A map showing the location of the Rapids
Symonds Yat derives its name from a 17th Century Sheriff of Herefordshire called Robert Symonds, "Yat" being the local name for a gate or pass. The Rapids are situated beneath Symonds Yat Rock on the River Wye in the West of England as it flows through the Forest of Dean close to the border with Wales.
14 miles upstream is the small Herefordshire town of Ross-on-Wye while 6 miles downstream can be found Monmouth. 18 miles further down the River Wye reaches its mouth in the Severn Estuary at Chepstow, close to the original Severn Road Bridge.
A Brief History
Historically the Rapids have had many different uses. Their bedrock forms a natural gradient although over the years it has been subjected to various engineering works. Part of our rural heritage is the iron ore mining that was once a major industrial concern of the Forest of Dean.
There were a lot of mines in the Yat Gorge which produced iron ore which was then smelted at the smelting works at the bottom of the Rapids. The ruins are still evident, the slag produced was put in the river to make the island which is now the centre of the Rapids.
The weir was installed, along with others on the river, to allow the passage of vessels trading in timber, coal and iron ore. The weirs were dismantled as these trades diminished with the construction of the railway during the second half of the 19th Century.
The Forest of Dean and Wye Valley has a strong tourist industry that attracts many thousands of visitors every year. Many hire or paddle their own canoes down through the Rapids and the Wye Valley. Scouts, Guides, Youth Clubs, Schools and many other groups use the Rapids as an introduction to moving water for training and recreation. All have enjoyed uninterrupted use of the Rapids for many years.
A paddler at the bottom of the Rapids
Canoeing at Symonds Yat
For the last 200 years the Rapids have been primarily used for recreational purposes. From the late 1800's rowing boats carrying 6-12 people were used for sight seeing trips through the Yat Gorge down to Monmouth.
The present day major use of the Rapids is by canoeists who since the 1950's have adopted the Yat Rapids as a major coaching and leisure facility. Wyedean Canoe Club has been based in the area since it was formed in 1968 and has produced some great competition champions, Olympic competitors and International Expedition canoeists. Gloucester Canoe Club held BCU Slalom Competitions on the Rapids from the early 1970's until the crisis with the previous owners began in 1996. Raft races also occasionally pass down through them. The use of the site is of local, regional and national importance as they are the only accessible Rapids of their kind in the south of England during the spring and summer.
Originally the Forestry Commission had extensive ownership of the river and adjacent land in the Forest of Dean. Some years ago they sold 2½ miles of river bed from the top of the Rapids downstream to the toe of Hadnock Island together with the fishing rights. Since then ownership has passed through several hands. Over the years the various owners have taken a relaxed attitude to the Rapids being used by canoeists as this section is rarely if ever fished. The owners who sold the rapids to the British Canoe Union purchased the site in the early 1990s.