Head for the Hillforts

Follow in the footsteps of the Wye Tourists down to the Wye. Cross the river at the Biblins visiting Little Doward Hillfort, King Arthur’s Cave and New Weir Forge. Return on the hand ferry at Symonds Yat West.

Technical sheet
No. 3505656
A English Bicknor walk posted on 02/07/20 by Wye Valley Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Update : 02/07/20
Calculated time Calculated time: 4h40[?]
Distance Distance : 12.42km
Vertical gain Vertical gain : 391m
Vertical drop Vertical drop : 383m
Highest point Highest point : 224m
Lowest point Lowest point : 22m
Average Difficulty : Average
Back to starting point Back to starting point : Yes
Walking Walking
Location Location : English Bicknor
Starting point Starting point : N 51.837416° / W 2.636542°
Download : -


(D/A) Once you have taken in the views from Yat Rock, take the steep footpath, near the cabin, down the steps, following the Forest Footpath waymarkers through beech woods to the car park beside the river.

This track was the old miners’ route to Symonds Yat, down which coal was carried by mules. In the 18th century a boat tour down the Wye from Ross to Chepstow was the height of fashion. Special tour boats were constructed – commodious conveyances –with cushioned seats, a table at which to sketch, write and paint, and a canopy to protect the travellers from the sun or rain. These tourists left their boats below Coldwell Rocks and climbed up to the viewpoint at Yat Rock, before descending down this track to rejoin their boats at New Weir.

(1) Walk to your left through the car park and stay on the track along the riverbank. The route follows the old railway line.

Can you hear the steam trains and smell the sooty smoke? This car park was a station on the Ross and Monmouth Railway. Five passenger trains a day in each direction ran through here, plus summer excursion traffic. In the 1930s a camping coach (a specially converted old coach) was installed for weekly hire. Much earlier, passengers alighting here were accosted by a ‘mob of shirt-sleeved gondoliers’, who would take them by boat to their final destination! Before the railway, most visitors arrived here by boat.

(2) Continue on this path until you reach a footbridge on your right where you cross the river.

It is only recently that the trees have been left to grow at the water's edge, now obscuring much of the view. The riverbank had to be unobstructed to allow the trows to be hauled through the shallows by men called bow hauliers. They were attached to the boats by a rope which they wore on a type of harness. Horses replaced men in the 19th century when a horse towing path was constructed. When steam trains arrived the risk of fire made it even more important to keep the vegetation clear. Operating between 1873 and 1959, countless passengers enjoyed the picturesque views from the train along this stretch of the Ross and Monmouth Railway.

(3) Turn left here and follow the Wye Valley Walk alongside the river. Keep on this path until reaching the second of a pair of cast iron gates, with stone walls on the right. Go through the wooden kissing gate, turn left and follow the path uphill and round to the right, keeping right at the fork, which leads to the limekilns. (Don’t carry on along the Wye Valley Walk by the river.)

This suspension bridge was built by the Forestry Commission in 1957. The Biblins, which is managed by the Forestry Commission, opened as a youth campsite in the early 1940s.

(4) Retrace your route and go through the kissing gate heading back towards the Biblins. After a very short distance take the next footpath on your left up a steep path into a gully which takes you uphill to the Little Doward. As you climb you will walk over two small flat areas with black soil underfoot; these are probably charcoal 'hearths' upon which charcoal was burned.

Limestone quarries litter this area and there are many limekilns which were built to process the lime. When you reach the second metal gate look at the stone gate posts, which are made of Quartz Conglomerate. This is sandstone with white or glassy quartz pebbles. This rock is an example of the red sandstones formed here 400 million years ago as rivers flowed over a hot dry landscape and deposited sediments. These rocks outcrop on the lower west side of Little Doward near Wyastone Leys.

(5) Keep on the steep track uphill until you reach a fence with fields beyond. Take the track to the left and follow this path zig zagging uphill through the Woodland Trust woods, ignoring a right fork as you near the top. Go over a step stile and another stile with a rockface in front of you. Keep on the steep track uphill until you reach a fence with fields beyond. Take the track to the left and follow this path zig zagging uphill through the Woodland Trust woods, ignoring a right fork as you near the top. Go over a step stile and another stile with a rockface in front of you.

As you climb the Little Doward you are walking through 50 million years of geological time. Towering above the river to your right are seven bluffs of limestone known as the Seven Sisters. This limestone is formed from the shell fragments of millions of dead sea creatures deposited on the floor of a warm shallow sea some 350 million years ago. Over a long period of time as successive layers form, those underneath become buried and compacted. Here they formed the spectacular limestone cliffs we can see today. These inaccessible cliffs and the surrounding woodland provide feeding, nesting and breeding areas for many spectacular birds of prey including Goshawks, Peregrine Falcons and Buzzards. These woodlands also form one of the most important areas for woodland conservation in Britain. Some of the rarest native tree species we have, such as large-leaved lime and whitebeams are found here, alongside sessile oak stands on the limestone.

(6) Turn right and follow the drive up to the open area on the Little Doward. Continue uphill along the gently winding main drive until reaching a junction of paths.

The substantial stone wall behind you marks the boundary of the Wyastone Estate. In the 19th century this area was owned by Richard Blakemore, a wealthy Victorian ironmaster who moved to the Little Doward in 1820; the cast iron gates by which you reached the limekilns are likely to have been made at his ironworks in South Wales. Having rebuilt the house at Wyastone Leys he set about creating a new picturesque landscape on his estate. To achieve this Blakemore demolished many of the cottages which dotted the Doward. He constructed walks and carriage drives which cut straight through the ramparts of an Iron Age hillfort. He built a hermitage and other points of interest along the paths. He constructed high stone walls to keep deer enclosed inside his park. He even blasted through the cliffs to form a picturesque chasm here. Look closely to the left of the rock face in front of you and you can still see the holes that were drilled for explosive charges. As the local vicar reported, Blakemore was ‘entirely unacquainted with the antiquarian interest attached to his property’.
As the path levels out you may be able to spot on the left (during the winter months when the vegetation dies back) an area of limestone pavement, formed where water dissolved the limestone along the lines of natural cracks in the rock. These cracks now provide important habitats for lime-loving plants and animals.

(7) Turn right which takes a semi-circular route around the edge of the ancient hillfort. Blakemore created a carriage ride along this route cutting straight through the ramparts as you can see, about 100 metres ahead. The ditch and bank are very clear a little way further along on the right. Follow this track around in a big curve which levels out at the top and sweeps around to the left. Look out for the Ordnance Survey’s concrete ‘trig point’ above you on your left as the track makes a bend to the right. Your track soon merges with another coming in from the right. Continue ahead for about 100 metres to a path junction beside a large beech tree with a huge base. Blakemore's folly stood at the far end of the raised causeway along which you look.

Towering 724 feet above the River Wye, with steep cliffs on three sides and extensive views across the surrounding area, the Little Doward provided the ideal site for a large Iron Age hillfort, improved only by the construction of a single massive rampart around the enclosure. The hillfort has two parts: an upper and a lower enclosure. You are now standing on the boundary between the two enclosures. Recent archaeological exploration has found that people here lived in circular platform houses. They worked animal bones, making items like toggles and dice, items which were found during a dig here in 2009.

(8) As you walk through the ramparts, you can’t help but marvel at the scale of this hillfort, which forms a huge oval shape. Follow the track straight down through the middle until reaching the junction of paths at (7).

To enjoy the views Blakemore built a 70 foot iron tower here. Visitors were allowed to climb the steps running up through the middle of the tower on Sunday evenings. The folly stood high above Wyastone House with views towards Monmouth, but the view today without the tower is obscured by the trees. You may be able to spot the stone remains of its base if you take a detour to the far end of the causeway. The tower was dismantled around 1920. These stones are the remains of a hermitage or rustic shepherd’s hut, another of the structures built by Blakemore to add interest to his estate.

(7) Turn right here and walk for a short distance along the shallow ditch feature of the hillfort. Take the first path off on the left which leads downhill, just beyond a small fenced enclosure on the right.

This is the lower part of the hillfort known as the annex. Flattened areas on top of the cliffs are thought to have been platforms for Iron Age buildings. This is probably the oldest section of the hillfort.

(9) Continue downhill keeping the limestone cliffs on your left with the end of a ruined wall on your right. This was another of Blakemore’s scenic paths, cut into the hillside to impress visitors with the best views. Keep left. Walk through the chasm and then take the stile on the right downhill, and over the ladder stile. Follow this path down until reaching the edge of the wood and a field boundary on your left, meeting a track joining from the right. Keep left beside the fence and walk up to the cave.

(10) Go to the right of the cave and take the path which leads up behind the cave, with the cave to your left. Keep on this path up hill through the trees until reaching a car park. At the car park, turn right down the forestry track which leads to The Biblins (3). When you reach the log cabin, keep left on the track through the campsite. The track becomes a footpath beside the river and then rises as it skirts around the site of New Weir Forge. Keep straight on, ignoring a path going off on the right at the bottom of the rise and then bear right downhill at the next fork.
From the ironworks, continue along the path above the site, towards Symonds Yat. On the left above the track are the remains of old cottages, built to house around 30 families. Keep straight on passing some houses and at the junction with the road turn right downhill. Continue past the sign for the Hand Ferry for a short distance until reaching the limekilns on the left.

Victorian and Edwardian naturalists were fascinated by the Doward Hills. This large limestone cave, known as King Arthur’s Cave, held a particular draw. Excavations here reveal that people have used this cave for 20,000 years. Prehistoric animal bones – of hyena, rhinoceros, bison, lion, bear, reindeer, horse and giant deer – were discovered 11 feet below the cave’s present floor.

(11) Take the ferry to the other side of the river and alighting turn right and walk back towards the New Weir car park.(D/A)

A rope or hand ferry across the river joins Symonds Yat East and West, operating so long as the water levels are suitable. Ferries like this were vital in the past, linking communities on both sides of the river. Many ferries took horses, livestock and other cargoes.

Waypoints :
D/A : km 0 - alt. 140m - Car park
1 : km 0.83 - alt. 32m - Track along the riverbank
2 : km 1.61 - alt. 33m
3 : km 3.04 - alt. 28m - Wye Valley Walk
4 : km 4.62 - alt. 57m - Limekilns
5 : km 5.01 - alt. 41m
6 : km 5.8 - alt. 149m
7 : km 6.11 - alt. 199m - Junction of paths
8 : km 6.49 - alt. 216m - The Hermitage
9 : km 7.11 - alt. 190m - Ancient Trees and Woodland Pasture
10 : km 7.87 - alt. 111m - Cave
11 : km 11.48 - alt. 28m - Ferry
D/A : km 12.42 - alt. 140m - Car park

Useful Information

It is advisable to check that the hand ferry at the Saracens Head is running if you intend to use it later for your return. Alternatively, you could take the ferry now, and follow the walk in reverse, returning via the Biblins bridge across the river.

The Forestry Commission own and manage much of the woodland surrounding you on this walk. They work to maintain these native broadleaved woodlands and their associated flora and fauna, so characteristic of the Wye Valley. Much of the area is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and the walk takes you through areas of non-intervention and minimum intervention where management is very closely monitored. Where timber is
extracted, it may be taken out using horses to avoid damaging archaeological remains.

Visorando and this author cannot be held responsible in the case of accidents or problems occuring on this walk.

During the walk or to do/see around

Butterflies and Birds : Look out for rare birds and butterflies along the walk. Peregrine falcons can be seen at Yat Rock from early spring. The Forestry Commission work in partnership with the RSPB staff and volunteers to help you get the best views of these amazing birds of prey. Through the season they can be seen sitting on the nest, returning with food and later teaching the young falcons to fly and hunt.In the 19th and early 20th centuries The Doward was well known amongst butterfly collectors, who arrived at Symonds Yat on special excursion trains. Local boys caught Purple Emperors and other rare butterflies and sold them to the visitors. In 1911 an alien species from Europe, the Map Butterfly, was reported on The Doward. The great butterfly collector Albert Brydges Farn decided to retire here. An expert in British insects and their delicate relationships with plants, he believed that no alien fauna or flora should be introduced to the British Isles. Secretly he destroyed the whole colony of alien invaders! Lindsay Heyes who runs the Wye Valley Butterfly Zoo, located in the shadow of The Doward, has a continuing programme of research into the life of Farn and his studies brought this intriguing story to light. Today there are around 30 indigenous species of butterfly on The Doward hills including colonies of Wood White, Pearl-bordered Fritillary, Small Heath, Silver-washed Fritillary, Grizzled Skipper and Dingy Skipper. The rare Purple Emperor Butterfly is found very occasionally.

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