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 nutritious 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 into learning about history or hiking with your four-legged friend, there are plenty of places you can explore together – with pet-friendly pubs and cafes to boot.
WHAT ARE 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 and it’s a great place to visit with your dog – especially on a rainy day as pets can accompany you into all the exhibits, displays and rooms. The castle is open from the end of March to the start of November and tickets cost a pocket-friendly £5.50 per adult, while dogs go free.
Car fanatics should head to Beaulieu National Motor Museum, where 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 a series of ever-changing exhibits and events.
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 well worth a visit, too. Sightings aren’t guaranteed but between April and September, the deer are regularly 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 and you can visit his grave in the grounds of All Saints Church.
WHERE’S GOOD FOR WALKIES? 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, such as 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 are nesting on the ground, and to follow the Dog Walking Code.
Regular readers of our Ruff Guides will know that we’re big fans of disused railway lines where you can walk for miles – often off-lead – without having to worry about passing traffic. 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 and 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.
BEST PLACE TO GRAB A BITE? Ooh, where to start? There are plenty of dog-friendly establishments in the New Forest so you and your pet certainly won’t starve. Pallets Tea & Coffee House in Beaulieu is a lovely place to refuel after a long walk. The cafe has been in the same family for more than 30 years and has a great selection of snacks and hot drinks, with all the coffee being locally roasted in Lymington.
Anyone visiting Minstead to pay tribute to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle should also pop in to the Trusty Servant Inn. This traditional country pub loves dogs and is a great place for spotting wild donkeys and ponies to boot. It has a great range of food, from classic pub grub to burgers and stonebaked pizzas. Vegetarians are well catered for too, with their own section on the menu.
If you’re in Lyndhurst, make a beeline for the vintage-style Peggy May’s Cafe, which welcomes dogs, while The Cider Pantry in Burley comes highly recommended for its locally-sourced food. Pets are not allowed inside but there is plenty of covered outdoor seating – and you can stock up on some New Forest Cider while you’re there.
WHERE SHOULD I 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! Rooms start from £79, plus £15 per dog per night – read my review of the hotel by clicking here.
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. Rooms start from £70 per night, plus an extra £15 per dog.
Pebble Cottage is also an excellent option for those who prefer self-catering accommodation. 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 at any one time. Weekly rates start from £500 but short breaks are also be arranged.
GET ME THERE: 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.
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.