We have always wanted to visit Symonds Yat, in the beautiful Wye Valley – it is one of those places that’s so near, yet we’d never visited.
It is now a mantra of ours to see those 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 we would stay at Bracelands Campsite, near the River Wye at Monmouth. The best caravan parks always provide a good base for exploring the surrounding area, and this Camping in the Forest site offers much in the way of walks and cycle rides.
We did feel 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, straight to its junction with Grove Road, across to Bracelands Drive and on to the site, which is at the bottom of the lane.
As you progress down the lane, which was plenty wide enough, even for our 2.5m-wide 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 taking a brief walk 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 movement in the trees close by. I quickly 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 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 were more than 200 scarecrows to be found in Berryhill, created by the local community during lockdown.
Spot a scarecrow
You could pick up a leaflet to read about them and even go ‘Scarecrow bagging’ around the village, ticking them off your list. The idea has spread around the Forest of Dean and further afield. You can read more about it at www.foresthub.co.uk/community-news/scarecrows-have-decended-on-the-forest.
An unoccupied table outside The Globe Inn was very tempting, so we settled down there and ordered a couple of drinks from the landlord, who was sporting a Cardiff City face mask – turns out he is in exile running the 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 boars…
Following the river path to Symonds Yat is an easy walk of around 2.5 miles. There are glorious countryside vistas in the forest and along the River Wye, but 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 some fish and chips, overlooking the River Wye? One thing lockdowns have shown us is how to appreciate the little things in life.
We took some time to rest 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, which is 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 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 clearly marked forest trails. These paths come out at the Forest Holidays Site on Bracelands Drive, just a few minutes away from Bracelands itself.
Alternatively, all of these walks can be enjoyed as bike rides – handily, they are dual-purpose routes.
We used our bikes on day two, to ride to the nearest town, Coleford. We are only occasional cyclists, so we always try to stay on cycle routes if we can, or roads that aren’t too busy with traffic.
Much of Coleford was still closed owing to the lockdown, so there was little to see or do. We did manage to find a café for a cuppa and had a walk around the (mostly closed) shops. I bought some fuses from the hardware store at the garage, and my wife 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 into the undergrowth. Subsequent investigations indicated that it 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 saw on our first night, and red deer.
For our third day, we decided to visit Puzzlewood, a tourist attraction set in ancient and atmospheric woodland, which has been used as a location for films and TV series, such as Star Wars, The Secret Garden, Doctor Who, Merlin and many more.
Apart from the woodland itself, which does look rather like a prehistoric swamp, there are farm animals on site and activities for children. Walking around the woods, you get a sense of being in another world, and can imagine Hobbit-like adventures among the moss-covered banks and towering dark green trees.
It is an entertaining outing for all ages and particularly good for adventurous children. Of course, the venue has the obligatory food and drink offerings, too, with a lovely picnic area to enjoy.
We took the opportunity to cycle there, a distance of 3.2 miles, on relatively flat roads (although our electric bikes always seem to flatten hills!).
This area offers an activity-packed or a leisurely break, with glorious forest and wildlife. It is all there, waiting for you.
After some inspiration for what to do for your next tour? Then why not take a look at our guide to the best caravan parks in the Lake District? If you’re looking for a getaway where you can indulge in some angling, our guide to caravan sites with fishing will also provide you with plenty of ideas.
Where we stayed
Address Coleford GL16 7NP, 01594 837 258
- Open: All year
- Pitches: 520
- Charges: From £15.60
When to go to the Forest of Dean
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.
Find out more
Perrygrove Road, Coleford GL16 8QB, 01594 833 187
Food and drink
Symonds Yat HR9 6JL, 01600 890 435
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