A great few days in Symonds Yat

This is the first of three posts I need to write… Last week we spent time in Symonds Yat, in Herefordshire, including a trip to Monmouth to see my old friend Jackie. The next post will be about our visit to Bristol to stay with Anna and Gareth, then finally, yesterday we made our first visit  to Sheffield Park Garden with old friend Alison.

Why did we go to Symonds Yat? Well, when Philosopher and I got together, it was the first place we visited together after our wedding in 1986. We went twice. The last visit, in April 1988, coincided with my father’s death. He died while we were away.  So, 36 years ago. We knew we were going to Bristol, and I reckoned it was high time I saw what Jackie was up to in Monmouth. So, Symond’s Yat made sense.  In the 1980s we stayed at a little hotel, the Woodlea, in Symonds Yat West. Here’s a view of it – the large cream-painted house – from the other side of the river.

I would have liked to go there again, but it has been turned into one huge, massively expensive holiday home. So, instead, we went to the Paddocks Cottages, further up the road. Not our usual set-up, they are a short terrace of modern one-story bungalows, tucked away below a rather run-down looking hotel, the Paddocks. But the place turned out to be absolutely lovely. Quiet, really well-equiped, fantastic telly, comfy bed and big patio doors opening onto a garden area which turned into open land sloping down to the river. Couldn’t fault it.  Battleaxe would totally recommend. At least, she would at all times except for summer school holidays, when it might get a bit noisy…  Kept by a great couple, John and Tanya – would you believe that many years ago John used to manage the Royal Victoria Hotel in St Leonard’s!

We had some great visits from wildlife, including, on our first night, deer. We were obviously lucky, because they never came again. But also look at this beautiful woodpecker, and the spectacular pheasant.

We rapidly discovered that for the slightly older visitor, the area is far too hilly for comfortable walking – in the 80s we were much, much younger. So we had to engage in suitable planning to make the most of it. We wanted to re-visit one of our old walks, from the little hotel up the west bank of the river.

To get there we drove three miles round to Symonds Yat East, planning to cross via the hand-pulled ferry and gain access to the walk that way… We had coffee sitting outside at the Saracen’s Head pub (oh, btw, the weather was dry and warm the whole time we were away – talk about lucky…) while we waited for the ferryman, but Charon did not feel ready to appear. So we decided to trust to luck and set off up the east bank, planning to cross at the slightly scary Biblins footbridge and walk back to the ferry on the other side. Fortunately it all worked out and Charon was in attendance when we arrived at the ferry. Just as well – we would have had to repeat the walk, otherwise! The Wye was looking very brown – we assumed that was mud from all the recent heavy rain, even though we had heard that the poor river is now thoroughly polluted. The walk was fine, except at one point we had to wade across a mini-river that had flooded down over the path. Cold wet feet all round…


Another day we drove up to the top of the hill at Symonds Yat East, planning to visit the Yat Rock viewpoint, as we had done before. The area is totally transformed. No more crashing though the empty undergrowth to reach the rock, where a solitary Forest Commission ranger waited to point out the rare Peregrine Falcons.  Now, the place is now a landscaped tourist destination with wooden decked sign-posted paths, a huge woodland car park, picnic areas, a loo block and biggest surprise of all, even a cafe! We had bought supplies to cover every eventuality, but found ourselves sipping flat whites at an outdoor table…  But the view from the rock was as impressive as ever. Back in the 80s we saw the falcons, but this time, much to our surprise, Canada Geese were nesting in holes in the rock-face.  At first we couldn’t believe it, but have Googled it up, and it is true. Goodness knows how they get their goslings down sheer drops of hundreds of feet to the river, but they do… Have they now crowded out the falcons? I hope not. You can just see a goose in this photo below.



We did a ‘well-being’ walk though the woods. The regular notices, urging us to stop, look, listen, smell etc drove Philosopher mad. I do think the two of us are plenty mindful enough on our walks as it is – looking at flowers, wildlife, listening to bird song, admiring trees… Much more hanging about and we’d never get anywhere.

In the middle of all this we went on our trip a few miles down-river to Monmouth, to visit Jackie.  Monmouth is a pleasant little town, obviously thriving – full of coffee shops and dress shops. I remember it was good for dress shops back in the 80s – I bought a few things there. We had a cruise round the shops before going to Jackie’s.  Hadn’t seen her for 8 years. Well, what another surprising transformation. From living a slightly alternative life in Birmingham, she is now a pillar of Monmouth society. I won’t go into the details of her living arrangements here, suffice it to say she lives in a lovely old house with gardens sloping down to the river, owned by a relative. She has been a Monmouth Labour Councillor for some time, and is now Deputy Mayor, no less…  She has passed her driving test, has a car… a well-paying job…

Jackie, (with the smaller chain), as Deputy Mayor…


On our last night we ate at the Ferrie Boat Inn, just a short puff and pant up and down from our cottages.  Very good food and obviously very popular.

We drove down to Bristol via Tintern and Chepstow. Had a prowl about in Tintern but didn’t pay to revisit the Abbey. We looked at it from the outside, then cruised a very good railway/Dinky Toy and other things shop, and a huge second-hand bookshop, Stella and Rose’s books, which has apparently relocated from Hay.

Chepstow was not so appealing – the town looked very run-down.

Onwards to Bristol!

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