It was a perfect piece of serendipity. I almost didn’t bother going to the washing-up area on the campsite, but we hadn’t heated the water in the boiler and I had a bowlful of dishes.
Washing our breakfast crockery, I got into conversation with a fellow camper who’d been coming here for years. He recommended a walk along the riverbank to the footbridge, crossing the river and heading back on the opposite bank, stopping at the pub on the way before taking the hand ferry back to ‘our’ side of the river.
It sounded like a great first-day outing and half an hour later, we were on our way.
But let me explain. We had arrived the previous afternoon at River Wye Caravan Camping Park, on the banks of the Wye, just minutes from Symonds Yat West (and Symonds Yat East on the opposite bank), amid the splendid scenery of Wye Valley Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (see: the best motorhome sites if you’re wondering where to go for your next tour).
We were planning a few days of relaxing and exploring. It was a fantastic site for river walks – our pitch was perfectly positioned on the riverbank, both for the views and as the starting point for a variety of walks.
The weather was glorious, the walk scenic, and the ideal length for us these days, at around four miles. Easy underfoot and simple to navigate, starting from the campervan campsite, we simply strolled by the launch point for canoe hire, passed the pub (duly noted for later) and continued along the river path as directed, to Biblins Bridge.
Along the way, we encountered the old Symonds Yat Limekiln, used for around 150 years from the early 1700s to extract lime from limestone – an unhealthy profession, as lime dust on the skin causes burns, and in the lungs, cancer.
There is an old ironworks, again dating from the 1700s – further evidence of the area’s industrial past and the importance of the river for transport.
There is very little left to see today, other than a few stone walls and an information board marking the spot, but it offers an insight into the lives of local people all those centuries ago.
Finally, we walked through Biblins Youth Campsite, a craft and outdoor centre for youngsters, and the location of our first river crossing. This turned out to be a rather wobbly footbridge.
Originally built in the early 1900s as a winch-point for moving logs along the river, today it is a wire mesh suspension bridge.
We were touring with a dog, our pup, Willow, who took some persuading to walk across and was clearly happy to be back on firmer ground on the opposite riverbank.
If you plan to visit Wye Valley outside the summer months, it might be best to check first, because the bridge apparently closes if the weather turns bad.
Safely across on the opposite bank, we found ourselves in ancient woodland, intentionally neglected and left in the main to fend for itself.
Here we discovered a choice of paths and cycleways, but we decided to stick to the most direct route back towards Symonds Yat, and were soon relaxing with a pint at The Saracens Head. Not only keen walkers, but also plenty of watersports enthusiasts gather here, near the rapids and the river slalom. At this very popular pub, we were lucky enough to nab a table outside, close to the river, where we could continue to enjoy the sunshine while being entertained watching those out on the water.
Ferry across the river
Suitably rested, we took the short walk to the hand ferry – a new experience for all of us, especially Willow, who took being on (and rather near) the water very much in her stride. There are two of these ferries, one by The Saracens Head and another five minutes away, opposite Ye Old Ferrie Inn.
Both date back to the early 1800s and are still hand-pulled across the river with the use of a pulley and a rope. Both ferries charge £1 for adults each way, a small price for the experience, never mind the efforts of the ferryman! We chose the second option, landing us at the pub on the opposite bank, where we booked dinner for a few nights hence, which would be our final evening in this pleasant spot.
A short time later, we were back at the site, relaxing and enjoying our riverside view and tucking into a tasty salad, this time being entertained by the local duck and swan populations.
Next day, we decided to follow the river again, but in the opposite direction, which took us past the pretty little 13th-century St Dubricius Church. As it turned out, we were thwarted in our attempt to follow the river, because the path became a very overgrown track, difficult to walk along. Instead, we turned onto the main road at Whitchurch Village, a 15-minute walk from the campsite and home to a grocery store and a pub.
Not to be deterred, a quick search on my phone showed us that Goodrich Castle was just 2.5 miles away – another piece of happy serendipity.
Dating back to the late 1100s, the castle was more a majestic family home than a fortified defence, although it did come under siege during the English Civil War while sheltering Royalists.
The cannon that finally reduced parts of the castle to rubble, nicknamed Roaring Meg, still stands in the grounds.
Despite its turbulent history, many of the walls are more or less intact and the views across the Wye Valley from the three-storey 12th-century keep are spectacular.
There is a limited bus service from Goodrich village to Whitchurch, but rather than wait around for an hour, we chose to walk back. Weary by the time we arrived at our pitch, we spent the evening with our feet up, enjoying bowls of pasta and a well-earned bottle of white wine.
We awoke to a fine day, although the clouds were trying their best to hide the sun, and decided to drive the 30 minutes to Tintern Abbey, crossing the Wye and the border from England into Wales.
Built by Cistercian monks in the rolling hills of the Wye Valley, the splendid gothic abbey, in common with others around the country, fell during the dissolution of the monasteries. At the time of our visit, it was undergoing restoration work and some areas were out of bounds.
We were able to stroll around a re-enactors’ medieval camp in the grounds, watching the women cooking, the men preparing weapons and the children playing in the sunshine. Pretty soon, the archers and riders gathered together, and we were treated to a talk on the armour they were wearing and the gear they were carrying, before the archers set about bringing down the ‘marauding knight’ – great fun.
Another happy discovery lay a short five-minute walk from the abbey, in the form of the Abbey Mill Craft Centre. Quirky little shops sit by a watermill and original mill buildings beside the Wye – the perfect setting for an ice cream!
We stopped at the friendly grocery store in Whitchurch on the way back, to stock up on supplies and admire the view.
Of course, we couldn’t leave the area without visiting Symonds Yat Rock, so our final morning saw us heading back across the river via the hand ferry and following the footpath up the hill.
Most of the walk was easy and flat, with a bit of a climb up to the Rock towards the end – there are some steps and a handrail to help here, too.
You can drive there in 10 minutes if you prefer, but I’m told the road is quite steep in places.
There is a good car park near the café, which levies a small charge (the Rock itself is free to visit and always open), and then there’s a short, accessible walk along the path to the viewpoint.
Birds of prey
At the summit of the limestone outcrop, the far-reaching views are quite simply spectacular, looking down over the river as it winds its way through the valley and beyond. There were also plenty of magnificent birds of prey about, looking for a meal, although I have to admit I’m not sure whether they were sparrowhawks, kestrels or peregrines (which the area is famous for). I must learn more about our native bird species!
As well as the views and the birds, the Rock is also home to the ramparts of an Iron Age hillfort, an alternative viewpoint a few hundred metres further along, and some excellent spots where you can pause for a picnic.
If, like us, you don’t bring a picnic with you, there is a handy café (although with no indoor seating), perfect for refuelling with a cuppa and a sandwich or slice of cake while you decide which route to follow on your return to Symonds Yat.
Strolling and climbing
There are several walking trails here, including one leading to some prehistoric caves known as King Arthur’s Cave. We felt that we had done enough for a few days, and so decided to take a leisurely stroll back.
En route, we came across a group of rock climbers, balanced on outcrops just above us. The imposing Symonds Yat Rock is understandably very popular with climbers, although there are restrictions to access from time to time, to protect breeding birds.
We arrived back on site in plenty of time to shower and change before heading out for that evening meal at Ye Old Ferrie Inn. Before dinner, we sat outside in the sunshine with our drinks, seated almost within touching distance of the pretty river, giggling at a swan chasing a family of ducks along the riverbank before itself being chased away by one of the small rowing boats that were still out on the water.
Dining in historic style
Later, moving inside this charming 15th-century building to enjoy our dinner, we treated ourselves to a couple of excellent steaks and a bottle of red wine, to mark the final evening of our trip. And then, all too soon, another enjoyable break was over – we saw so much and yet left so much undiscovered. Wherever we might tour, I never cease to marvel at just how beautiful and interesting our island home can be. Wye Valley? Why not!
Wondering where to go on your next tour? Find out how Peter Rosenthal got on when he set out to explore the Tissington Trail. Alternatively, find out how I got on when I set off on two other trips – firstly, a tour to Warmington, where I enjoyed a meander through middle England, or else when I set off on a tour to Stratford-upon-Avon to unwind and enjoy the atmosphere.
Planning a trip to Wye Valley
Way to go
From home in Buckinghamshire, we took the M4 over the River Severn, then the A449 and A40, a journey of just under 2.5 hours.
Where we stayed to explore Wye Valley
River Wye Caravan Camping Park
Symonds Yat West, Herefordshire HR9 6DA, 01600 890 672, riverwyecamping.com
- what3words: cabbages.wisdom.noun
- Open: 1 March to 31 October
- Pitches: 30
- Price: £11 per adult, £3 per dog
Pound coins needed to operate the showers, and don’t make the mistake I made the first time I used them and try to get into the block that is reserved for canoe company customers! There is an amusement arcade and bar attached to the site, open during the peak season.
Find out more about a tour to Wye Valley
Images: Susan Taylor
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