Last summer my hubby and I and two friends stayed at The Pig on the beach hotel in Studland Bay, Dorset. We loved it so much we booked a year ahead to stay there for two nights this year for our tenth wedding anniversary. None of us could ever have imagined what was about to happen to our world between then and now.
I had been shielding due to various illnesses I have. My twelve week isolation finished on 30th June. I started back at work as a hairdresser on the 6th July, which I was rather apprehensive about and as it turned out, so were many of my clients. The hotel was due to re-open the same day. Our booking was for Friday of the same week, so I was going from no social contact at all to quite a lot all at once.
We had already had two holidays cancelled due to Covid-19 and had toyed with cancelling our away break in Studland too. However, we decided we would wait till the week before as the cancellation policy was 72 hours. We would see what the weather was going to be like. If it was due to be sunny, then we would be able to eat outside and not have to venture inside the hotel, just to try and be as socially distanced as possible. We would be staying in the shepherds huts again. There are only two and they are separated away from the main hotel. Our friends would be in the other one and they are part of our “bubble”, so we would be doing everything we could to remain safe, yet still have fun and try and get on with life.
The short journey from Sandbanks to Studland across the water is via a chain ferry, which I believe was £5 to cross in our car. Once across the water it’s not more than ten minutes to the hotel.
Staying at The Pig is a real treat for us. The shepherds huts are £299 a night, but it was our tenth anniversary and we had missed a couple of holidays, so I think we deserved it! Breakfast is an additional £10 for a continental buffet and £17 for a cooked meal, but that also included everything within the buffet. The breakfast buffet last year was a sumptuous cornucopia of delights and the cooked breakfasts were divine, but I was interested to see how they were going to deal with a buffet this year with all the new rules and regulations over hygiene.
When we arrived at the hotel we were greeted by a friendly chap who asked us if we were booked to stay. He then guided us to the car park and asked us to go and have a drink in the garden. A member of staff would be with us shortly to show us to our huts. They had roped off a queue area for the outside bar and had painted yellow footprints on the grass to show people how far apart they needed to stand. It felt very relaxed, yet efficient and it was a clever touch to try and make it fun with the painted footsteps. Within five minutes a young smiling lady appeared. We all did the namaste hand gestures and followed her to the huts, which had been scrupulously cleaned and fumigated.
There were a few marked differences from last year: they had placed a brown paper bag in the room, which was our personal safety kit, including face masks, anti-bacterial wipes and sanitising gel. There was also a pretty paper hanging sign on our door to let us know that the room had been cleaned in accordance with the new government guidelines.
The bedroom hut we stayed in is small! However, my hubby is 6ft-2in and he managed just fine. You need to see it as extraordinarily posh glamping, but without any damp grass or deflated airbeds in the morning! The bed is king size and they have even added a little cut out in the wall at the end of the bed if taller people need a little more leg room! Every detail has been thought about for you: the beautiful bath robes are in both the bedroom and bathroom hut, just in case you forget and want to protect your modesty. Although, hardly anyone ever walks past the huts after about 8pm. There is a very well stocked mini bar, but the wonderful vintage goodies drawer had been removed for safety reasons. We were also not able to order a newspaper for the same reason, but they had provided the press reader app, so that we could read whatever we wanted online.
Plenty of wardrobe space was provided for a short stay and very deep drawers lie under the bed. The attention to detail is quite wonderful with a vintage telephone, Roberts radio, tarnished brass fittings and a wood burning stove. The bathroom held a roll-top bath for those all important relaxing moments and fragrant Bramley Products toiletries.
We were celebrating our anniversary, but also our friend’s anniversary and a birthday. The hotel had very kindly left a complimentary bottle of Hambledon English sparkling wine in each room. Last year, they left a half-bottle of Bollinger champagne, which I have to say I much preferred. That makes me sound like a massive snob, but I’m just not that keen on the taste of most English sparkling wines! However, it was a lovely thing for them to do.
We spent the evening with our friends. We gathered our Adirondack chairs, which even come with comforters and made our way to their private patio. We ended up staying till late again, chatting and giggling whilst watching the sun go down.
The first morning’s breakfast was a bit of a disaster. I think there were lots of new staff and with so many new rules and guidelines, they were struggling to get to grips with it all. We had a specific time for breakfast so that the hotel could stagger tables and keep things socially distanced. On one hand they weren’t allowed to take the plates off of the trays to give to you, but on the other hand, they could take them away. I asked a lady why I couldn’t order a newspaper and she handed me, with no gloves on, a piece of printed paper telling me the reason why – Madness!
We waited over an hour for food and other couples were now sitting impatiently on the grass nearby waiting for a table. Dishes were mounting up and the staff looked flustered and as if they wanted to run away crying. Now, I’m going to give them a break here, because that week I had also just started back to work with loads of new rules and, quite frankly, it was awful and I too wanted to run away crying. So, I think in these circumstances, it was okay to get a few things wrong. Everyone has to learn and our new normal really isn’t very normal at all, is it? We did say something politely and we were listened to, because breakfast the next morning was absolutely perfect and they had learned all the lessons from the day before. It was, after all, the hotel’s first weekend open in nearly four months!
After breakfast we took a walk along the coast to Harry’s Rocks. The view is utterly beautiful. Other walkers were respectful of distance and everything felt very calm and relaxing. The afternoon was spent chilling on the loungers facing the sea. We had nibbles and champagne and loved every second of it. There used to be a sign saying that the beds were only for residents, but that had been removed. I think that was a mistake. When you’re paying that kind of money, it can be quite annoying to see people who had just booked for lunch, whiling away the afternoon on one of the coveted loungers, which used to be one of the perks of staying there.
Later that evening we dined outside at the hotel’s restaurant – greedy, I know, but when at The Pig, why not be one! Our friend Kate thought she saw a couple of guests that she knew, so she went up to say hi. They were very friendly, but slightly bemused. It gradually dawned on Kate that she didn’t know them at all, but in fact, they were Harry and Sandra Redknapp and she had recognised them from the TV! They were both so sweet and came up to our table after they had finished dining to say goodbye. Had to get a photo didn’t I?
Overall, our second stay at the hotel was just as good as the first time. There were a few teething problems with the new system, but that was to be expected. There are beautiful walks to the beach where you can be at one with nature. You can stroll around the kitchen garden with its perfect rows of Peter Rabbit style vegetables, or just sip a cool long drink whilst taking in the view. Whatever you do, I promise you will love this home from home. We’ve already booked again for next year. Let’s hope that life is back to normal by then.