In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries anyone travelling around England would take in the romance and picturesque country of the Wye Valley.
Thousands of intrepid travellers would make the treacherous journey up to the charming town of Hay on Wye where they would spend a day or two admiring the scenery before hiring a boat and then spend a week or more gently floating downstream stopping off to admire the views and hostelries on the way.
Very little has changed to this day. The boats still float downstream although nowadays they are Canadian canoes instead of sail-powered dinghies. The towns and hostelries are still there, although Hereford is not as equipped as it was to shelter boats overnight. This should not staop you from wanting to linger along the cloisters of Hereford’s ancient cathedral, which houses the Mappa Mundi, a middle-age world map made from the hide of a single bull. The cathedral also houses a priceless collection of books stored in the chained library. When the books were created they were too valuable just to leave lying around so the scribes bound chains into the spines and there they still are today.
To the east of Hereford and downstream of Hereford town centre is Rotherwas Chapel. Originally the chapel belong to the Bodenham family (who had a nearby village named after them) and has its roots in the middle ages but has had bits added to it during the Elizabethan era as well as the Victorian.
Slightly further down stream the Wye meets up with the Lugg just south of Mordiford. Now Mordiford had a legendary Worm, or dragon. This sort of worm had scales, breathed fire and had wings. It didn’t live in the soil but made its home in the woods surrounding the village and preyed on the villagers until it was slain by a brave knight.
The Wye now starts to turn meandering into a speciality. The village of Hoarwithy is worth a mention for a couple of reason, one is the New Harp Inn, which serves up fine food, and cider; and also because it has an extraordinary church. It is constructed in an Italianate style with loads of marble, lapis lazuli, mosaics and a gilt roof above the alter. It was also used as a film set for an Italian Horror film.
Moving on downstream it is worth stopping off at the two bridges at Sellack Boat and Foy. These bridges were erected late in the nineteenth century to ease the journey for people going to and from the church at Sellack. You can have great fun jumping up and down on the planks of the bridges so that they bounce. But the favourite aspect for me is that the bridges have nuts on the straining wires so they can be adjusted.
No much further downstream is the market town of Ross-on-Wye. For today’s canoeists the best place to stop is the river front of The White Lion pub and hotel. In summer you can enjoy a nice pint of Broome Farm Cider on the river bank and watch the otters as they frolic in the river. There are also plenty of Kingfishers, if you can spot them as they streak from one tree to another.
The town has its own theatre, weekly market and contentious one-way traffic system.
Moving you follow the noisy A40 road into Wales for a few miles before heading off to Goodrich and one of the first border castles.
This land was always being fought over by either the Welsh or the English and today there are two villages that sit on opposite sides of one of the borders; one is named English Bicknor, the other Welsh Bicknor.
Symonds Yat is the nest popular spot for stopping off to walk up Yat Rock to catch a glimpse of yet another of the wildlife stars, the Peregrine Falcons that nest in the steep cliffs. Be warned that from now on in you are entering land that now harbours wild boar. These are big animals, easily weighing in at 250Kg, with tusks and an attitude, so keep clear.
The next town downstream is Monmouth, birthplace of Henry IV and Sir Henry Rolls of the Rolls Royce partnership. Monmouth is a delightful town, though the river runs a little too near the A40 again to make it a god place to make camp.
The river now turns from going southwest to south and passes through some of the best scenery. Unfortunately there is a road that accompanies the river down to Chepstow but it is not as bad as the A40.
A must see is the ruined abbey at Tintern. The Abbey was built by Cistercian monks and must have been an amazing sight when it was first constructed in 1131. It underwent a rebuild between 1270 and 1301 with the inclusion of flowing drains and a large infirmary for the sick and old monks.
From here on the river is tidal and should only be navigated by those who know what they are doing. It was for this reason that Tintern was the end of the journey for most travellers. Should you wish to carry on to the sea then leave the canoe behind and get a bus to Chepstow. The town was a strategic point as it guarded the confluence of the Wye and the Severn. The castle is a huge affair and has been added to over the centuries. For film buffs Chepstow Castle was used as the backdrop for the Terry Gilliam film Jaberwocky.
Well there you have it, a potted guide to the Wye valley. Well worth a vist at any time of year; I hope to see you there.