The Wye Valley is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in the UK which straddles the border of England and Wales. We visited the English side when our holiday plans for Wales were cancelled because of lockdown. However, we are glad we did, as it is a fantastic place to enjoy nature and the great outdoors. Here’s what we got up to and 9 of the best things to do in the Wye Valley with kids.
A sculpture trail at Beechenhurst
Our first stop in the Wye Valley in England was at Beechenhurst. This is a recreation centre near Coleford in the heart of the Forest of Dean and is certainly one of the best things to do in the Wye Valley with kids.
Beechenhurst has 4 waymarked walking trails, which all lead through the ancient woodlands. We chose the circular Sculpture Trail, which follows a path for 4.5 miles around the forest. The trail has 17 artworks along the route, which were all inspired by the heritage of the area. Some are exceptionally large and far easier to spot than others, whilst other more subtle pieces blend with the natural surroundings.
It was a very wet day when we went, but the autumn colours of the forest still looked stunning. If you have younger children, you could follow the shorter Gruffalo Trail, to spot characters from the family-favourite book.
If you have more time, Beechenhurst also has a Go Ape centre and climbing wall.
Cannop Cycle Centre
If you prefer cycling to walking the Cannop Cycle Centre is just five minutes from Beechenwood in the Forest of Dean. From here you have a choice of several cycle trails, all at different levels. The family cycle trial is on former railway lines, which we always love, as I don’t like hills! This route is 9 miles, but is surfaced and accessible to all ages.
Alternatively, you can do a shorter family trail on Hicksters Way Loop at Beechenwood. Or, for the more adventurous, you can follow one of the off-road cycling routes.
Goodrich Castle is an impressive medieval castle on the outskirts of Ross-on-Wye, Herefordshire. It was first built by English landowner Godric in the late 11th Century. However, it was rebuilt and extended by French nobleman (and uncle of King Edward I), William de Valance in the late 13th Century.
Although only the ruins of Goodrich Castle remain, we were able to go inside and see how the castle would have looked in its heyday. Our favourite parts were the very dark dungeon and the climb up the extremely narrow, spiral staircase in the keep. From here, we could see for miles around over the Wye Valley and Herefordshire countryside.
However, the highlight of the visit were the two actors who were doing spooky stories as part of the Halloween event.
Symonds Yat Rock
High above the River Wye, with views sweeping over the Wye Valley is the iconic viewpoint, Symonds Yat Rock. We went early to spot Peregrine Falcons, who regularly come here, but were not lucky enough to spot any.
However, we did enjoy one of the walking trails, which took us on a circular route through the woodland. There are 5 walking trails and 1 cycling trail at this Wye Valley beauty spot.
The Forestry Commission manage this beautiful, outdoors environment, which is another fantastic place to enjoy the great outdoors in the Wye Valley.
If you want an adventure in a magical woodland, you should head to Puzzlewood, near Coleford in Gloucestershire. Here you’ll find a unique, mystical forest created over hundreds of years because of iron ore mining in the forest.
With its ancient trees, gnarly roots and moss-cover rocks, Puzzlewood has a very otherworldly feel. A forest trail follows for about 1.5 miles over stepping stones and wooden bridges, leading through gorges and under large, twisted trees. It’s easy to see why this dramatic landscape has been the set for many fantasy films, including Star Wars, Dr Who and Merlin.
As well as the forest trail, Puzzlewood has a small collection of farmyard animals and an inside play area (currently shut). This popular attraction is definitely one of the best days out in the Wye Valley with kids (or without!)
Less than 5 minutes from Puzzlewood are the Clearwell Caves. Clearwell Caves is a natural cave system, which has been extensively mined for over 4,500 years for iron ore. Today it is an underground museum and visitors can take a trip underground where miners once worked.
Follow through a labyrinth of passageways and caves to discover what life would have been like for the miners. You can also learn about the Lesser Horseshoe bats who live in the caverns. (Don’t worry, we didn’t see any!)
As Clearwell Caves is underground, it is on of the best things to do in the Wye Valley on a rainy day.
Dean Heritage Centre
Set in 5 acres of beautiful Forest of Dean countryside near Soudley is the Dean Heritage Centre. The exhibits at the Heritage Centre are displayed in five galleries in a beautiful historic building, overlooking Mill Pond.
Each gallery has exhibits depicting different eras of the Forest of Dean’s past. Starting as early as pre-historic times, you can learn about the history of the area and the lifestyles of the people who lived and worked there.
As many exhibits are indoors, the Dean Heritage Centre is a great place to visit on a rainy day in the Wye Valley. However, there’s also several outside exhibits, such as a cider mill and Victorian school.
Dean Heritage Centre is in a very picturesque setting and has several trails that lead into the woods. We followed the short Gruffalo trail by the stream. It has a series of carved sculptures, which tell the story of Julia Donaldson’s popular forest character and friends.
If you are looking to eat, Dean Heritage Centre has the Water Mill Café, which serves homemade cakes and food. Plus, there are lots of picnic benches overlooking the pond.
Soudley Ponds is a picturesque nature reserve in Cinderford and is ideal for a family nature walk. It comprises of 4 interlinked ponds in the Forest of Dean.
The pathways round the ponds are flat and surfaced, so great for all abilities. However, if you want a more challenging walk, take the steep path up to the Blaize Bailey viewpoint. From here you will have far-fetching views over the River Severn.
Either side of the ponds are wooded areas, with tall Douglas Firs. Little bridges crossing the ponds and tiny streams add to the charm of the stunning landscape.
There’s plenty of ducks and waterfowl to see, but you need a beady eye if you want to spot a kingfisher. You may also spot deer or wild boar.
Soudley Ponds is directly opposite the Dean Heritage Centre, so we parked there, but other free car parks are available.
King Arthur's Cave
If you are looking for adventure in the Wye Valley, you could go on a quest to find King Arthur’s Cave. It is the largest of several limestone caves and is surrounded in mystery.
King Arthur’s Cave is thousands of years old and archaeologists have even found remains of pre-historic animals there.
The caves have a double entrance, with two main chambers and are big enough to stand in.
We took a long walk from Symond’s Yat East to get there, but you could park at Doward.
Other things to do with kids in the Wye Valley
Autumn is a great time to visit the Wye Valley, as the whole area is a mix of russet, gold and amber. Our forecast was rain. However, it hardly rained and certainly not enough to stop us exploring.
Obviously, we didn’t have time to visit all the best things to do in the Wye Valley. Next time, we hope to try some more of the adventure activities. Canoeing on the River Wye has got to be top of our list. Or maybe the assault course at the Forest of Dean Adventure?
The kids were also keen to explore the Hedge Puzzle or visit the international Birds of Prey Centre. And I am sure we’d all be happy to return to Puzzlewood!
Practical information for a visit to the Wye Valley:-
Getting to the Wye Valley
The Wye Valley is an easy drive from London via the M40 or M4 or from the North via the M5.
If you are coming by train, you can get from London to Ross-on-Wye in about 3 hours.
Accommodation in the Wye Valley
The Wye Valley has a great choice of self-catering accommodation and hotels. We stayed in a cottage in Upper Lydbrook, which was a great base for visiting the Wye Valley. We booked this through Air BnB.
What are your best things to do with kids in the Wye Valley? We’d love to hear your thoughts below:-
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