A road trip challenge with the AA Sat Nav Roulette tool led to ancient mysteries and wild outdoor views as we tracked down the things to do in Symonds Yat Rock.
[Part of a paid partnership with the AA. Last word is still ours ;-)]
Symonds Yat Rock has a strange old name, one that invites a patchwork of guesswork, gamesmanship and downright goof. Who was Symonds? What is a yat? And what does a rock have to do with it anyway? Are we talking geology, music or an amusingly named teeth-breaking, crunchy-sweet stick from Brighton?
Symonds Yat Rock Height
The viewpoint at Symonds Yat Rock is 120 metres above the river Wye.
Symonds Yat Rock is, of course, a joyously named place in England. The rock marks the site of an ancient fort 120 metres above the Wye valley; the yat being an Olde English word for gate or pass.
And Symond? Well, amateur detectives are still hunting that one down. Some say it comes from Robert Symonds, a 17th century sheriff of Herefordshire. Others say they have absolutely no idea.
And the most curious thing of all? It’s less than an hour’s drive from my house. And I’d never heard of it until now.
Research reveals that we Brits are creatures of habit. We drive the same routes, we do the same things, we rinse and repeat rather than reach out and explore. But until now, I didn’t think that applied to me.
I’m a travel writer, after all. An adventurer, explorer. A fumbler through atlas ideas.
Until I looked at the tool: the AA Sat Nav Roulette. I played, I lost, it won. Of the five different spots closest to where I lived, I’d not visited a single one.
I’d visited the areas, for sure. Symonds Yat sits in the Forest of Dean. Runner up for this road trip adventure was Bibury in the Cotswolds. Even the bean museum at Port Talbot should have featured in my unusual things to do in Wales piece.
But the hotspots themselves? Not so much. As in, not at all.
So, the roulette was cast. The car loaded up. Then loaded again. And again. Travel with a toddler takes a bit more planning. Not the full on road trip essentials list, but not far from it.
And then, we were off. Leaving the motorway at Newport and heading north through the spectacular Area of Natural Beauty. Those caps aren’t me having a racy fling with the English language. They are an official designation and the Wye Valley is one of 46 AONBS in Britain.
And that’s another thing to discover. Just how many brilliant places there are to visit in England. And to ponder: why don’t I spend more time getting out and going to see them?
Well, enthusiasm renewed after this trip (and it helps that the toddler didn’t need that much stuff after all.)
Next time, even when it’s not for “work,” I’m going to play the SatNav Roulette.
And in the meantime, if you fancy going, here’s what you need to know about Symonds Yat Rock.
Symonds Yat Rock provides the kind of view where clouds roll by like a stampede in the savannah. Where the sun chases hilltops and throws the odd sparkle onto the water, the Wye River, fifth longest in the UK, gliding from mid Wales to the Severn Estuary and marking the border between England and Wales for much of the way.
As for the Yat, that straddles both Herefordshire and Gloucestershire and lives within the district of the legendary Forest of Dean.
Archaeologists have found the bones of sabre-toothed cats, hyenas and even the mammoth around the rock, as well as human remnants that go back over 12 000 years.
You’ll find five well-marked walking trails and one dedicated cycling path leading from the Symonds Yat Rock centre.
The walk to the viewpoint takes 100 metres and is well sign posted. A walkway has been installed but there’s still a slight incline. You’ll be fine with pushchairs and wheelchairs, surface wise, but need to be able to do a lil’ bit of cardio to make it to the top.
There is an alternative viewpoint but to reach that you need to walk along the main road. With a toddler in tow, we decided to skip that plan.
Symonds Yat Rock is one of the best places to see peregrine falcons in the UK, so at the weekend expect to ornithologists to flock (sorry!) to the viewpoint.
The RSPB also have quite a presence. On the day we visited, they were selling information packs and toy hedgehogs. Interestingly, RSB subscription rates are optional: you are invited to gift whatever you feel you can.
Volunteers stand at Symonds Yat Rock daily from Easter until September to help newbies spot the birds.
The peregrine falcon, being the fastest animal in the world with speeds of 242 mph , hits the headlines here. But you can also expect to see sparrowhawks, buzzards and osprey during the spring and autumn migration.
Beyond that, keep your binoculars at the ready for tawny owls, barn owls, ravens and kestrels.
Oh, and obey the sign: do not feed the feral wild boar.
Symonds Yat is a hub for water sports on the River Wye, as well as the Grade 2 man-made rapids.
Armed with a giant magnifying glass, we entered the Wye Valley Butterfly Zoo. At thirty degrees and with “big hair” humidity, it felt a world away from the traffic jams of Britain. And better than that? It’s a sustainably minded place. The heat comes from renewable energy only and they follow sustainable butterfly farming practices.
Built in 1977 to commemorate the Silver Jubilee, the amazing hedge puzzle promises a romantic temple to those who make it to the centre… Oh, and there’s a miniature golf course next door and you can buy tickets to combine that with the maze and butterfly garden to make a day of it.
Ah, yes, the great English pub tradition. Somehow it seems more wholesome after you’ve been walking in the country! We took a picnic with us (the place is made for them) but look out for the following:
See if you can spot the place where they filmed Merlin and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part 1.)
Rent a board from Ye Old Ferrie Inn and try your luck against the water.
The River Wye carved a gorge through the carboniferous limestone (now isn’t that a phrase you’ve always longed to say?!) leaving an area perfect for rock climbers. We, er, passed on that one…but one of these days!
Symonds Yat Rock is made for nature lovers and families to visit. The car park is spacious but well-arranged so that picnic benches close to cars still feel surrounded by nature.
There’s a small café, public toilets and well-marked walking routes. In fact, I may have done the café a disservice: it’s a 1950s log cabin with sandwiches, cakes and soft drinks.
You will need to pay to park at Symonds Yat Rock. It's quickest and easiest if you remember to bring coins. We didn't, but there is a pay by phone option. It just takes some time and it takes a while to find good reception.
In a curious quirk of geography and man-made infrastructure, it’s surprisingly difficult to get from east to west in Symonds Yat. By road, it’s a five mile trip, involving speeding roads and hairpin turns (as well as the scenic Huntsham bridge).
At pedestrian level, it’s far calmer. Two hand-pulled cable ferries carry passengers across the river. As the name suggests, the ferrymen quite literally pull the vessel by hand across the Wye, by hauling their hands along an overhead cable.
One leaves from the Saracens Head Inn, the other from the Ye Old Ferrie Inn. Fares start at 70p for children and bicycles, 1.40 for adults and only 12 can cross at a time.
Hi, I'm Abi, a doctor turned writer who's worked with Lonely Planet, the BBC, UNESCO and more. Let's travel more and think more. Find out more.
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