Like millions of others, during the lockdowns, a furry friend has recently joined my household. Since then I’ve been on a quest to find Forest of Dean dog-friendly places to visit that are great for children too. Whether you live in the area or are on holiday in the Forest of Dean with your dog, you are sure to find something to suit you. Here is my roundup of my favourite child and dog-friendly walks and attractions in the Royal Forest of Dean and Wye Valley so far.
Make Sure You Have The Right Kit
Before you head out into the forest, there are a few bits of kit that will make your trip easier, safer and more comfortable:
- A good extendable lead, I like this one as it came with a poo bag holder, collapsible water bowl and a collar. It is also reflective so it’s great at night.
- Poo bags. Please remember to pick up after your dog and dispose of it sensibly.
- A car boot liner. It can get quite muddy in the forest so this is great for keeping the mess contained.
- A doggy travel water bottle. Perfect for keeping your 4-legged friend hydrated during your adventure.
- Treat pouch. Make sure you have somewhere to store the treats for your good boy or girl.
Wenchford Picnic Site
This site is owned by Forestry England and is an extremely popular location, particularly in warmer weather, as a small brook runs through it creating paddling pools that are perfect for children of all ages and dogs as well. In fact, it is known locally as Blakeney Straits/Blakeney Straights.
There are plenty of picnic benches dotted around so you can make a base for yourself for the whole day. There is also a small cafe in a shipping container, toilets, and ample parking. There is a small charge for parking but an annual membership to the Forestry Commission Forest of Dean costs just £40 and grants you free parking at all 6 of their chargeable sites (Wenchford, Beechenhurst, Cannop Cycle Centre, Cannop Ponds, Mallards Pike & Symonds Yat Rock).
This is a great place in the heart of the Forest of Dean for anyone who loves adventure and the outdoors with lots of woodland walks on offer. Here you will again find toilets, ample parking and a wonderful cafe serving delicious food, cakes, coffees and ice cream (including doggy ice cream). This is also home to many marked walking routes with options suitable for all ages and abilities. For the smallest members of the family, there is the Gruffalo Spotters Trail where you follow the signs to see what creatures you can find. This walk is enhanced by the use of an app that allows children to have their photos taken with the Gruffalo and other creatures.
For the more active there is the stunning sculpture trail which leads you on a 4.5-mile walk through the forest where you can spot many art installations, the earliest ones dating back to 1986. Don’t worry, you don’t have to do the whole route, there are shortcuts if you only want to visit a few of the sculptures.
If you don’t fancy walking and you prefer a bike ride then Beechenhurst also has the Family Cycle Trail, a 9-mile route around the forest that can be accessed from various locations. The route has been specially surfaced to make it smooth and flat so that it is suitable for the whole family. You can download a map of the route here.
Once you’ve finished exploring the forest you can continue the fun in the play area for the younger children, while older children (or daredevil younger children and adults alike) can take part in a treetop adventure with Go Ape.
Mallards Pike Lake
Another Forestry Commission site but it is beautiful. Again there are numerous activities on-site as well as a cafe, toilets and ample parking. This is also another Go Ape site in the Forest of Dean as well as providing another access point to the Family Cycle Trail. The site has numerous running routes from 2 – 10km as well as its own Park Run event.
The reason my family love it here is the Gruffalo Orienteering course. This is a great walk for children of all ages as there are essentially two routes in one. Markers 1 – 5 & 12 are easily accessible to all as they are along the hardstanding path. Markers 6 – 11 are not accessible to wheelchairs and pushchairs as they are along a natural terrain route which is not too taxing, my three-year-old found it extremely enjoyable.
Cyril Hart Arboretum
This is the final Forestry Commission site on my list, not because I don’t like the others but because I am yet to take Millie to them. Unlike the other Forestry Commission sites I have listed, this one does have free parking. There are no amenities here other than a few benches but it is still a lovely place to visit for a short walk. If you did want some refreshments after your walk, the Speech House Hotel is just next door where you are guaranteed a warm welcome, excellent food and water bowls for your canine companions. This is a great one for those with very young children as the entire site is enclosed however my three-year-old opened the gate with ease.
The arboretum, originally named the Speech House Arboretum, has been in existence since 1915 and is home to over 200 varieties of trees from all over the world. My children like to gather sticks, twigs and leaves to make nests at the bases of trees as we walk around. Unlike the other places I have listed, there is not much to do here but that is precisely why I love it, it’s so peaceful and relaxing to be surrounded by nature with little to no phone signal. It does me good to switch off from time to time and that is far easier to do when you are unreachable at a place like this.
Currently undergoing a regeneration project to add toilets, a visitor centre and a cafe, this is still a beautiful place to take a walk. The views along the River Severn are stunning and change multiple times throughout the day because the river is tidal, watching the river come rushing up from the direction of the Severn River Crossings never fails to stop me in my tracks.
There is a gentle walk around the harbour itself as well as some different walks heading in opposite directions along the river banks and also back towards the town itself. The harbour has free parking and a special parking section for RADAR key holders allowing parking closer to the water. This is a popular area for walking at any time of the day or evening.
This is a favourite with the kids as there is just so much to do! It’s great that it is dog-friendly too, Millie really enjoyed riding the steam trains. Read my full review here. There’s also some delicious ice cream for people from Chase Farm and for dogs from Marshfield Farm.
Dean Forest Railway
The 4.5-mile Dean Forest Railway line through the heart of the Forest is full of nostalgia and not just because of the beauty of the steam trains. There are all sorts of old adverts decorating the stations as well as a small museum packed with memorabilia. There are a variety of ways to ride, when we visited we got a Steam Day Rover ticket so that we could hop off for a pub lunch (more on that to follow) and then hop back on to continue our journey.
The main station on the line is Norchard which is just outside Lydney. This is where the ticket office, museum, car park, gift shop and cafe are located. To the south of Norchard, there are two more stations, Lydney Town and Lydney Junction. To the north of Norchard, there are two stations as well: Whitecroft and Parkend.
At Lydney Junction, you can watch the engine detach and circle round to the other end of the carriages ready to take you back towards town. You can also head to the mainline station with trains towards Wales and Gloucester or walk down to the harbour along the route of the old railway line.
At Lydney Town, you can head into the town centre to visit the shops and cafes or head into Bathurst Park which has a lovely playground and lots of open space for dogs and children to run around in. As the train heads out of Lydney Town back towards Norchard, the level crossing brings the town centre to a halt every Wednesday, weekend and bank holiday which I have always found fascinating.
At Parkend, the other end of the line, you can again watch the engine be detached and go to the other end of the carriages to take you back and you can also see the engine have its water tank refilled which was thoroughly exciting for my children.
Between Norchard and Parkend is Whitecroft station which is right next to The Miners Arms pub. The Miners Arms offer a discount to Dean Forest Railway ticket holders.
The Miners Arms, Whitecroft
The Miners Arms, a dog-friendly pub situated next to Whitecroft Station of the Dean Forest Railway, offers a range of reasonably priced pub classics made with locally sourced ingredients. We stopped off for lunch during our day on the railway and received a 10% discount on the production of our tickets. The food was delicious and the children’s meal deal was excellent value for money. Millie was even allowed into the pub while we ate and she was extremely well-behaved. There is plenty of space to eat and they serve good food outside in the beer garden, it’s well worth a visit even if you’re not riding the railway.
Secure Field at Staunton
This is a favourite place for us to go as it allows Millie (and the children) some freedom. As Millie is a Husky she has to stay on her lead at all times when out and about due to her high prey drive. The secure field in Staunton, just outside Coleford is a godsend as it gives her the space to really run and enjoy herself without endangering herself or others. At just £8 for an hour of private hire, it really is huge value for money. My children enjoy charging around there as well so it is definitely a bargain.
Other Forest of Dean Dog-Friendly Places
As we’ve only had Millie with us for a couple of months we haven’t covered all the dog-friendly places, in fact, I’m already working on my next 9 Forest of Dean dog-friendly places