As we launch our Green Traveller's Guide to the Wye Valley, Jackie King picks out a selection of local visitor attractions in this glorious Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
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 views that remain largely unchanged. Breweries keep alive the nine-centuries-old tradition of creating world-class drinks from local barley, wheat and fruit.
High up, take in the sweep of the Wye river that seems to almost double back on itself before it heads out towards the Severn. Valentine Morris, who owned Piercefield House, had a strong appreciation of the pleasure of finding stunning viewpoints on walks and he constructed many paths through the woods here to those on day trips. Coleridge described a view from the cliff tops as "the whole world imaged in its vast circumference". There are two approaches... one strenuous one up the 365 steps from the Lower Wyndcliff car park or a gentler approach from the Upper Wyndcliff car park on the A466. It's a richly wooded walk and detailed instructions are given at: wyevalleyaonb.org.uk/wyetour/content-21316.php
The National Trust looks after The Kymin's little Georgian folly and from up here there is a stupendous view of Wales. The roundhouse was built by The Monmouth Picnic Club in 1794 to provide a space for gentlemen who wanted a private dining spot. You may see Sugarloaf and the Brecon Beacons' highest point, Pen y Fan. There's also a unique Naval Temple, built to honour the almighty achievements of Britain's navy. In 1802 Nelson himself visited and was mightily impressed with the tribute to him and to 15 of his fellow admirals. nationaltrust.org.uk/the-kymin
Wyndcliffe Court Gardens
Manicured, sunken and formal gardens and woodland walks to explore. The grounds are studded with engaging artwork; exhibitions of contemporary sculpture are held here every year. The gardens were created by H. Avray Tipping, who was great friends with the garden designer Gertrude Jekyll. Open at weekends from Easter to September, at Wyndcliff you'll find a tea room serving cakes and light meals with seating in the Ballroom or on the terrace or loggia. High up, the views from Wyndcliff are extensive and take in the Bristol Channel. wyndcliffecourt.com
Harold's Stones at Trellech
Trellech comes from the words for 'three' and 'flat stone' and these leaning stones are thought to be part of a larger family of standing stones. There is plenty of folklore surrounding their age - bronze age? - and reason for being here: one that a giant flung them here and another that they mark the spot where three tribe leaders fell in battle. The village is a conservation area and has been extensively researched and explored by archaeologists. The nearby 14th-century St Nicholas church is Grade 1 listed; the waters of Trellech's Virtuous Well were believed to have curative powers.
There's an enduring majesty and beauty about Chepstow Castle, standing protectively over the River Wye. Its 800-year-old doors are record-breaking and are the oldest castle doors in Europe. They no longer hang at the entrance but now form part of an exhibition inside. The castle teeters on a cliff top ridge and it has been added to and modified many times since its construction begun in 1067 or thereabouts by William Fitz-Osbern, a friend of William the Conquerer. Chepstow was one of Britain's first stone-built strongholds. www.cadw.gov.wales/visit/places-to-visit/chepstow-castle
Wye Valley River Festival
Almost like a carnival that floats down the River Wye, from Hereford to Chepstow, the much-loved and very new festival takes place over two weeks from the end of April. Andrew Blake from the Wye Valley AONB office says “We are celebrating nature, culture, landscape and life along the river with exciting arts and performances that illuminate myriad issues regarding water use, the health of our river environment and our connections to river citizens across the globe.” www.facebook.com/wyevalleyriverfestival
Nelson Museum at the Monmouth Museum
Horatio Nelson hailed from Norfolk, yet Monmouth is where you’ll find the most fascinating memorabilia about the Admiral. Especially poignant is the collection of personal letters to his wife; of interest to children will be his own fighting sword, the swords of defeated naval commanders and a forgery of his glass eye! monmouthshire.gov.uk/things-to-do/monmouth-museum
Discover the rich history of ancient Chepstow here. Lining the walls of the elegant 18th-century town house are photos, paintings, prints and posters that speak of the town’s trade in timber, shipbuilding and wine. The building was once a Red Cross Hospital for soldiers in the first World War and, until recently, was the area’s district hospital. monmouthshire.gov.uk/things-to-do/chepstow-museum
They say their beer is “unfiltered, uncompromised and unashamedly real”. And hordes of fans concur that Abbey Ale, Kingstone Gold Fine and Humpty’s Fuddle all live up to that promise, as do their five other ales. Brewing in this area of the Wye Valley has happened since the 12th century when local monks kicked off the tradition. Take a tour of the brewery or try your hand at making it yourself. Ales are on sale at the Meadow Farm Shop next door. kingstonebrewery.co.uk
Parva Farm Vineyard
The hugely popular wines produced here have won many awards, among them a gold for the 2013 Parva Bacchus at the Welsh National Wine Competition in 2015. Bravo Judith and Colin Dudley, who run the vineyard and tend the 4,500 vines. They’re open all year for visiting and you can tour the vineyard and try the fruits of their labours. The shop sells mead, cider, perry, honey, preserves and plants as well as wine. Come in Spring to feed the lambs. parvafarm.com
In a super setting, and on the original mill site of Tintern Abbey, find gift shops selling products from members of the Wye Valley Craft Association, including jewellery, handbags, Welsh love spoons, pottery and prints. Stop for a morning refuel, lunch or afternoon tea if you are on the Wye Valley Walk. Children will love to spot the trout in ponds near the waterfall. abbeymill.com