We were very surprised from the fact that they don’t get hurt eating plants with thorns, and were surprised by their way in which they eat ferns, placing their mouth at the bottom of the stem and de-leafing them with a quick movement upwards, without breaking the stem. Llamas are part of the Camelid family, with their cousins alpacas, vicugnas and guanacos. They need to live in a herd, as they have a very strong need for each other’s company, and can live for to up 25 years.
We also asked Matt whether llamas spit. The answer is yes, but if they do spit it is usually at each other rather than at humans. Spitting is a sign that they are annoyed and there are actually three different types of spitting, the least worse of which is just what they are chewing in that moment and the worse of which is a sort of vomit and is pretty smelly too. In general, you don’t want to annoy a llama.
After a good hour walk, we hadn’t covered as much ground as me and my mum would have expected, as the llamas took their time eating and stopping. This was quite an interesting food for thought; we are so used to rushing somewhere, focussing on walking of good pace to reach a destination, that probably we miss so many things on the way. I think that when we started walking with the llamas we had that mindset, about arriving somewhere and seeing as much as possible, but llamas won’t follow this idea of walk. So we had to slow down, at the beginning I must confess I was a bit frustrated as my pace is normally very fast, but then thinking about what we were doing, I realised that the focus wasn’t the trek, it was the llamas, discovering these creatures, entering in tune with them, so the perspective changed.
They day was sunny and warm, and before starting the walk we were concerned whether it may have become too hot at some point. But the whole trek was on paths in partial shade, so it was always the perfect temperature.
After a while we arrived at a little ford, where we walked over some planks and the llamas took the muddy way on the side. From that point, the vegetation changed completely. From the very light green, leafy, and not very wide footpath, we found ourselves in the woods, with high trees, dark green colours and less sunlight. The change in scenery also affected our pace: the llamas were now more inclined to walk, as there wasn’t that much grass or shrubs to chew and distract them. Louis also stated being interested in Argo. It was very interesting to see such a difference in character between Louis and Mungo: Louis became very curious and inquisitive with Argo and started trying to smell him and go closer to him.
At the start of the walk, Matt had told us that normally there is a llama taking the lead on walks, but with Louis and Mungo the pecking order this is often interchangeable. For most of the walk Louis was in front of Mungo, but at half of the walk, with Argo walking at the front, we wondered if Louis started taking him as the pack leader. Argo was now quiet and Louis and him eventually had a quiet close face sniff – also documented in some pics!- which made me proud of him.
Mungo, who at first was quite wary about Argo and would stop walking any time the “safety distance” he decided was shortened, also became a bit more confident around Argo, but much preferred still keeping a (shorter but still good) distance from him. On the contrary, he seemed to develop quite an attachment for my mum, and we laughed so much when he decided to put his face inches from my mum’s and stick there (photo below). It was endearing also to see him peeking from her shoulder later on the walk.
After a circular walk in the woods, we made our way back. On the way home the llamas almost didn’t stop and Matt explained that this is very common. At some point they become eager to be reunited with the rest of the herd. I had given Argo to my mum and enjoyed walking Louis on the way back. As we entered into their field, he headed straight to a sand pit to roll into it, how fun! We tied their lead to the fence and Matt showed me how to brush Louis’ coat, a hard job with all the knots he has.
Our walk lasted approximately 3 hours, but the trekking centre normally runs different types of walks. One is the English Picnic Trek, lasting for 4-5 hours, for which llamas carry a special bags with hampers for the picnic: one llama on the way out and one for the return. They also have a Luxury Champagne Picnic Trek, Summer Evening/Winter Morning Treks and more (all about these below). Matt told us that llamas start their training at 10 months, when they start wearing a head collar, then after a month they start being brought around with a very long lead, to get used to it. Each of them has a different personality and interacts differently.
Our thoughts in a nutshell
Both myself and my mum loved the weekend and experience. Almost two weeks on, every time I speak with him mum over the phone she keeps repeating that it was one of the more memorable experiences she has ever had and has been telling all her friends about it since flew back home (and I have the feeling that the photo of her with Mungo llama may end up on a shelf of her bookcase).
Our Shepherd’s Hut stay. We found the Shepherd’s Hut an absolute little jewel, cozy, full of comforts and sparkling clean, with fresh towels with a nice smell. It had been really busy lately and the weekend was a great way to disconnect from the city, work, traffic, and listen to the birds singing, breathe some good air, be immersed into nature and relax. No phone signal, and wi-fi in the pub only meant that I could also take a welcome break from digital life. The only detail would be if you are used to a soft mattress you may find the one of the hut at a bit hard, but to be honest for us it was fine as we prefer this for our backs. All the rooms and shepherd’s huts are dog-friendly and there is no extra charge for dogs. The breakfast was great, we loved that they had local products, and there is also a rich kitchen menu.
I’d say that one night made it a quite a short getaway and probably 2 nights would have been the best combination in order to have the chance to relax properly and explore the area more. The Shepherd’s Hut offers a quite a romantic setting, so we thought that it would have been an even better escape for a couple (on this point I think that my husband regretted to have gone travelling after seeing the photos and hearing our stories).
The pub. The area is enchanting and the Merry Harriers’ pub lovely, with a good and curated menu and well-presented food. The staff was really welcoming and friendly with us and we found the pub quite dog-friendly too: at the entrance of the pub we found a barrel of water with bowls for dogs, and they had a big jar full of dog biscuits at the counter too. We met many dogs at the garden of the pub, both on the Saturday evening and on the Sunday.
The llama trekking. The llama trekking was an amazing experience, and we found great that dogs are allowed. This would not be an experience suitable for every dog though: in general, the trekking centre advises that no barky dogs and terrier-type dogs who would get into the llamas legs are brought onto the treks. As for our experience, I was a bit surprised (and disappointed) to see Argo whining so much when we met the llamas before starting the walk, after on all our trips to dog-friendly farms in London and seeing horses in the New Forest he had always been very quiet. We were lucky that he then settled (I would have otherwise brought him back to the hut if he didn’t, which would have spoilt a bit the experience) and by the end of the trek he had developed some connection with Louis. I would advise to get your dog to try and meet as many animals as possible before going on the trek and work on focus games, so they give you unconditional attention also in presence of distractions and they respond to your cues as necessary.
In conclusion, we would very much recommend the whole experience. I would love to go back (taking my husband this time!).
How to plan a weekend at The Merry Harriers with your dog
Getting to The Merry Harriers
- By public transport: 50-minute train ride from London Waterloo (or Clapham Junction) to Milford or Witley (they have the same distance from the Merry Harriers) + taxi/walk/on certain days bus 503.
- By car: As recommended by the Merry Harriers: from the A3 follow signposts for Milford and Haslemere. Continue along the A283 towards Witley and Chiddingfold. At the roundabout take the Petworth Road/A283 exit. Continue along this road for 2.8 miles then turn left onto Lane End. Continue for 1 mile through Hambledon Village and The Merry Harriers is on your left.
I would recommend you travel by car to get to the Merry Harriers: while it is easy to get a train to a nearby location (Milford and Witley are both 2 miles away), the 503 bus which stops near the Merry Harriers only runs on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays (and with very few rides a day) so it’s not really an option. This means that unless you get a (dog-friendly) taxi, you’ll have to walk for about 40 minutes on a road that only in the first stretch has a footpath. If you come from Milford station, there is an alternative route you can take after reaching Orchard Cottage, taking the road on the right hand-side at Eton End: it runs in the woods and crosses the golf course in a few parts, allowing you to cut a big part of the road without footpath, so it is much safer.
Rooms and Llama Treks
Rooms. The prices of the rooms vary between £90 (for the Inn and Garden rooms) and £195 (for the Shepherd’s Huts) per night and include a rich breakfast.
Llama treks. There are different types of llama treks:
- English Picnic Trek: lasting for 4-5 hours, for which llamas carry a special bags with hampers for the picnic (picnic includes a selection of sandwiches, olives, an asparagus and meat platter, a cheese board, cakes and a selection of seasonal fruit): one llama on the way out and one for the return. Price: £84 adults, £48 children (8-15), £210 family (2 adults 2 children)
- Luxury Champagne Picnic Trek: A day trek with a luxury picnic and champagne, with a llama per couple (picnic includes a selection of sandwiches, olives, an asparagus and meat platter, a cheese board, cakes and a selection of seasonal fruit and a bottle of thehouse Gruet Brut Champagne per couple). Price: £99.60
- Summer Evening Trek: start at 6.30pm and usually lasts apx 1.5 hrs. Price: adult £55.20, child (8-15) £27.60
- Winter Morning Trek: trek + traditional two course English lunch at The Merry Harriers historic country inn. Adult £84.00, Child (8-15) £48.00
- Children Party Llama Trek: £36 per child with picnic tea (round of sandwiches, babybels and pepperamis, a variety of snack fruit, squash and llama biscuits)
- The B&B Trek: trek as either Winter Morning Trek or Summer Evening Trek and one-night stay at the Merry Harriers. Price: £384.00 per couple for a Garden room or an Inn room; £425.00 per couple for Shepherd’s Hut upgrade.
- Well-behaved dogs are allowed at the pub. Dog bowls are available at the pub and they also have dog biscuits.
- Dogs are also welcome to stay in all the rooms and shepherd’s huts. The only rule being to keep them off the beds.
- For the llama treks, as mentioned above, well-behaved dogs are welcome. In their FAQs they advise: “Yes, but please let us know in advance. Llamas are very sociable and friendly towards most dogs but if you think your dog may bark constantly or if he/she is a terrier type likely to run around their back legs then it would be better not to.”
How to book
You can reserve your room online, clicking on the Book Room button at the top right corner of the page. Also for booking a table at the pub you can reserve it via their website. To book a llama trek, you can email the Merry Harriers on firstname.lastname@example.org or call them on 01428 682883 to confirm availabilities.
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