Symonds Yat is a picturesque spot near Coleford in the heart of the Wye Valley in England. There are three distinct areas, all of which are worth a visit. Straddling the River Wye are the two hamlets Symonds Yat East and Symonds Yat West and high above, overlooking the gorge, is the iconic viewpoint, Symonds Yat Rock.
Symonds Yat is an extremely popular tourist destination and offers visitors a great choice of things to do. Here is our guide to Symonds Yat and Symonds Yat Rock and the best things to do at both.
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Where is Symonds Yat?
Symonds Yat is in the county of Herefordshire in England but only a short drive from the neighbouring county of Gloucestershire and the Forest of Dean. It is also on the border of Monmouthshire and the Welsh border.
The postcode for Symonds Yat East is HR9 6JL.
We visited during our recent trip to the Forest of Dean and Wye Valley. This has been designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).
Symonds Yat East
The picturesque Symonds Yat East offers visitors a choice of restaurants and tea houses, all on the banks of the mighty River Wye. On arrival, we headed straight for the historic Saracens Head Inn.
This traditional pub has inside and outside dining and a prime position overlooking the water. We sat outside, where we had a perfect view of the River Wye and the wooded hill beyond.
Symonds Yat West
From our riverside position, we could see across to Symonds Yat West and occasional walkers who came waiting in vain for the hand-pull ferry.
There has been a long tradition of hand-pull ferries on the River Wye. For centuries people have used the ferries to cross the river. Nowadays, the ferrymen are pub employees who have the task of pulling boats across the fast-flowing water to the other side.
An overhead cable attached to the boats prevents them from drifting downstream.
After a closure of 2 years for lockdown and maintenance, the Symonds Yat hand ferry is in operation again. The tariff is £2 per adult, £1 per child, and operates between 11am and 6pm. Operation outside of these hours is possible by prior arrangement with the pub. For safety reasons, the ferry crossing is dependent on the weather and river levels.
When the ferry is not in operation, the nearest place to cross by foot is Biblins Bridge.
Canoeing at Symonds Yat
Directly in front of the pub, you can hire canoes, one of the most popular pastimes in the Wye Valley. Unlike most UK rivers, the River Wye has a public right of navigation. This means canoeists can explore the waterway at will.
However, during our visit in October, the water was high and rapid and we didn’t see any canoeists. This wasn’t a problem as we had come to Symonds Yat on a quest to find King Arthur’s Cave.
Walking at Symonds Yat
Walking from Symonds Yat East to Arthur's Cave
Leaving the Saracens Head Inn, we headed south along the riverside footpath on the Wye Valley Walk. This footpath joined the High Meadow Trail and led to Biblins Rope Bridge. We crossed this bouncy bridge over the river to the Biblins Youth Campsite.
From here it was a very steep ascent through Lord’s Wood to The Doward. This was a tough stretch of the walk and we were all overheating by the time we reach the top. We kept an eye out for wild boar and deer, which are common in the area, but didn’t spot any.
Finally, we took a rather steep shortcut down the embankment to join the path which leads to the cave. In fact, there are several limestone caves on the route, but King Arthur’s is the biggest and best.
King Arthur's Cave
There is a lot of mystery surrounding King Arthur’s Cave, which has a history dating back thousands of years. Archaeologists have found ancient remains of lions and woolly mammoths in the cave. There’s also evidence that Neolithic people once used the caves for shelter. Unfortunately, I don’t know when, or even if, King Arthur himself ever visited!
King Arthur’s cave has a double entrance, which leads to two main chambers. These are big enough to stand in, but are dark, with lots of nooks and crannies. Absolutely perfect for exploring. On our visit another family had lit the caves with candles, which provided a spiritual atmosphere.
After a good inspection of the cave, we left in search of the Seven Sisters’ Rocks.
Seven Sisters' Rocks
From the caves we continued into the woods and headed towards Seven Sisters’ Rocks. It’s quite a precarious route to these giant rocky outcrops. However, it was worth it for the view over the River Wye and valley.
The circular walk continues north-east to Symonds Yat West, where you return by hand ferry to the Saracen’s Head. However, as we knew it wasn’t working, we returned via the woods, past a disused quarry and retraced our steps over Biblins Bridge.
Symonds Yat Rock
High above the River Wye, with views sweeping over the Wye Valley is the famous viewpoint, Symonds Yat Rock.
The Forestry Commission manage this beautiful, outdoors environment. You can walk to the rock from Symonds Yat East, but we chose to drive directly on a different day.
Things to do at Symonds Yat Rock
Enjoy the views
From the car park, you can follow a short wooden boardwalk to the viewpoint. It only takes 5 minutes and you’ll get an amazing view across the horseshoe bend in the River Wye. You can see for miles over South Herefordshire and the Black Mountains.
Spot peregrine falcons
Symonds Yat Rock is also one of the best places in the UK to spot Peregrine Falcons. However, despite a good look, we didn’t spot any. Apparently in the summer, RSPB volunteers will help show novices like us what we should be looking for.
Other birds you may look out for are osprey and goshawks.
Walking and cycling
There are 5 waymarked walking trails from Symonds Yat Rock and one cycling trail. We chose the Symonds Yat Trail, which took us on a circular walk round Mailscot Wood.
The Symonds Yat Trail is mostly flat and accessible and has nature trail boards along the way. As we were there in October, there was also a trail of spooky eyes in the trees, which the kids loved.
If you want to do longer hikes around the Symonds Yat, it is worth investing in the OS map for the Wye Valley.
With is range of rock features, and stunning scenery, Symonds Yat has become a popular destination for climbing and abseiling.
If you have no previous experience, you can join a group course and explore the beautiful limestone crags in the Symonds Yat Gorge and Dinas Rock. You can book courses for a half or full day with Wye Adventures.
Experienced climbers will enjoy the Symonds Yat Climbers Club Guide.
Accommodation in Symonds Yat
As it’s only small, there are only a handful of accommodations in Symonds Yat, so it’s better to book early. However, there are other beautiful villages in the Wye Valley, where you can stay.
For one of the most amazing locations, stay at Ye Olde Ferrie Inn, which sits overlooking the water. This 15th-century pub offers rooms and serves fresh, seasonal food.
Another historic option is the Old Court Hotel, an elegant Elizabethan Manor House, just under a mile from the centre. If you prefer self-catering accommodation, the Paddocks Cottage have a good location near the river.
For other options check the Wye Valley accommodation on Booking.com.
Facilities at Symonds Yat Rock
There are several traditional pubs on the waterfront at Symond’s Yat. Plus, on the way to the viewpoint, you’ll find a log cabin selling freshly made cakes and sandwiches. There are also picnic tables in front of the café and toilets by the car park.
Directions to Symonds Yat Rock
Take the B4432 from Coleford in Gloucestershire and head north. You’ll see signs on the left before the steep downhill road to the river.
The postcode for Symonds Yat Rock is GL16 7PW.
Have you been to Symonds Yat? We’d love to hear your comments below.
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