This illustrated post is here to help those who want to visit this spot and inform those who’ll never get there. I hope it serves those purposes and entertains along the way.
Where is Symonds Yat, and why is it so called? This local beauty spot is on the north-western edge of the Forest of Dean, in Gloucestershire, England. Click here for a Google map. The name stems from a 17th-century local sheriff called Robert Symonds coupled with the regional dialect for ‘gate’ or ‘pass’, which is ‘yat’. It’s said you can view Monmouthshire, Herefordshire and Gloucestershire from the viewpoint at the top of the hill.
The approach road is narrow, steep in places, and follows the natural lie of the land, so wanders along the route of the rolling English drunkard made famous by G.K. Chesterton in his poem, The Rolling English Road.
There are two car parks in the village. The first is where the public toilets are located, opposite the Saracens Head Inn, on the right as you drive in. A couple of sculptures in wood stand impressively on view here. Definitely worth a look. And, close by, you’ll find the landing place for the pedestrian ferry, a man-hauled affair that runs more or less on demand to transport visitors from one side of the river to the other. It costs £1.10 for adults.
The second car park is further along the road, at the end, and belongs to the Royal Lodge Hotel. Both make the same charge, which in 2019 is £4.00 for the day. We used the larger space near the hotel, but you need to know the approach road is very narrow and often littered with wandering pedestrians; care is needed, to avoid being tossed into the river by locals you’ve almost run over!
Actually, the local folk and those running and staffing the local eateries and drinking places are very affable.
The path leading up to the beauty spot starts close to the entry to the car park and winds through woodland, often climbing steeply and sometimes aided by man-made steps and the occasional fenced section.
There are a couple of alternative routes and we ascended along the one that includes a section of the small road running down to the village. Here, you have to be aware of the possibility of encountering local drivers as well as the less practiced visitors in search of the other car park located at the top of the hill near the café. This is the best one for the infirm, or the downright idle.
The initial track starts as a relatively level gravelled path but quickly becomes a hilly, well-trodden, meandering trail through trees with occasional rocks protruding through the soil.
Good footwear is highly recommended! Some climbs are quite severe, so be prepared to rest from time to time and take in the views. Of course, the fell-runners will easily trot up to the top.
And almost at the top you come upon a wide-open area with picnic tables and a small café, with public toilets attached. The food and drinks at the eatery are surprisingly good and reasonably priced considering the captive nature of the clientele.
Walking through this space takes you to a well-maintained and wide wooden walkway that leads to the final climb up to the viewpoint.
Here, you’ll find members of the Royal Society for the Preservation of Birds with their telescopes set up, often focussed on a bird of prey crouched in the small crevices in the face of the rock that is known as Symonds Yat Rock.
Some of them will let you look through their optics, and pass on their knowledge of the birds inhabiting the area. Amongst others, you’ll find Peregrine Falcons, Goshawks and Buzzards, which you can watch in flight below you as you overlook the valley.
As we walked the wooden causeway approaching this spot, I inadvertently caught the control dial on my camera (a Nikon D3400) and somehow managed to site it between the ‘Manual’ setting I generally use and the ‘Effects’ setting I hardly ever use. The ‘effect’ was to convert my early pictures from the viewpoint into what passes for a ‘painting’ representation. So, sorry if some of the illustrations are not as clear as I’d prefer!
I finally realised the error with my camera and returned it to my normal mode. Unfortunately, by this time, the sun had retreated behind cloud!
The views over the river are spectacular and there are places you can use to see both sides of the promontory to overlook the River Wye as it curls around the rock. It’s worth allowing time to absorb the natural beauty up here.
Afterwards, we returned to the café and had a bite to eat and a pleasant drink together at one of the picnic tables before setting off back down the hill. This time, we used the woodland walk the whole way.
Again, the trail takes in slopes, stony ground, many different trees, and the occasional fenced and stepped descent. In one spot, near the end, a fallen tree has been commandeered by the superstitious and those who still worship the goddess of the woods by hammering small coins into the bark. It’s a practice common at a number of sites around the UK.
Finally, we emerged back into the car park and spent a short time enjoying the placid river before setting of back home.
It’s a worthwhile visitor experience and something definitely recommended if you’re ever in the Forest of Dean, which is itself a very lovely swathe of woodland with many different walks and a variety of wildlife. Enjoy!