The Wye Valley is situated on the border of England and Wales and is a Region of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Covering 45 miles and located south of Hereford, its landscape is one of the most picturesque in the UK. This was recognised in 1971 when it gained an AONB designation to become a protected area.
The Wye Valley is spread over three counties: Herefordshire, Gloucestershire and Monmouthshire. To the North lie the impressive Black Mountains which give way, as one travels south, to the softer rural valleys around Newport and Chepstow. In addition to tourism, agriculture remains an important industry in the area.
Through the landscape of streams and wooded hills, flows the River Wye, the fifth longest in the country. Its waters prove popular with water-sport enthusiasts, fisherman and pleasure-boaters.
The Wye Valley also proves a natural habitat for a range of rare animal and aquatic species such as the Horseshoe Bat and the Whitebeam – it has three, internationally recognised, Special Areas of Conservation. Read on as we take a look at some of the major Wye Valley visitor attractions and places of interest.
History and Culture
Tintern Abbey is one of the most impressive monastic ruins in the country and dates back to the 12th century. Standing three stories high and largely intact, it looks over the Wye Valley towards Symonds Yat.
The magnificent Goodrich Castle is also well-preserved and boasts a fine collection of medieval buildings as well as an excellent visitor centre, which features a small exhibition detailing the life and history of the Castle.
Chepstow Castle, overlooking the River Wye, is also worth visiting and dates from the mid-11th century – it is one of the oldest surviving examples of a stone fortification in Britain.
In addition to the Wye Valley visitor attractions mentioned above, there’s also a variety of water-sport activities – these can be arranged on the River Wye. The Monmouth Canoe Centre, hires out canoes and kayaks and also offers guided excursions around the region. Go Ape Adventure Course proves very popular and features a tree-top obstacle course consisting of ladders, tarzan swings and zip slides – pre-booking is essential.
A number of centres also provide horse-riding services, such as Llanthony Riding and Trekking at Court Farm – both short excursions and longer riding holidays can be arranged. Cycling also provides a novel way of exploring the region – cycle hire is widely available throughout the region.
Towns and Villages
As well as the many Wye Valley visitor attractions that we’ve look at, the Wye Valley also features a wonderful collection of towns and picturesque villages – from the historical intrigue of Chepstow to the quaint charm of market towns such as Hay-on-Wye. Here are a few highlights.
Chepstow is situated in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty on the border between England and Wales. Renowned for its magnificent Norman keep, the town was at one time a bustling port that specialised in timber.
Today, Chepstow has become a popular short break holiday destination thanks in part to its impressive castle. The well-preserved ruins are set on limestone cliffs which overlook the River Wye and are clearly visible for miles around.
As well as the famed Chepstow Castle, visitors will find a collection of historical and cultural attractions including Chepstow Museum. Housed in a Georgian townhouse, it features a treasure-trove of artefacts that reveal the eventful history of both the town and surrounding region.
Chepstow was at one time bounded by a large stone wall. Known as the Port Wall, it was constructed in the 13th century and comprised a large main gate and portcullis. Large sections of the wall remain intact and are open to the public.
In fact, the newly-restored Town Gate serves as an impressive gateway to the town’s main shopping area which is dominated by a vibrant collection of gift shops, specialist boutiques and antiques outlets.
Hay-on-Wye is a picturesque market town on the River Wye. Set within the Brecon Beacons National Park, it is known as the Town of Books and is also famous for its annual festival.
At one time a quiet location, Hay-on-Wye was transformed in the 1960s by one Richard George William Pitt Booth who purchased Hay Castle and declared the town his ‘independent kingdom’. The playful coronation resulted in increased publicity for the town and it hasn’t really looked back since.
As well as the large range of bookshops, of which there are well over 30, Hay-on-Wye has become famous for its annual festival. Established in 1988 and held in May, The Hay Festival of Arts is now one of the world’s premier literary celebrations and plays host to a wide variety of lectures, workshops, concerts and plays.
Hay-on-Wye is also a walker’s paradise given its proximity to the 8886-metre Pen-y-Fan. Offa’s Dyke Path is also nearby and wends its way some 170 miles from Sedbury Cliffs to Prestatyn. The River Wye is also well-suited to various aquatic activities including canoeing – a collection of hire centres can be found within the town.
Hereford is a cathedral city that serves as county town to Herefordshire. Set on the River Wye it dates back to Anglo-Saxon times and is around 15 miles from the border with Wales.
Hereford Cathedral is the town’s main visitor attraction and dates back to the 14th century. It boasts some of the most impressive Norman architecture in the UK including the newly-restored Lady Chapel and the 13th century shrine of St Thomas of Hereford.
The cathedral is also home to the award-winning Mappa Mundi – the magnificent medieval map of the world. The Chained Library Exhibition is another notable attraction and features various exhibitions, artefacts and displays which offer fascinating insights into the cathedral and famous map.
There’s also a variety of visitor attractions near Hereford. The neoclassical Berrington Hall is one of the most impressive and is open to the general public. Inside, visitors can explore the numerous family rooms as well as the original servant’s quarters.
Other local places to visit include the Hereford Cider Museum as well as the Waterworks Museum which features a collection of working turbines and pumps as well as a water park for kids.
Ledbury is another idyllic market town in the Wye Valley that’s set at the foot of the Malvern Hills. Like Hay-on-Wye, it plays host to a variety of literary events each year and is also well-known for its charming timber-framed buildings.
Dating back to the 16th century, these impressive structures can be found throughout Ledbury – Market House is perhaps one of the most impressive and can be found in the centre of town.
However, there are numerous others which are well worth seeing such as St. Michael and All Angels Church, the Painted Room and the Old Grammar School. Ledbury also hosts a variety of events each year. Its poetry festival, which is held in July is the most popular and features poetry readings, workshops and concerts.
The Butcher Row House Folk Museum is also a popular visitor attraction and displays Victorian Costumes as well as reproduction artefacts from the Battle of Ledbury.
The Ledbury Heritage Centre, which is housed in a half timber-framed structure is worth visiting too and exhibits various relics unearthed in around the town. The words of local poets, John Masefield and Elizabeth Barret-Browning are also on display.
Usk is another beautiful little town that’s about 10 miles from Newport. Overlooking the River Usk, it dates back to the Romans who built a large fort there between 55AD and 66AD.
Today, the town is particularly popular with UK holiday-makers as well as anglers – its river is one of the finest salmon fishing rivers in the entire country.
In addition, Usk is a regular winner of the Wales in Bloom competition – so regular in fact that it won 37 years in a row. There are numerous privately-kept gardens throughout the town that vividly illustrate its horticultural talents. Each year in June, some of these are opened to the public during the Open Gardens event.
Notable landmarks in the area include the ruins of Usk Castle which is situated above the town. Although in ruins, there remain numerous features such as the original dovecote tower. The castle also affords some wonderful views of the surrounding Wye Valley countryside.
Usk Rural Life Museum is another notable attraction which exhibits a bric-a-brac collection of farm tools and pre-industrial implements of the last 100 years. A popular cafe adjoins the museum serving hot and cold drinks as well as homemade cakes.
You can find out more about the major Wye Valley visitor attractions at the region’s official site: https://www.wyedeantourism.co.uk.
Thinking of a short break holiday in the Wye Valley? Have a look at our featured collection for some ideas!