IT’S the dog-friendly pub which has gone from strength to strength since new owners took over earlier this year.

The 18th century Royal Oak at Christchurch Road, Downton, has been welcoming customers old and new since it re-opened following a £100,000 refit.

It is one of the latest watering holes to be acquired by two of the New Forest’s best-known publicans, Debbie and Duane Lewis.

The husband-and-wife team run a total of six pubs in the area – the Bold Forester at Marchwood, the New Forest Inn at Emery Down, the Trusty Servant at Milford, the Mortimer Arms at Ower, the Royal Oak at Hilltop and now the Royal Oak at Downton.

The former coaching inn boasts three log fires and plenty of low beams, one of which has been padded for the benefit of taller customers.

Debbie said: “We can’t resist it when we have an opportunity to acquire a really good pub with a lot of potential.

“We love refurbishing a pub, retaining the heart and soul of the place while adding to it at the same time.

“At the Royal Oak we’ve installed the Chef’s Table, where people can feel part of the pub and have their own little space as well. New booths and alcoves have made the restaurant more cosy and the bar is really buzzing in the evenings.

“Our chef, Kevin Brown, has devised an amazing menu which changes seasonally. It’s all fresh, home-cooked food."

Most of the couple’s other pubs are in the northern half of the Forest.

Situated between Lymington and New Milton, the Royal Oak is close to the Solent. Seaside attractions such as Hurst Castle, where Charles 1 was imprisoned before his trial and execution in London, are within easy reach.

Debbie said: “I’ve tended to be Lyndhurst-based and had no idea how beautiful it was down here.”