Ruff Guide to… the New Forest

The New Forest is renowned for its wild ponies and you won’t have to look far to find them. You will often spot them nibbling on a garden hedge or grazing on gorse by the roadside – but they’re not the only animals who love this South Coast spot. Free-roaming  donkeys, deer and cattle also abound and with more than 140 miles of tracks and footpaths to explore, the New Forest is a treat for dogs, too. Whether you’re keen to learn about history or hike with your four-legged friend, there are plenty of places you can explore together.

Ernie on the ferry to Hurst Castle
Ernie on the ferry to Hurst Castle

Dog-friendly New Forest: the must-sees

Start with Hurst Castle, at the end of a coastal spit in Milford-on-Sea, near Lymington. Built by Henry VIII, it was once one of the most advanced artillery fortresses in England and went on to house a number of prisoners in the 17th Century, including Charles I. Today, the castle is managed by English Heritage. It’s a great place to visit with your dog because they’re allowed into all the exhibits, displays and rooms.

The castle is open from the end of March to November and you can access it either by taking the 45-minute walk along the stony Hurst Spit or hopping on the Hurst Ferry, which also welcomes dogs. One-way tickets cost £4 for adults and dogs travel free. Tickets to the castle cost £5.50 per adult.

Car fanatics should head to Beaulieu National Motor Museum. Here, you can see everything from vintage vehicles to the latest supercars. There are more than 250 cars on display in the main museum but guests can also enjoy access to a stately home, abbey and ever-changing exhibits.

Car from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang at Beaulieu National Motor Museum
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is one of the cars on display at Beaulieu National Motor Museum

Dogs are welcome in the grounds and gardens but not in any of the museum buildings. Some people leave their pets outside while they nip in to have a look around but understandably, not everyone is keen to do this. Tickets also cost £24.75 per adult, so do bear in mind the above when visiting with your four-legged friend.

Wild donkeys and ponies may be the star attraction of the New Forest but Bolderwood Deer Sanctuary is worth a visit, too. Between April and September, the deer are fed by forest rangers so there’s a good chance you’ll get lucky. Dogs on leads are welcome and there are some great walks around the sanctuary, too. It’s free to enter but a £2 donation is suggested for parking.

Any self-respecting Sherlock fan should also pencil in a visit to Minstead. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who created the character, was laid to rest in this peaceful village. You can visit his grave in the grounds of All Saints Church.

Red brick houses at Buckler's Hard
The walk between Buckler’s Hard and Beaulieu tracks the river

Dog-friendly New Forest: the best walks

The New Forest was designated a national park in 2005 so is understandably popular with walkers and hikers. Check out the New Forest National Park Authority website for some great walk suggestions. These include the two-mile circular loop around scenic Ober Park. There is even a free app where you can download the most popular routes. Walkers are advised to stick to the main tracks between March and July, when birds nest on the ground, and to follow the Dog Walking Code.

Regular readers of our Ruff Guides will know that we’re big fans of walking along disused railway lines. Castleman’s Corkscrew is probably the New Forest’s best-known and the trail runs for nine miles from Brockenhurst Station to Burley. It takes it unusual name from Charles Castleman, who helped promote it, and the fact it cuts across the countryside.

If you enjoy blending walks with history, try the Beaulieu to Buckler’s Hard walk for size. Back in the 18th Century, the ships for Nelson’s Navy were built at Buckler’s Hard. The site itself (which you need to pay £7.50 per adult to enter) has been preserved in time. To get there, follow the signs from Beaulieu village. The footpath tracks the river and is approximately two miles each way. For more walk inspiration, click here.

Ernie shows off his gravy beard after his free Doggy Dinner at The Compass Inn, Winsor
Ernie shows off his gravy beard after his Doggy Dinner at The Compass Inn, Winsor

Dog-friendly New Forest: the best pubs and cafes

Be sure to visit The Compass Inn in Winsor, which bills itself as the most dog-friendly pub in the New Forest. Visiting pets will be greeted by pub dog Boris and can tuck in to free Doggy Dinners. The pub – which has an entirely gluten-free menu – also hosts group dog walks on the first Sunday of every month. At the time of writing, these cost £18.50 and included a bacon roll, a 90-minute walk through the forest and a roast dinner back at the pub. Perfect!

Pallets Tea & Coffee House in Beaulieu is also a lovely place to refuel after a long walk. All of the coffee sold at this family-run cafe is locally roasted in Lymington. And craft beer fans should head to The Wash House in Milford-on-Sea. This quirky micropub is housed in a former launderette. It doesn’t serve food but it does have an excellent range of ales, as well as wine and gin.

Cheeseboard for two at The Royal Oak in Downton
The enormous cheeseboard for two at The Royal Oak in Downton

If you’re in Lyndhurst, make a beeline for the vintage-style Peggy May’s Cafe, which welcomes dogs. The Cider Pantry in Burley also comes highly recommended for its locally-sourced food. And The Royal Oak in Downton, near Lymington, is a great place to go for high-end pub grub. The staff here love dogs and the food is excellent. Try tackling the cheeseboard for two – it’s huge!

Anyone visiting Minstead to pay tribute to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle should also pop in to the Trusty Servant Inn. This traditional country pub is a great place for spotting wild donkeys and ponies to boot. Dogs are very welcome here and owners can enjoy everything from classic pub grub to stonebaked pizzas. Vegetarians are well catered for too, with their own section on the menu.

Tudor-style exterior of The White Buck, Burley
Dogs are guaranteed a warm welcome at The White Buck in Burley

Dog-friendly New Forest: where to stay

If you’re looking to bed down in the heart of the New Forest, consider The White Buck in Burley. This stylish country house, operated by Fuller’s, ticks all the boxes. Not only is it a great pub and restaurant but it has 20 lovely rooms, many of which are dog-friendly. You’re sure to come across plenty of thirsty pooches in the bar, too!

For a boutique B&B, head to Spot in the Woods in Netley Marsh, at the gateway to the forest. Run by the creators of the original Hotel du Vin, it was recently voted one of the 100 Top British Hotels by The Times and The Sunday Times. There’s a fantastic kitchen cafe onsite and three dog-friendly rooms, each with a private enclosed patio area.

If you prefer self-catering accommodation, try Shorefield Country Park. This holiday park is set in a woodland location and has excellent facilities, including two swimming pools and a spa. Pebble Cottage is well worth considering, too. This cute two-bedroom property is situated in the semi-rural village of Hordle, near Lymington. The owner is a keen dog lover herself and as a result, two pets can stay free of charge.

South Western Railway train
South Western Railway serves the New Forest

How do I get to the New Forest?

It’s easy to get to the New Forest, whatever your mode of transport is. It takes around 90 minutes by car from London. Simply exit the M27 at Junction 1 and follow the signs to the forest. From the west, take the A31 from Dorset and from the north, get on the A338 from Salisbury to Ringwood or the A36 to Totton in the east.

By train, you’re also looking at a journey time of 90 minutes from London via South Western Railway. There are eight stations in the New Forest but the main ones are Lymington, Brockenhurst and Ashurst.

The nearest international airports are Bournemouth and Southampton and you can also arrive by ferry. Wightlink sail from Lymington to Yarmouth, on the Isle of Wight, while the Hythe Ferry travels regularly to Southampton.

Where can I find out more?

For more ideas and inspiration for things to do in the New Forest, visit the official tourist information website here. Alternatively, check out the Visit Hampshire site, which also has plenty of suggestions for visitors.

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