Symonds Yat Rapids
Symonds Yat is located on the English Welsh border, approximately 10 miles north of Monmouth. Symonds Yat has become a popular destination for canoeists due to the spectacular scenery of the Wye Valley and the famous Symonds Yat rapids. The River Wye is common law navigation and there is good access to the river.
The Symonds Yat rapids are ideal for novice paddlers seeking their first white water experience. The rapids are formed when the River Wye diverts around a small island, with the main rapids river left. The right side of the island is normally too shallow to paddle.
In 2008 extensive restoration of the rapids which involved the replacement of the temporary 'groynes' hand-built from available materials pulled from the riverbank [probably by the kayakers!] with permanent limestone groynes. These were designed to enhance and conserve the rapids, stabilise the island and reduce erosion. Full details of the proposal are available here.
The rapids are graded level 2 and are about 300 metres long. Several small stonewalls along the length of the rapids, interrupt the main flow of the river and form some handy eddies. These eddies are great for learning basic white water techniques such as breaking in and out, and ferry gliding. In some water levels, there are some noticeable standing waves (particularly the first wall/drop) that can be surfed, an added bonus!
The rapids work best in low to medium water levels, anything more than that tends to wash out the rapids leaving a fast stretch of wavey water and a long walk back afterwards. This basically means the best time to paddle the rapids is in the spring, summer and autumn (a novelty).
Generally speaking it's always a good idea to inspect any rapid, especially if you have never paddled it before, although the Symonds Yat rapids can be clearly seen from the river. If there are white water novices, then a quick inspection is probably a good idea.
There's a path that runs alongside the rapids on the East side (river left) of the river with good vantage points of the rapids. Accessing this path from the river can be a bit tricky depending on where you are starting from, as there is no obvious access point immediately before the rapids. An alternative is to paddle to the Island (centre of the river), and disembark there. A path runs through the centre of the Island, allowing access to the full length of the rapids.
There are a number of campsites along the banks of the River Wye in the Symonds Yat area, most with access to the river. For a day trip, the best access is the campsite in Symonds Yat East (about 500m upstream of the rapids, river left). They have a car park and access to the river. There is normally a charge for the car parking and each boat launched (£3 for each car and £1 per boat [Sep 2005]). There's an added extra being next to the pubs and a small canoeing shop!
Paddling the Rapids
The rapids are great fun and have everything that a white water novice needs to get started and for more advanced paddlers to improve on rusty techniques. The most common route down the rapids is a simple zig zag between all of the eddies practising break-ins and outs. Most of the eddies are staggered, permitting an up stream paddle via zig zagging and ferry gliding between eddies on adjacent sides of the rapids. The first walls are probably the hardest to ascend and anyone paddling a short boat will probably never make it! The first drop can provide a unique challenge, who can paddle back up it?
If required, a paddler can simply paddle straight down the middle of the rapids with minimum risk of bumping into anything (except the paddlers zig-zagging their way back to the top).
The rapids come to an end just below the Island. There's a small beach river right that can be used for disembarking. A collection of large stone blocks forming a wall is a good give away for it. Just above these stone blocks is a path that leads back to the top of the rapids, ideal for running them again and again.
During the summer months, the rapids can become very busy with other paddlers, especially at weekends. The Symonds Yat rapids are not particularly deep, so they're not suitable for vertical moves in play boats (you'll just end up hitting the river bed if you try!).
Upstream of the rapids is placid water and a number of tour boats operate in this section. The usual convention of keeping to the right applies. There is also two cables running from Symonds Yat East to Symonds Yat West (about 500m apart). These cables are used to hand propel ferries across the river, they also present a challenge to the paddling group, who can throw their paddle over the cable and catch it on the other side?
For a bit of fun, about 1.5k upstream of the rapids, river left, is a large boulder famously referred to as 'Seal Launch Rock'. As its name suggests, boats can be seal launched from it. Access to the top of the rock is via the rear. There are a number of foot holes to aide climbing to the top, but take care as it can be very slippery. When doing the seal launch, wait for a tour boat - they normally slow down so the passengers can view the exploits!
The Symonds Yat rapids are grade 2 rapids and as such any group paddling the rapids should have a BCU inland level 3 coach [accurate as of 2005].
Due to Symonds Yat's popularity, accommodation isn't normally a problem, however, booking is advisable in the summer months. There are many campsites, caravan parks, guesthouses, hotels and bunkhouses in the area. I always favour campsites as the majority of them are located on the banks of the Wye and have access to the river. Some even provide a canoe shuttle service for a small fee.
Below I've listed some links that may be of use if you're intending to travel to the area and are looking for somewhere to stay.
Symonds Yat Caravan & Camping Ltd
Symonds Yat West, Herefordshire, HR9 6BW.
A pleasant caravan and campsite located about 1 mile upstream of the Symonds Yat rapids with good access to the River Wye. The site hires canoes and provides a useful shuttle service for you and your boat! For more information visit: http://www.canoehire.com