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 in Autumn when our holiday plans for Wales were cancelled because of lockdown. However, we’re glad we did, as it has plenty of family attractions and is a great place to enjoy 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 family attractions in the Wye Valley for kids.
Beechenhurst is also a great spot for anyone who likes hiking. It 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 easy to spot, 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 trail follows a 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 cycle trail on Hicksters Way Loop at Beechenwood. Or, for the more adventurous, you can try the off-road cycling routes.
Goodrich Castle is an impressive medieval castle on the outskirts of Ross-on-Wye, Herefordshire. It was 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 telling 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. There are five walking trails and one cycling trail at Symonds Yat.
We went early to spot Peregrine Falcons, who regularly come here, but were not in luck. However, we did enjoy one of the family walking trails, which took us on a circular route through the woodland.
The Forestry Commission manage this beautiful, natural environment, which is another fantastic place to enjoy the great outdoors in the Wye Valley.
If you want an adventure in a magical woodland, 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. This popular attraction is definitely one of the best things to do in the Wye Valley with kids (or without!)
Less than 5 minutes from Puzzlewood are the Clearwell Caves. This is a natural cave system, which has been extensively mined for over 4,500 years for iron ore. Today Clearwell Caves is an underground museum offering visitors a trip underground where miners once worked.
Follow through a labyrinth of passageways and caves and imagine 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!)
Being underground, Clearwell Caves is one of the best things to do on a rainy day in the Wye Valley.
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 another 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 leading 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’re looking for somewhere to eat, the Water Mill Café at the Heritage Centre, serves homemade cakes and food. Or you could head to the picnic benches overlooking the pond.
Soudley Ponds is a picturesque nature reserve in Cinderford. It comprises of 4 interlinked ponds in the Forest of Dean and is ideal for a family nature walk.
The pathways round the ponds are flat and surfaced, so very accessible. However, if you want a more challenging walk, take the steep path up to the Blaize Bailey viewpoint. From here you’ll 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 this stunning landscape.
There’s plenty of ducks and waterfowl, but you need a beady eye if you want to spot a kingfisher. If you’re lucky, 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. This is the largest of several limestone caves and just oozes 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 walked from Symond’s Yat East to King Arthur’s Cave, but there is a car 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.
A map of things of things to do in the Wye Valley with kids
Below is a map of the best places to visit in the Wye Valley with kids.
You can save the map to use when you are there by clicking the star to the right of the title.
You can later find the map by going to your Google Maps app and selecting the saved icon.
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.
You’ll find a great choice of holiday homes, hotels apartments, and guest houses on Booking.com.
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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