Go wild in the Wye Valley.
Updated: Dec 4, 2020
In a world of travel restrictions and quarantine (not to mention the ever-present threat of the dreaded lockdown), it is a difficult time for those who suffer from wanderlust. However, the new era of travel-at-home has led to a renewed appreciation for the many glorious spots that the UK has to offer... all without getting on a plane!
This has to be one of my favourite spots in the UK. An Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty nestled close to the Welsh border, the Wye Valley is a haven for outdoor-lovers that is definitely worth a visit at any time of the year. Get prepared for a breath-taking walk up to Yat Rock, testing your stamina on a bike ride around the Forest of Dean, or taking a lazy canoe trip to float along the river. If you're lucky enough to get the weather, then topping this off with a spot of wild swimming is absolute bliss!
“If you haven't been here yet, then this place needs to be next on your list!”
This place has to be the crowning glory of the Wye Valley. An idyllic village that straddles the River Wye, it is a popular tourist destination that can become busy when the sun is shining and the parking can be an issue. However, those who brave the hair-raising descent down the steep and winding single-track road on the way down to the river won't be disappointed. On the east bank here are a couple of pubs and seasonal cafes and plenty of beautiful spots to sit and look across the river. The Saracens Head (http://www.saracensheadinn.co.uk/) serves food seven days a week and also operates the hand ferry across to the west side of the river bank, which is a fun experience in itself (although the hand ferry is currently not running due to social distancing, so you will need to pick a side of the river for the day!).
Further along there is another great pub called The Royal Lodge (https://royalhotel-symondsyat.com/), and it is from just outside here that the walk up to the top of Yat Rock begins. It's a steep climb in places and you'll feel like you've had a workout by the time you reach the top, but the reward at the top is definitely worth it.
Fun on the river Wye
By far one of the best things to do at Symonds Yat is to rent a canoe or kayak and go floating down the river. There are a few places you can rent from, including Wyedean Canoe Hire on the east bank (https://wyedean.co.uk/) have plenty of canoes and kayaks, while Ye Old Ferrie Inn on the west bank (http://www.yeoldferrieinn.com/supyofi/) rent rowing boats as well. Your dog can join you too - Sky just loves being out on the water! The river is also a popular spot for swimmers; on a hot day it's a welcome relief to dip your toes in and have a paddle to cool off. Even better, why not just dive in?!
Cycling round the Forest of Dean
For cycling enthusiasts, there are some great rides to be had in the Forest of Dean area. A variety of trails start from Cannop Cycle Centre (https://www.forestryengland.uk/cannop-cycle-centre), with the onsite Pedalabikeaway cafe offering bike hire as well as refreshments (https://pedalabikeaway.co.uk/). The trails have something for everyone, with cross-country routes for those (like me) who just want to amble along enjoying the scenery, right through to black-run downhill trails for those (like my partner) who seem to have a death wish!
Also worth a trip is this beautifully-preserved medieval castle of English Heritage status, a short drive from the Forest of Dean and Symonds Yat. More stunning views across the river and, best of all, your pooch is allowed to join you in rambling around the castle too!
Where to stay
We normally camp just outside of a little town called Coleford, which is a great base from which to explore the Forest of Dean and surrounding places of interest. Despite the relatively small size of the town, it has good shopping facilities with a supermarket and a decent range of restaurants. We use the Rushmere Farm campsite (http://www.forestofdeancamping.co.uk/), which is a very chilled affair where you can usually just turn up on the day (although with the current Covid-19 restrictions they're not taking large groups without prior notice so you might wish to call a few days before). On our most recent trip we were pleased to find that there were some very considerate safety measures in place, such as hand-sanitising stations and restricted numbers for the shared facilities, whilst the general atmosphere of the campsite still remained much the same. Failing that, there are plenty of other camping and B&B options nearby, or in the town itself.
Those who have discovered the Wye Valley can't help but return year after year, and with all it has to offer it's really not hard to see why. So what are you waiting for?