As part of our Green Traveller's Guide to the Wye Valley, Jackie King discovers valleys swooping down to sparkling rivers, gentle paths that trace the passage of the River Wye, and walking trails that lead up to eagle-eye views over ancient forests.
Three counties lay claim to the majestic landscape of the Wye Valley: Monmouthshire, Herefordshire and Gloucestershire. This glorious protected landscape is dotted with history-laden ruins, mysterious castles, sacred sites, ancient pastures and reminders of a dynamic industrial heritage.
The special lushness and rich earth give succour to wildlife and farmland. The cider, beer, cattle and cheese produced here are legendary and visitors who flock to the pubs, cafes and restaurants get to savour the land’s bounty with their taste buds as well as their eyes.
Parts of the Wye Valley form an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and are protected for the enjoyment of the nation. It is the only one of England’s 46 AONBs that spans two countries, England and Wales. In the north the river winds through the Herefordshire meadows and runs on down to Ross-on-Wye, Symonds Yat and Tintern where gorges and cliffs frame it with drama and rugged beauty.
It’s said that the Wye Valley is the birthplace of tourism. In the mid-1700s, a John Egerton organised river trips; poets Coleridge and Wordsworth were inspired and artists were captivated by the contrast of deep valley and soaring cliffs. The ‘Wye Tour’ was conceived and piqued the curiosity of the nation, drawing many to explore by water or foot.
Tourists today still most definitely have a place here and can take a special pleasure in exploring an area that is preserved and protected, yet alive with agriculture, forestry and conservation work.
Where to stay
The Wye Valley is awash with truly welcoming places to stay, from B&Bs where the owner pays you special attention and may even conjure up your own choice of breakfast, to charming hidden inns with log fires and candles. There is such an abundance of excellent local produce that many places to stay do outstanding food, too.
In our collection there are some pleasing surprises for, among the wonderfully pastoral cottages, houses and barns there are some stunning architectural gems, too. Robin’s Barn in Tregagle falls in to the first category – the rustic charm of the barn sits among the designated Local Wildlife Site where bees and birds pollinate and peck. Tintern Abbey Cottage is on the road that passes by the village, yet is similarly bucolic: 18th-century with a sheltered garden, oodles of comfort and a view of the Abbey that will stop you in your tracks. And then on to the surprises, such as The Chicken She in Trellech – eponymous, radical and repurposed, there is a sense of loft-style living with space, light and stacks of style.
Where to eat
The lush pastures of Wales are excellent feeding land for livestock and as you might expect Welsh lamb and beef is among the finest you'll taste... Find innovative meat dishes, slow cooked until meltingly tender or flash cooked with flair, alongside field mushrooms, foraged herbs, sauces and cheeses such as tangy Caerphilly, Peri Wen and Golden Cenarth, plus wonderful breads from locally milled grains. It’s no surprise to find excellent restaurants, pubs galore and countless cafes – indeed, there is something for the flush and the frugal.
For a flavour of the community you could head to the Anchor Inn – a pub that has its own sports field and regularly hosts local football and cricket matches. The backdrop is stunning, with the Abbey towering in the distance. There are excellent meat and fish dishes and good vegetarian cooking, too, such as butternut squash, caramelised red onion and spinach crumble. Good quality children’s meals are £5.95. The ancient mill that’s centre piece in the bar speaks of the fact that the bar was originally the cider mill for the Tintern Abbey orchard. From traditional pub fare to a continental café experience at Green & Jenks. These guys produce handmade gelato, sorbet and frozen yogurt produced with local ingredients – yum – and you can savour it inside or outside. You may feel it would be rude not to visit what is described by The Telegraph as “one of the best real ale pubs from the last 30 years”… at The Boat, Dorothy Goodbody and Butty Bach are regulars – beers not customers – and there are local ales, cider, perry and English fruit wines that are equally popular. Good pub grub is appreciated by ramblers and dog walkers.
Where to visit
Many agree there is a mystical feel to the Wye Valley and that has to be borne not only from the quiet magic of the meandering Wye River, but also from the layers and layers of history. Majestic castles and curious standing stones invite you to imagine the work and the lives of those who placed them there and the gatherings and celebrations that might have taken place. Stunning viewpoints created when tourism was 'invented' attract those wanting an eagle's eye view of the valley and rewards them with vistas that remain largely unchanged. Breweries keep alive the nine-centuries-old tradition of creating world-class drinks from local barley, wheat and fruit.
Vineyards are not two a penny in this country, so snaffle the chance to Parva Farm Vineyard and try its hugely popular wines that have won many awards, including a gold for the 2013 Parva Bacchus at the Welsh National Wine Competition. Judith and Colin Dudley who run the vineyard tend the 4,500 vines. A vineyard tour is a must, as is trying the fruits of the Dudley’s labours. Go home armed with mead, cider, perry, honey, preserves and plants as well as wine. Something for the little ones, too – in Spring there are lambs to feed. For a spot of architecture, artwork and garden magic head over to Wyndcliffe Court Gardens in St Arvans near Chepstow. There are manicured and formal gardens sitting alongside woodland walks and sculpture exhibitions and engaging artwork are brought here every year. What is an outing without a tea room!
If you need shelter from the sun or rain you can have a light meal in the Wyndcliffe ballroom and there’s plenty of cake, too which, with luck, will be laden with Welsh butter. For a mind-expanding view head up to Eagles Nest, a lofty viewpoint where you can take in the sweep of the Wye river on its way out to the Severn. This is one of the viewpoints discovered by those early pioneers of tourism who took great pleasure in bringing people from other parts of the country to their find. This spot was loved by Valentine Morris who owned Piercefield House and who later constructed many paths through the woods ready for ‘his’ visitors. You’ll find detailed instructions online for the Eagles Nest walk. Nearby, Chepstow Castle is a great place to ignite the imagination about past derring-do… it has an enduring majesty and beauty and has been added to and modified many times since 1067. This is one of Britain’s first stone-built strongholds and inside you’ll discover more about its history in an exhibition that includes the 800-year-old castle doors (the oldest in Europe). Worth a mention for those that come towards the end of April is the Wye Valley River Festival – a kind of floating carnival from Hereford to Chepstow. It celebrates nature, culture, landscape and life.
Things to do
The Welsh section of the Wye Valley AONB is a relatively small area, yet this little corner of Wales packs a big punch when it comes to keeping all age groups entertained. Centre to much of the activity is the River Wye of course, meandering in the AONB from Monmouth to Chepstow. It can seem there are two sides to the river's personality: on the one hand it offers serenity and hours can be spent in virtual silence on its banks watching wildlife, bird spotting, fishing, picnicking and snoozing; on the other, when you're in the mood for action and fun, it rises to the challenge and resounds to the sound of people splashing about in canoes, taking on its white water or taking their chances on questionably buoyant rafts.
Humble by Nature certainly adds to the area’s sparkle and offers a great range of courses and activities. Conceived by wildlife presenter Kate Humble, it’s an inspiring enterprise that hosts courses in rural skills and smallholding and has food and cookery pop-up events, too. For the aspiring smallholder there are few better places to learn about such things as hedge laying, animal husbandry, beekeeping, pig care or cider making. Opening hours are seasonal for the café, shop and adventure playground but you can do the courses or stay all year round. If a little of adventure is what you are seeking, check out Way2Go Adventures. You’ll be in good hands as you get to grips with canoeing, Nordic walking or geocaching and more. Their trips even include an overnight camp if you want and all ages and levels of fitness are managed well. Their motto is ‘get up, get out, get active’.
If you’re travelling in a group, perhaps an open canoe trip from Monmouth to Redbrook appeals? Half-day trips include tuition, instruction and safety advice. There are team-building-type activities if you fancy, too. Children 10 and above welcome. Whatever your levels of fitness, there’s a bit of the Offa’s Dyke Path to suit and you can’t really go home without exploring at least a little of it. The internationally renowned walking trail ambles through 177 miles of border country. Choose your spot from its length, which begins in Prestatyn and ends just beyond Chepstow, touching eight counties in between. From the Wye Valley AONB stretch, catch sight of Tintern Abbey from Devil's Pulpit, Redbrook, Kymin Hill and the 13th-century Monmow Bridge in Monmouth.
Getting to the Wye Valley by public transport
There is a good train service to Chepstow and, then, buses between Chepstow and Monmouth. Outside of bus routes, short taxi rides would link you with most places to stay, places to eat, attractions and recommended activities mentioned in this guide. To find taxi services for the main railway stations, see traintaxi.co.uk.
By rail : The closest railway station is Chepstow. For information and timetables call 08457 484950. Arriva Trains cover much of Wales and for ticket reservations call 0870 9000 773. If you have mobility issue and need special assistance call 033 300 50 501 or 0845 758 5469 (Textphone).
For train times and fares:
Tel: 03457 48 49 50 (24-hour National Rail Enquiries line)
Tel: 0345 60 40 500 (National Rail Enquiries Welsh Language)
Tel: 0345 60 50 600 (Textphone)
By coach and bus: There are nationwide coach services to and from Chepstow and Monmouth. Call 0871 781 8181. The National Express Disabled Persons Travel Helpline can be contacted on 0371 781 8181.
Further information for getting around the Wye Valley and Forest of Dean:
Ordnance Survey guides:
Map of Wye Valley: Explorer OL14
Map of Wye Valley & Forest of Dean: Landranger 162
For more idea of where to visit in the Wye Valley: Green Traveller’s Guide to the Wye Valley