They charge £21.35 for a double gin and tonic at The Pig hotel in Brockenhurst. I suspect that’s all you really need to know. Feel free to stop reading at this point.
It’s amazing what people who earn their cold hard cash in the cold hard corporate world will pay at the weekend for an experience that purports to be warm, soft and non-corporate. The Pig chain of hotels – there are five, with more to follow – are marketed as ‘shabby chic’, which after my stay I conclude in reality means dimly lit with beaten up sofas and wallpaper designed to make it seem as if perfectly good brickwork is crumbling. But there’s absolutely nothing shabby about the prices they charge.
We stayed at The Pig in Brockenhurst in the New Forest. We slept in a converted stable, which is definitely a non-corporate place to sleep (£230 a night). You have to stay for a minimum of two nights and breakfast isn’t included (£11 for a buffet or £17 for a bang average fry up). Our room was discounted by 30 per cent after I enquired about the smell of human excrement, but I’ll get to that in a minute. The stable was the third cheapest room the hotel offers – you can book a Snug room for £175 a night at the weekend (cheapest) or you can sleep in Bert’s Box, whatever that is, for £395 a night (most expensive).
Sitting at a desk in London under strip lighting with the phone going every five minutes and dull emails with spreadsheet attachments pouring in, it’s easy to see the allure of a not so far away place called The Pig – a name that cleverly conjures a kind of manageable return to nature, to log fires and wet meadows and soil on the hands. To the good stuff. Charmingly, the website boasts the Brockenhurst property ‘isn’t perfect!’, and the girl on the phone who takes the booking is bright and speaks in a non-corporate way. Where do I sign?
The hotel – a converted Georgian country house – certainly doesn’t look corporate as you pull up the gravel drive, nor do you get any sense of corporatism as you’re shown the ‘kitchen garden’ on the way to your stable through the drizzle and the surprising shitty fug by the charming and chatty girl from reception. You feel, in fact, like you’ve arrived at a very wealthy friend’s massive house for a birthday party or similar. You relax. You let your guard down. And then when someone asks what you’d like to drink you order a gin and tonic without first asking what it costs. Fool me once.
The food was OK. My pork chop main course was overcooked and the black pudding starter I ordered was served like a slab of brownie with a fried egg on top. My wife had the salmon followed by the beef and ale pie, both of which she said were ‘quite nice’. Including my gin and tonic, a good shared chocolate pudding and a £39 bottle of wine, the bill was £149. The following night we both had the ribeye (mine a bit chewy, my wife’s ‘excellent’) and only one starter – a delicious celeriac soup – and the bill was £116.
During the day we didn’t do much. We were here to relax – to retreat from the day-to-day. While my wife had a thoroughly enjoyable 90-minute pregnancy massage (£115), I sat in a comfortable chair and read Michael Wolff’s largely excellent Trump book with a Bloody Mary (£10). We also tried to go for a walk, but it wasn’t straightforward because to get to countryside you first had to navigate half a kilometre of busy road with no pavements, which wasn’t easy for my wife, just shy of full term.
It turned out the foul smell outside our room was the result of a failing sewage system (‘We’ve had a lot of rain recently,’ I was told). Provided we didn’t open any windows or the door we couldn’t really smell it in our stable, but certainly the stench didn’t add to the romance of the weekend.
The Pig – part of the Limewood Group – is, of course, corporate. The staff may not wear suits, but it takes a suspension of disbelief I couldn’t achieve not to understand that management is as keen on parting you from your cash as is any multinational bank. All that said, my wife loved the stay and would, I suspect, do it again in a heartbeat. If you’ve got a spare grand lying about and want an expensive corporate non-corporate return to nature, give it a try. Just check they’ve sorted the sewage problem first.