Riverside birdwatching without wellingtons
RISING IN THE Black Mountains, the Monnow, for much of its 40-mile length, delineates the border between England and Wales, before merging with the Wye at Monmouth. A remarkable feature close to the end its journey and easily found at the lower end of Monnow Street is Monnow Bridge, one of only two remaining fortified river bridges in Great Britain. Built in 1272, it was probably ineffective in defensive terms but jolly useful both as a means of collecting tolls and as a good place for annual battles between those who lived in the main town and those on the outskirts. The bridge is an excellent location for a walk downstream towards the confluence with the much larger River Wye. One surprise is passing an information board with a picture of an elephant standing in the river! One escaped from a circus at the Monmouth Mop Fair in 1930 and enjoyed several hours paddling before recapture. Immediately upstream of the town, the minor road northwards from the suburb of Osbeston runs close to the Monnow where the weir and old mill race provide good feeding opportunities for Dipper, Grey Wagtail and Kingfisher. Further upstream, look out for Little Grebes which can be extremely elusive, spending, it seems, more time below the surface than above. Mandarins have nested on the Lower Monnow while Goosanders are present in winter, especially at the confluence with the Wye, where there is a Cormorant roost. Swifts, Swallows, House and Sand Martins which all nest hereabouts enliven any walk along the river bank. Look upwards for soaring Buzzards, Red Kites and Ravens.