Three days, one dog, two humans, one destination: the New Forest. We headed over to Hampshire to attend the very first edition of the Dogstival (we had been gifted VIP passes for it) and took the chance to explore the area. Looking to complete the trip with unique things to do with a dog in the New Forest, we came across the New Forest District Council’s list dog-friendly activities and attractions which turned to be pretty handy (there is also a map here). We looked into some of the activities suggested and tried some of them. Some thoughts from our trip and more inspiration for your dog-friendly stay in the area.
Things to do in the New Forest with your dog: tested and recommended
DAY 1: Watching wild ponies, cows and donkeys in Brockenhurst
Brockenhurst is a small village in the forest, not far from Lymington. Cattle grids are everywhere and serve to keep cattle in, or out of private properties. In fact, you will meet ponies, horses, cows and donkeys roaming free. They are wild so the council and locals recommend to be cautious and not approach them as they can be unpredictable.
On the day we arrived we had a walk (under the rain unfortunately) in Brockenhurst village and nearby land and and met so many horses/ponies roaming free! At some point a grey pony started following us and my husband, who is scared of horses, got a bit worried, but soon the pony understood we didn’t have anything to eat and wondered off. I think Argo, who was on a lead, didn’t really understand much of it at all. We weren’t lucky enough to meet any New Forest Donkeys, but the New Forest District Council provides some tips for locations where to spot them.
If you visit the area, make sure to keep your dog under control, possibly on a leash: animals are wild and, as locals advise, you never know how they can react, so safer for both dogs and the animals to keep your distance. We met some local dogs off-leash, but they have definitely been trained since puppies to respect some boundaries.
DAY 2: Dogstival: our experience
We arrived at Plywell Park (near Lymington), location of the Dogstival, on the early morning of the Saturday (18th May). We were among the first guests to get there and as the event was not officially open yet, we took the chance to explore the open fields/woodland and the dog beach which were an integral part of the venue.
When the event officially opened, we found our way around stalls and other activites. There were so many stall, not just for dogs, but also for humans, with food and drinks and also other goods – for instance we found a stall selling eco-friendly things – totally forgot the name – where we bought eco-coconut scourers, which was perfect for our resolution to try and go greener this year -.
The main arena had an intense and interesting programme and we stopped to watch the Rockwood Display Team performance: a very entertaining one with dogs jumping though loops on fire, over a row of people and many more. We ended up missing almost all other performances and talks as there was so much to do.
Between taking Argo to dock diving (it may have took a 45-minute queue, but it was very well spent!), heading over to the dog beach and to have a proper run in the large field not taken on by the stalls, having a go at the scent test, eating, chatting with people and meeting awesome dogs, and roaming around the stalls for some good shopping and new discoveries. We didn’t manage to get to do the have a go at agility and flyball, but those were perfect for active dogs as well.
What we particularly loved of the event is that there was not only the main area with something for everyone, but also a section of Plywell Park which could be used for dog runs and the beach to cool down and have a splash, making it possible to give dogs a break and tire them out too, which can be essential for some canines who don’t cope well for too long in busy environments. Over the weekend of the festival, the organisers said 10,000 dog owners attended. The venue, though, was of the perfect size for not feeling overwhelmed by the crowd, and giving canines their space.
Argo’s favourite was going off-leash in the park and at the dog beach and having a go at dock diving. When he first got to the edge of the dock he was a bit unconvinced about the height, and started wining and trying to put his paws down towards the water. When he finally took the courage to jump the spectators oohed and gave him so much encouragement that was heartwarming!
As far as us humans were concerned, we thoroughly enjoyed the day. I was very surprised that even my husband, who normally gets easily bored at dog shows, really enjoyed the day and was the first to tell me that we should go again next year (first time ever I see him so keen in taking part in a dog event, as he normally rather prefers other kind of dog adventures!). Summing up, we found it was really a great event and if we didn’t know it, we wouldn’t have guessed that it was their first edition, as it was well-organised and there was plenty to enjoy for all the family. We hope to be back next year! Dates of the next edition have been already released: 16th and 17th May 2020
DAY 3: A dog-friendly visit to Hurst Castle
We were recommended a visit by a friend who had taken her dog there, and ventured to the castle on the Sunday morning. Hurst Castle is located at the very end of a shingle spit and it took us a 40-minute walk from Milton on Sea’s New Lane (where it is free parking, but there is also a seafront pay and display car park on the other side of the river).
Being it a pebbles path it is not the most relaxing of the walks and if either you or your dog have mobility issues it is definitely not recommendable. However, there is an easier alternative, as you can reach the castle taking the ferry from Keykaven, leaving your car at Keyhaven’s pay and display car park (postcode SO41 0PT ), which runs every 15/20 minutes and costs £6.50 return for adults. We walked with Argo off-leash and he had the best time, the only thing we discovered is that right under the castle, there were some brambles full of months (which are toxic for dogs and can cause them very serious injuries if touched), so be careful with your dog around there.
The visit to Hust Castle took us a couple of hours and we loved that dogs can visit the whole castle with you, on condition they are kept on a short lead. No restrictions as for areas that can be visited apply, which is already a dream. The most ancient part of the castle is majestic and we were particularly struck by the round rooms in the main tower, but there is so much more.
Tickets for the Castle cost £5.50 per adult and it is currently open 10:30 am -5.30 pm.
Dog-friendly beaches and walks
We found Hurst Castle‘s shingle spit beach an absolutely perfect chance for giving Argo a good run and play fetch too and would recommend it to other dog families. It is very quiet, as people scatter along the spit and being there no vehicles allowed, no bikes and likely no other animals apart from other dogs roaming around with they owners, it is an ideal location also for dogs who don’t do great off-leash when there are certain types of distractions. The beach is dog-friendly all year round. A list of other dog-friendly beaches in the area is available on TheBeachGuide.co.uk.
If there is something that the New Forest has not few are walking routes and of course this means having the chance to go on great trips with your dog. We didn’t have time to explore the paths in the forest, but if you do, again the New Forest District Council has plenty of good suggestions.
Other dog-friendly things to do in the New Forest
Our list had a few more things we would have loved to do with Argo, but unfortunately time wasn’t on our side and we decided to leave early after lunch, on the Sunday, to avoid traffic jams on the M25. But planning your trip, there are some great classics you can include in your itinerary.
Exbury Gardens and Steam Railway with your dog
Exbury Gardens and Steam Railway is another dog-friendly attraction. Dogs are also allowed on short leads in the garden and on the steam railway. We wanted to visit, but unfortunately didn’t have the time to fit this in the schedule, so one for another time!
Tickets cost £17.50 for adults for gardens + railway, or £12.50 gardens only. To save some moneys, you can book online at least the day before for a 10% discount.
Sports: hiring a dog-friendly bike, dog-friendly paddle boarding and kayaking
Dog-friendly bikes in the New Forest. We love a bike. We love more a dog-friendly one. We experimented dog-friendly cargo bikes in London last year. The New Forest District Council recommends a few cycle hires in their dog-friendly list, where you can hire a bike (there is also the electric version, if you want a little support in pedaling), with a dog trailer. One of these is Cyclexperience in Brockenhurst (prices for mountain bikes £18.50-25, ebike £35, dog trailer £10)
Dog-friendly canoeing on the river. If you love water-based activities with your dog, in the New Forest you can also find dog-friendly kayaking and paddle boarding experiences. In particular, New Forest Activities allows dogs in their canoes (they recommend you bring a blanket for them to be comfortable) and also organise Doggy Paddles on selected dates for a paddle on the Beaulieu river.
There are also other dog-friendly attractions. For instance, Buckler’s Hard, a historic village on the river, where you can also take a cruise. However, dogs are only allowed in the village, not in the buildings, which seem an essential part of the visit (which costs £6.90 if purchased with one day advance, otherwise £7.50, while the cruise costs £5 in advance, or £5.50 on the day). For more ideas, you can check out the New Forest District Council’s dog-friendly list.
Practical tips for your stay
We normally travel by public transport, but having a look at public transport options we figured it would have been a big hussle, so we hired a car the occasion. This promptly reminded us why we are so happy not to own one while we made our way out of London on the Friday, which took what looked like forever.
Where to stay
To be close to the Dogstival, we decided to stay in Lymington. At the time we booked the dog-friendly hotels we had thought of were already fully booked, so we reserved a room at an Airbnb in town, which was perfect (but if you go to the Dogstival next year remember to book with advance!).
Of course, if you are travelling to the New Forest without a Dogstival destination, there is plenty of choice in other villages too. To find a suitable dog-friendly accomodation in the area, you can look up our guide on how to find a dog-friendly holiday accomodation, or find some inspiration on New Forest District Council pet-friendly accomondation page or on Pets Pyjamas.
Where to eat in Lymington
Our Airbnb hosts had recommended dog-friendly dining at Greedo, at the end of the Hight Street. It only has few tables and it was already fully booked for both nights when we called, so we fell back on The Mayflower gastropub, which turned out to be a perfect option. We met many dogs joining their owners for dinner and the food was good (my seafood linguine plate was basically twice a normal portion would look like, so it may be good to go there very hungry).