Wonders (or wanders..) of the Wye

The River Wye was the birthplace of British tourism when 250 years ago the local vicar started to organise boat trips from Ross-on-Wye.  A visiting scholar (Rev. William Gilpin) then published what is thought to be the first travel guidebook, after he took what had become the Wye Tour.  All the great and good of the late 1700’s flocked to Herefordshire instead of going on their European trips because of war on the continent – to take the Wye Tour.  They dined at specific locations, took walks to designated viewpoints and visited the romantic ruins as part of the first “package” holiday.

In just a few days short break you can appreciate the diversity and appeal of the River Wye, now an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and understand why Ross-on-Wye is with its spectacular horseshoe bends, rapids and cliffs, craggy viewpoints and rolling hills, and a plethora of wildlife, remains one of the UK’s best loved market towns.  

Day 1 – Active on the River

15 minute drive from Ross-on-Wye is Symonds Yat – a really unique spot.  It is a steep wooded gorge, carved out by the river over millennia.  Human habitation relics have been found from 12,000 years ago; and in the 1700’s when the Wye Tour started, the area was quite industrialised with mining and ironworks, which is hard to believe today.  For followers of Sex Education on Netflix, see if you can see The Chalet up on the western hill face.  

Today, you can jump straight in to really experiencing the River Wye – the main centre of outdoor activities in the area being based around Symonds Yat.  Take your pick:

  • Canoeing/ paddle boarding: Wye Adventures or Wye Canoes both offer comprehensive and varied river trips to suit.  One of my favourite parts is down from Ross itself past the cliffs of Goodrich Castle and rapids of Lydbrook to Symonds Yat (full day).  Quieter stretches start further upstream, such as Lucksall, down to Hoarwithy (1/2 day) with more chance of seeing wildlife (Hereford Canoe Hire).  However, all sections have their delights and the River is never really “busy”!  
  • Fishing – best place to start is Angling Dreams shop in Ross-on-Wye’s High Street, which can help you access some spectacular fishing venues, and provide the most up to date information on how the river's fishing, as well as offering day tickets, season permits, and quality bait and tackle for fishing in the area
  • Cycling:  Wye Valley Mountain bike hire can kit you out for a or try guided rides with Wye Valley Guided Rides - Wye Mtb -.  Revolutions in Ross on Wye is the best bike shop around for a new bike or specialist kit!  Or the more experienced cyclists can bring a bike and explore the myriad of winding roads down the Wye Valley and over the hills.
  • For the less active/ adventurous I recommend the relaxing boat trips up river from Symonds Yat riverside; or just stroll along the river, down past the Grade 2 rapids where kayakists test their skills, to the unusual suspension footbridge at Biblins and back the other side, returning by hand ferry (usually operated by a young fit person!).
symonds yat

Symonds Yat

Lunch/ dinner at the renowned Saracens Head – if you can get a table..;  There is picnic food and provisions at Woods of Whitchurch – the perfect small deli/ village store.  I also recommend the traditional charm of the Old Court Hotel; or across the main road to Whitchurch’s “Potting Shed” – a laid-back garden cafe, serving breakfast through to dinner.

In the afternoon if you have free time from your activities I recommend walking (or driving) up to the top of Symonds Yat Rock to see one of the most recognisable and stunning views of the Wye – quite a climb, but downhill to return! If you are lucky the RSPB will have a team of volunteers on the Rock with telescopes to help you see the peregrines nesting in the cliff faces on either side.  Sit for a cuppa and cake at the café; or take one of the many marked trails through the woods, where you might just see some deer.  

The Saracens Head Inn

Saracens Head

Day 2 – Town & Country Rambles

Get going early if you are a lark and head for the quietness of the river banks in Ross-on-Wye to catch the morning birdsong and see what you can spot. The iridescent turquoise flash of a kingfisher is often seen, along with families of goosanders, herons & cormorants, moorhens and sometimes dozens of swans or geese in spectacular groups.  You may also see some of the local rowers dipping their blades and slicing through the water up towards Backney – and Ross has a particularly strong Junior Club that is worth watching out for.

Explore the Rope Walk open area by the river to see the only Linear Arboretum in this country – a mile of really varied specimen trees planted along the floodplain – all clearly labelled – and keep a lookout for Ross’s own “tree man” who kicked off the project and has so many stories about the trees! At the far west end you can cross over Wilton Bridge and follow the footpath on around the ancient Wilton Castle walls – inside is now a private residence, though sometimes open for musical events.  Stop for a coffee or lunch at the buzzing White Lion by the river – or come back later for dinner at Orles Barn.

One way back to Ross, is to head up through the steep steps of the scented Blake Community Garden to the top of the town and see if you can resist walking past Rossiter Books independent bookshop without going in for a browse and buy – we can never manage it!  From there you will start on an abundance of independent shops that characterise Ross on Wye, along with its quirky alleyways (look for the odd names!), and friendly people. In the central Market Place area is a map board to get your bearings or climb the ancient steps into the ancient Market Hall (lift available) for more tourism information and the Made in Ross local crafts shop – manned by the craftspeople themselves.  Pick up a map of the town’s “Vintage Trail” to shop the eclectic and unusual.

The famous “Prospect” can be found behind the spire of St Mary’s Church where you get one of the most iconic views of the River Wye and its’ amazing horseshoe bends.  Here you can also activate the Museum without Walls on your phone or tablet – to find out how things looked many generations before….. quite amazing what the technology can do!



Feeling hungry? There is no shortage of tea and coffee shops – and see if you can find suppliers of the best James’s Coffee, made locally in the town. Truffles Deli will help you with picnic food with local cheeses and other products, or Hanks the renowned butcher winning awards for game in particular. You will find restaurants from all over the globe, and one of my favourites is the tiny Thai Berry serving freshly cooked piquant food to die for. In great weather the Royal Hotel has an amazing outdoor terrace overlooking the river; while more cosy meals and drinks at the friendly Kings Head opposite.  Don’t miss The Tap House, Ross’s micropub with 6 ales on tap, 3 Ciders and 6 craft ales… and for a more classy evening you could try Leonards at 39 for cocktails and tapas; or its sister No3 Restaurant – worth booking!  

In the afternoon you could go exploring local crafts. A short 5 minute driver from Ross, takes you to the renowned Wobage Workshops, with a range of really skilled pottery, jewellery and crafted furniture.   Drive on towards Ledbury and the Trumpet crossroads hosts a lovely craft shop and tea rooms; or head on into the lovely town of Ledbury itself with more eclectic shops and craft outlets.  A real treat is the county-wide 10-day festival of crafts and open studios, Hereford Art, in September which reflects the amazing range and expertise of the local skills.

If crafts and rural skills are your thing, you could always extend your visit or return another time to learn how to make traditional beehives or keep your own (Bees for Development), experience blacksmithing (Oldfield Forge, Garway), pottery at Wobage, Hedgerow Medicine (Castle Orchard, Ledbury) or printing at the Printshed in Madley.

No3 Restaurant

No3 Restaurant

Day 3 – Riverside Gardens & Landscapes

Today you could travel a bit further afield across Herefordshire to two amazing waterside gardens, or explore what is on offer from the National Garden Scheme (NGS) more locally.

A 35 minute drive from Ross will take you to The Weir, a National Trust garden set on a steep bank leading down to the River Wye. It is amazing in all seasons with a real variety of plantings and a myriad of paths and vistas.  Head on from there another 10 minutes drive to Bredwardine and discover another spectacular riverside garden laid out in the 1880s. Brobury House Gardens has water as a recurring theme, with three formal water features have been woven into the original terraces, a bog garden at the bottom of the specimen tree walk and informal paths follow a stream through woodland with architectural planting, leading finally to the two acre water meadow & River Wye beyond.

Your drive back can follow the winding route of the Wye, through Hereford – with a stop off by the Old Bridge and Cathedral and sample the goodies from neighbouring Church Street or the Left Bank complex – then on through Hampton Bishop and Fownhope on the B4224. A diversion right at How Caple, takes you along a beautiful stretch of the riverbank to Hole in the Wall, Brampton Abbots and back to Ross.

Alternatively, today you could walk this stretch along the Wye Valley Walk long-distance path. Take a taxi upto Fownhope or How Caple (depending on how far you want to walk) and really follow the meanders through some glorious rolling countryside so typical of Herefordshire.  

In the evening you could try one of the area’s great pub restaurants, like the Moody Cow at Upton Bishop (not named after the staff!), the aptly named Cottage of Content at Carey down tiny lanes, or The Loughpool with its flagged floor and ever-changing specials board. If your day has not worn you out, come early to the Loughpool for a few miles circular walk down to the River at Sellack with its Victorian suspension footbridge for a different view of the river.

Weir Gardens

The Weir Garden