I have to admit that, beautiful as our area is, we are off and over this hills this bank holiday. However, I thought it would be rather nice to share a few thoughts for those of you who’s ‘over the hills’, is actually my little part of Wales.
The Wye Valley has been a popular tourist destination since the 18th century; one guide book depicts be-hatted and floral-bonneted ‘tourists’ being rowed down the Wye (past the heavy industry which blackened almost everything green and natural) to appreciate it’s beauty (from a safe distance). Even Nelson visited (a visit upon which Monmouth has been dining out for over two centuries) with his ‘posh crumpet’ Lady Hamilton. But what does it have to offer?
Well, it’s great for families, you can keep the little ones entertained from dawn to dusk, on dry and wet days. It keeps the cultured happy and the food lovers, but most of all it’s a superb place to just relax. Being only 40 minutes from Bristol, under an hour from Cardiff and (with a fair wind) under three from London, the Lower Wye Valley, which lies between the towns of Chepstow and Ross-on-Wye, and is ideally located for a short break or weekend getaway.
Of course, the river is splendid at this time of year, when it reflects the pale yellows, deep reds and golden browns of the woodland, interspersed with numerous swans and the odd leaping salmon. Hiring a canoe from one of the many outdoor adventure companies is a great idea and meandering down the river makes for a very pleasant day out. There are numerous pubs to ‘rest’ at on the way, and most offer reasonably good fodder for a lunchtime sojourn. I think that it’s only from the river that one can fully appreciate the majesty of the Valley. The road which shadows it is well worth the drive but you fail to notice the little things, the unusual angle to view Tintern Abbey, the lost church of Lancaut, the Seven Sisters Rocks and The Slaughters (named for the memory of a battle between Viking invaders and the rather annoyed natives) near Symond’s Yat or the great railway bridge at Redbrook which stands, somewhat forgotten, a legacy of an Industrial Age when this little village produced the thinnest tin in the world. There’s Goodrich Castle which peers down at the river and the old Priory of Flansford which sits, timelessly, beneath it; and a plethora of architecturally fascinating bridges.
Ross-on-Wye, a few miles into Herefordshire, and well named for the red sandstone upon which it is built, is quintessentially English, its pretty covered marketplace the centre of many a 1950’s picture postcard.
The county town of Monmouth is well worth a visit. Although it has a few too many coffee shops for comfort the museum is free and the fortified gatehouse which sits astride the river Monnow is one the best preserved examples in the UK. It also has a Waitrose which is obviously a good thing!
Chepstow, the final stop on the Offa’s Dyke path is known for its castle, once the stronghold of William Marshall, the greatest knight of the 12th century. There are a few chunks of the old town walls about and there are a rather good soft play centre for rainy days and bored children.
This site is a good starting point: Wye Valley AONB