Symonds Yat is a village in the Wye Valley and a popular tourist destination, straddling the River Wye and on the borders of the English counties of Herefordshire and Gloucestershire. It is within a few miles of Monmouthshire and the Welsh border. The name is said to come from Robert Symonds, a 17th-century sheriff of Herefordshire, and yat, an old word for a gate or pass.
Archaeologists have uncovered bones from hyenas, sabre-toothed cats and a mammoth in and around the caves of the valley and human habitation can be traced back to 12,000 years ago with findings of their tools and clothes.
In the Iron Age the forts on the Great Doward and Yat Rock provided secure, defensible settlements for the local residents. During Roman times these forts became focal points in the region and the importance of the iron here and in the Forest of Dean made this a valuable prize for the conquerors. Offa's Dyke was built in the 8th century directly above the Yat to separate England and Wales.
The first recorded use of the word Yat in connection with the area was made in 1265. Yat is an old English word for "gate" or "gorge". It is popularly believed that the addition of Symonds was made in the 17th century in reference to Robert Symonds of Sugwas and Evesfield who was indeed a member of the family who owned the lands from Wormelow near Hereford to the border regions in which the Yat stands. He was High Sheriff of Herefordshire in 1685. The area is also shown as Symons Yate on maps in 1665, Symons Yat in 1717 and Symmonds Gate in 1830.
The Old Court Hotel in Symonds Yat (West), which was built in the 16th century, was the ancestral home of the Gwillim family and was home to John Graves Simcoe, who was governor and one of the founding fathers of Upper Canada.
The Yat Gorge was mined for iron ore and remains of a smelting works are located down stream of the Symonds Yat Rapids. The ironworks at New Weir date from the 1590s and were operated by the White family until 1753, when George White leased the site to John Partridge, an ironmonger from Ross on Wye. Partridge combined the ironworks at New Weir with his forge at Lydbrook which smelted pig iron from his furnace at Bishopswood. The works closed when the lease ran out in 1798 and the adjacent weir and lock buildings were demolished and the lock filled in 1814.
The ferry at Symonds Yat has always played a huge part in the life here. In 1800 there were 25 hand ferries between Ross and Chepstow just like those outside Ye Old Ferrie Inn and the Saracen's Head today. They were introduced in Roman times to link the forts of the Doward and the Yat and have served military, civilian, tourist and horse traffic over the years.
Symonds Yat originally encompassed all the lands southerly of Huntsham curve on both sides of Symonds Yat Rock and would have included the area around Coldwell Rocks. The name Symonds Yat used to refer to quite a large area of land and the hamlet of Symonds Yat (East), consisting of the Saracen's Head Inn, the Fish House, Lockkeepers Cottage and one or two cottages on the hillside, was specifically called New Weir and is seen on maps as such up until 1955.
In April 2009 Herefordshire Archaeology excavated New Weir Iron Works at Symonds Yat (West) to establish how the iron works functioned between the start of smelting in and the decline of the works in the 1800s. It was found that the works included a 'slitting mill', for making wire nails and a rolling mill powered by water wheels.
Symonds Yat (East)
Symonds Yat (East) is on the eastern side of the river, very close to the Gloucestershire border. It has three hotels, WyeDean Canoe and Activity Centre and the Saracens Head Inn (with accommodation). A steep footpath leads from the village up to Symonds Yat Rock. Another footpath and a cycleway, constructed on a former railway line, runs on the eastern bank to Monmouth.
Symonds Yat (West)
Symonds Yat (West) is on the western side of the river. It has a large caravan and camping site (Sterretts Caravan Site), and a small amusement park owned by Kimberly Danter (daughter of Henry Danter and family member of the famous UK showmen the Danter Family). Symonds Yat (West) amusement park used to have a small funfair which was removed in 2010 due to lack of service and the small numbers of people declining over the years. It used to contain outdoor dodgems, twister, casino royale miami, flying jets, octopus, bouncy castles, ski jump, etc. Most rides were moved up to Stourport on Severn theme park, also owned by Henry Danter. Some of the old rides are now at Murco's Petrol Station (High Noon Services) on the approach to Symonds Yat coming from Monmouth (South Wales).
Symonds Yat (West) also has visitor attractions including a maze (The Amazing Hedge Puzzle) built in 1977 to commemorate the Silver Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II, and the Wye Valley Butterfly Zoo.
Two hand ("pull") cable ferries enable foot passengers to cross the river, powered by ferrymen who pull the ferry across the river using an overhead cable. The only connection by road is upstream over Huntsham bridge; this is a five-mile trip. One ferry is operated by the Saracens Head Inn and the other by the Ye Old Ferrie Inn.
A suspension bridge was built over the river by the Forestry Commission using local oak timbers in 1957. Linking Symonds Yat (East) to the Biblins camp site, the bridge was fully refurbished in 1997 and rotten timbers and the two support towers were replaced. Although it is designed to take up to 30 people, it has signs requesting that no more than 6 cross at a time.
Symonds Yat Rock
Symonds Yat Rock overlooks a spectacular gorge through which the River Wye snakes. This rock is a good viewpoint from which to watch raptors: a pair of peregrine falcons that nest annually within sight of the rock can be watched through telescopes set up by the RSPB. Buzzards, goshawks and hobbies are also regularly seen and it is sometimes possible to see migrant raptors such as ospreys and European honey buzzards.
Seven Sisters Rocks
Seven Sisters Rocks are seven limestone pillars on the Herefordshire side of the River Wye.
The River Wye at Symonds Yat has cut a deep gorge in the Carboniferous Limestone exposing numerous impressive cliff faces. There is extensive and popular rock climbing in this area with long single pitches at all grades.
Tourist activities include canoeing and kayaking down the rapids, boat trips, a maze, stand-up paddle boarding (from Ye Old Ferrie Inn), an oriental garden, and a number of country pubs and guest houses, including The Paddocks Hotel, Old Court, The Saracens Head Inn, Ye Old Ferrie Inn and the Wyenot.
- Symonds Yat featured on the 2005 TV programme Seven Natural Wonders as one of the wonders of the West Country.
- A scene from the movie Shadowlands was filmed at Symonds Yat Rock, with the view of the Wye Valley in the background, but it was meant to be another location within the plot of the film.
- Symonds Yat Rock was used as a location for some episodes of Series 5 of the BBC television drama Merlin.
- Symonds Yat was used as a location for some of the shots filmed in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1
- The Saracens Head Inn in the hamlet of Symonds Yat (East) was featured in Escape to the Country on BBC One in 2014.
- The Chalet in Symonds Yat (East) featured as family home for main character Otis in 2019 Netflix Original series Sex Education.
Symonds Yat Rapids
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- "Meet the Maze Makers". Archived from the original on 2010-10-05. Retrieved 23 September 2010.
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- "Access between Symonds Yat (West) and Symonds Yat (East) by pedestrian ferry and footbridge". Archived from the original on 2010-04-29. Retrieved 23 September 2010.
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- "Regional Access Database: Symonds Yat". British Mountaineering Council. Retrieved 2012-09-18.
- "Symonds Yat Rapids Management Group". Retrieved 23 September 2010.
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