This was our first trip of 2021 and coincided with the loosening of Covid-19 restrictions in England, allowing outside entertainment. We’ve always wanted to visit Symonds Yat, in the beautiful Wye Valley – it is one of those places, so near yet never visited.
It is now one of our mantras to go and see the places we have always meant to visit but never got around to. In the first lockdown, we started keeping a list of such locations and have since begun ticking them off.
We decided that we would stay at Bracelands Campsite, near the River Wye at Monmouth. This Camping in the Forest site offers much in the way of walking and cycle rides.
We did find that signposting to the site could do with some improvement, though, and the route description from the booking information could be clearer – we missed the left turn after Staunton on the A4136 (left on to Grove Road), but the next left (Park Road at the crossroads) takes you through the village of Berryhill, to its junction with Grove Road, across to Bracelands Drive and on to the site, at the end of the lane.
As you progress down the lane, which was plenty wide enough for our ’van, the road becomes Broom Hill and you pass the Forest of Dean Adventure Centre and Forest Holidays Site, which was to prove a very welcome facility during our stay. Keep going to the bottom of the hill for a distance of a little over 1km and you will see the site on your right.
The campsite is large and open, and provides hardstanding pitches as well as glamping pods and camping pitches. Our pitch was flat and level.
Our first afternoon was spent setting up and then taking a stroll around the campsite and up to the Forest Holidays Site visitor centre, where we stopped for a cup of tea.
When we got back to the site, I heard some movement in the trees close by. I grabbed my camera and investigated. No more than 50 yards away was a herd of roe deer – I took some photos, although it was difficult because of the wonderful camouflage and their clearly nervous and hesitant nature. A great sight, all the same.
It was a dry but unseasonably cold evening, so we put on plenty of layers and took a stroll up the hill and into Berryhill, where we were greeted by some peculiar local residents! There are more than 200 scarecrows to be found in Berryhill, created by the local community during lockdown.
Spot the scarecrows
You can pick up a leaflet to read about them and even go ‘Scarecrow bagging’ around the village, ticking them off on your list. This entertaining idea has spread around the Forest of Dean and further afield. You can find out more about it at www.foresthub.co.uk/community-news/scarecrows-have-decended-on-the-forest.
An unoccupied table outside The Globe Inn was rather tempting, so we settled down there and ordered a couple of drinks from the landlord, who was sporting a Cardiff City face mask. It turned out that he is in exile running the local pub, but still occasionally visits his (and our) home town back in Wales.
After a quiet night’s sleep and a good breakfast, a brisk walk to Symonds Yat was on our agenda. We asked the site staff about the best route and they gave us brief and easy instructions on how to get there. The paths through the forest are well marked down to the river – but don’t stray off, and don’t try to feed the wild boar.
A trip to the welcoming pub
Following the river path to Symonds Yat is an easy walk of around 2.5 miles. Glorious countryside in the forest and along the River Wye – but I have to admit, the best sight was an open pub!
The famous Saracens Head Inn was welcoming guests and serving food. What could be better than a pint of Butty Bach, a fine Wye Valley Brewery ale, and fish and chips, overlooking the River Wye? One thing the lockdowns have shown us is how to appreciate the little things in life.
We took some time to rest up and enjoy the views after our lunch, before tackling the ascent to Symonds Yat Rock. There’s no getting away from it, this is a steep and strenuous climb to reach the top – if you are not in the best of health, you could consider driving there, or following the route from the campsite, a flatter and easier walk.
Enjoying the scenery
The views from the clifftop are magnificent. Panoramic vistas across the English and Welsh countryside, taking in large loops of the River Wye – truly wonderful. There is also the Symonds Yat Café, a log cabin selling a good range of refreshments. After our strenuous climb, a cup of tea was most welcome, before setting out on our return to Bracelands. The return walk, which is, as mentioned, longer and flatter, follows some clearly marked forest trails. These pathways will bring you to the Forest Holidays Site on Bracelands Drive, which is just a few minutes away from Bracelands itself.
Alternatively, these walking trails can be enjoyed as bike rides – handily, they have been designed as dual-purpose routes.
We decided to make use of our bikes on day two, to ride to the nearest town, Coleford. We are only occasional cyclists, though, so we always try to stay on cycle routes if we can, or roads which aren’t too busy with traffic.
Much of Coleford was still closed owing to the lockdown, so there was little to see or do there. We did manage to find a café for a refreshing cuppa and had a walk around the (mostly closed) shops. I bought some fuses from the hardware store at the garage and my wife also took the opportunity to help the local economy, with a visit to a really lovely delicatessen, Forest Deli.
We cycled back along the road until we were able to follow a track that we had noticed earlier, a shortcut through the forest back to Bracelands.
On the way, an animal that looked like a cross between a deer and a dog stopped on the track, looking across at us. It wasn’t immediately startled, but after a brief stare, it turned and fled back into the dense undergrowth.
Our subsequent investigations revealed that this was a muntjac, one of the three species of deer to be found in the Forest of Dean, the others being the roe, which we had spotted on our first night, and red deer.
For the third day of our stay, we decided to visit Puzzlewood, a tourist attraction set in ancient and atmospheric woodland, which has been used as a location for numerous films and TV series, such as Star Wars, The Secret Garden, Doctor Who, Merlin and many more.
Apart from the wonderful woodland itself, which does look rather like a prehistoric swamp, there are farm animals on site and plenty of great activities for children.
Walking around the woods, you get a real sense of being in another world and it’s easy to imagine Hobbit-like adventures among the moss-covered banks and towering dark green trees.
This makes an entertaining outing for all ages and is particularly good for adventurous children. Of course, the venue has the obligatory food and drink offerings, too, and there’s a lovely picnic area to enjoy when you need a break.
We took the opportunity to cycle to Puzzlewood, a distance of 3.2 miles, on relatively flat roads (although motorhome parking is available there, as the car park is fairly large).
Bracelands offers activity-packed adventures or a more leisurely break, with glorious forest and wildlife to enjoy. It is all there, waiting for you.
If you enjoyed reading about this trip to the Forest of Dean, why not check out the following:
- See how Steve Goodier got on when he went on a tour of Exmoor
- We find out about the South West Coast 700, a new Route 66-style tour following the scenic South West Coast Path
Touring the Forest of Dean – the essentials:
When to go
The Forest of Dean is very beautiful all year round, but autumn is a particularly good time to visit. Temperatures are mild and the weather is normally fairly dry, so it’s perfect for being outdoors and enjoying the stunning colours of the landscape.
Where we stayed
Coleford GL16 7NP, 01594 837 258
- Pitches: 520
- Open: All year
- Charges: From £15.60
Food and drink
Symonds Yat HR9 6JL
Find out more
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