“A fantastic natural playground” is how the Forest of Dean describes itself on its website. Words that could be aimed at your dog, as much as at you.
Of course, your dog probably can’t read, so it falls to you to get the message and bring them to this secret paradise, one of England’s few remaining ancient woodlands and possibly the most breathtakingly scenic area in the UK. Not that your dog will care about the views. As your eyes take in the majestic River Wye, lazily snaking its way through the lush wooded valley, your dog’s eyes will most likely be scanning the ground for physical evidence of the wildlife scents filling his overexcited snout.
Let the dogs out
Dogs love the Forest of Dean. With leaves to scamper through, sticks to gather and streams to navigate, there is no better place to bring your dog. Watch him jumping up beneath the oak and beech trees with the easy optimism that only a dog knows, as he tries to catch a pied flycatcher or a wood warbler. Luckily for everyone involved, the dog has little chance of catching even so much as a stray feather – but it’s a diverting activity for a few minutes on a pleasant woodland amble. Further along the track he might drive himself into a frenzy chasing the Small Pearl-Bordered Fritillary and Wood White butterflies, or jump into lakes chasing dragonflies.
Dogs and water
Which brings us to water…how is your dog about water? Does she hate it and avoid getting wet at all costs or does she make a beeline for it, the muddier and smellier the better? The Forest of Dean has plenty of places to find out. Apart from the many ponds and lakes in the area, your forest walks will yield countless streams and waterfalls for a doggy dip. Keep your distance afterwards because as we all know the “dryoff shake” is only a matter of time after the dip – and the dirtier the water, the closer your dog gets to you for the shake.
The great outdoors and the dog-friendly indoors
Forest Ranger Chris Smyllie has some great tips for where to take your dog, “One of the best walks is to Symonds Yat on the banks of the river Wye.” It’s a manageable 2 miles through the woods from your cabin to the Saracen’s Head, where dogs are welcome outside. After a restorative drink in this glorious setting, head back through the woods to your cabin. And while the dog snoozes on the decking, you can slip your aching limbs (well, it’s a 4 mile round trip) into your own private hot tub.
Chris, his priorities clearly in the right place, recommends a couple of other nearby, dog-friendly pubs: The New Inn at Shortstanding, and the Dog and Muffler at Berry Hill. Both are warm and welcoming and allow well-behaved dogs in the bar, so you can enjoy a meal out with all the family. “Book ahead” says Chris, “because like all good pubs, they’re very popular.”
Back at the Forest Retreat, dogs are always welcome and they may even get the odd doggy treat while you tuck into your panini or warm your hands on a hot chocolate, or even test your mettle in the weekly quiz. The team at the Forest Retreat also have plenty of information about local dog-friendly walks and attractions.
Did you know?
In the middle ages, when the forest was a royal hunting ground, the only dogs allowed to live in the forest had to have a toe cut off to ensure they couldn’t catch the deer – or so the story goes.
A dog’s holiday
The way Chris sees it, your dog is family and a holiday for you means a holiday for the dog. “I’ve yet to meet a family that doesn’t love their dog. And I’ve yet to meet a dog that doesn’t love the forest. I’ll leave you to make the connection. But I will say, our dog-friendly cabins are the first to get booked, so don’t hang around.” Those dog-friendly cabins have a special secret too. The underfloor heating might have been designed just for the delight of dogs. After a long forest walk, she’ll sleep for hours with the gentle heat of the floor soothing her tired limbs. Bring your dog bed, to put a layer between the dog and the floor though, as you don’t want her to overheat.
Dogs- keep your owners under control
A word or two about the countryside code. Your dog should be under your control at all times. This does not necessarily mean on the lead, but of course snap the lead back on if you encounter farm animals or horses, or your dog gets over excited, and keep the lead on when you are close to the cabins. You know all about clearing up after your dog too; all you need, as with life in general, is good manners and common sense.
The Forest of Dean is famous for its wild boar, which some dog owners have expressed concern about. Chris’s view, as a Forest Ranger, is this: “The wild boar will most often run away from your dog. When incidents have occurred it is usually a mother protecting her young, which is entirely understandable. My advice if you see a wild boar is put your dog on the lead and walk on by”
Holiday bliss for dogs and people
A delightful destination for dogs and owners alike, the Forest of Dean has stirred the imagination of many creative types. William Wordsworth said of his poem "Lines composed a few miles above Tintern Abbey", that "no poem of mine was composed under circumstances more pleasant for me to remember than this." To which he might have added, “My faithful dog agrees with me, the Forest of Dean is indeed a place of bliss.”
Did you know?
There are four employed “verderers” in the Forest of Dean, as there have been for seven centuries. They are charged with protecting the beasts of the forest and their habitats.