The Wye Valley AONB: ‘If you have never navigated the Wye, you have seen nothing’

The Wye Valley is considered the 'birthplace of British tourism' — and it's not hard to see why, says Kate Green.

‘Few unprejudiced persons who have followed the course of the River Wye from Hereford to Chepstow will dispute the verdict that this is the most picturesque of all our English streams,’ wrote a Country Life columnist in 1936 (April 11). Four decades later in the magazine, (May 5, 1977), Sylvia Crowe described the Wye Valley as ‘a living museum of natural science and human history’ for the way in which the river has carved its path from the Welsh hills, uniting rugged gorges and limestone cliffs with tranquil pastures, in this ‘landscape of movement and surprise’.

The lower Wye Valley AONB — which earned its designation in 1971 — is considered the birthplace of tourism in Britain, with its striking beauty, romantic ruins and viewing spots, some sculpted in the Iron Age, enthralling 18th-century poets and artists. ‘If you have never navigated the Wye, you have seen nothing,’ wrote the Rev William Gilpin, artist and promoter of the Picturesque, in 1782.

What not to miss in the Wye Valley

Tintern Abbey

Gilpin’s contemporary and fellow tourist William Wordsworth might now be astonished at the waves of cars that bear visitors to Tintern Abbey. His emotional outpouring in verse after revisiting the 12th-century Cistercian abbey, a casualty of Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries, would suggest he had it to himself in the summer of 1798, as he wrote of its power to sustain him ‘in lonely rooms, and ’mid the din/Of towns and cities’.

Tintern Abbey is one of the highlights of the Wye Valley.


Wintour’s Leap

Wintour’s Leap is named for the Royalist Sir John Wintour, who reputedly scrambled down the cliffs in a desperate attempt to evade Parliamentarians in the Civil War.

The Devil’s Pulpit, overlooking Tintern Abbey on the Offa’s Dyke National Trail, is the vantage point from which the Devil legendarily goaded the toiling monks below.

The Eagle’s Nest

Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote that from Eagle’s Nest at Wyndcliff, the 365 steps to which were built for the Duke of Beaufort in 1828, ‘the whole world seem’d imaged in its vast circumference’. Reach it via the Piercefield Picturesque Walk, laid out by politician Valentine Morris, who can be credited for local road creation after telling Parliament: ‘We travel in ditches’.

Wildlife

Deer, wild boar, peregrine falcons, osprey, nightjars and kingfishers abound, but, as in many UK rivers, a stellar reputation for salmon has been dented — a ban on landing the noble fish was implemented in 2012.