EX­PLORE… THE WYE VALLEY

Home to cider or­chards, pic­turesque wood­land and a rich history, this Area of Out­stand­ing Nat­u­ral Beauty is the per­fect place for an au­tumn es­cape

Country Living (UK) - - Contents - words by ruth chan­dler

Home to cider or­chards, beau­ti­ful wood­land and a rich history, this AONB is per­fect for an au­tumn es­cape

with its ser­pen­tine river, wooded hill­sides and the­atri­cal lime­stone gorge, it is lit­tle won­der that the Wye Valley is con­sid­ered to be the birth­place of Bri­tish tourism. In 1782, a pub­li­ca­tion by vicar and artist Rev­erend Wil­liam Gilpin cham­pi­oning the area and its pic­turesque qual­i­ties was adopted as a guide­book, in­spir­ing the Wye Tour and catch­ing the eye of both Wordsworth and Turner.

An Area of Out­stand­ing Nat­u­ral Beauty, Wye com­prises 128 square miles of low­land coun­try­side, tak­ing in two coun­tries, stretch­ing from just be­low the small walled city of Here­ford in Eng­land down to the town of Chep­stow in Mon­mouthshire and over the bor­der into Wales. In Oc­to­ber, it epit­o­mises Keats’ sea­son of mists and mel­low fruit­ful­ness, be­ing ap­ple and pear coun­try; with hazy veils hang­ing across the early morn­ing land­scape. Au­tumn’s colours sim­ply gild this al­ready uniquely beau­ti­ful place, which still has plenty to at­tract the mod­ern tourist more than 200 years af­ter the first vis­i­tors flocked here.

UN­DER­GROUND, OVER­GROUND

At Clear­well Caves (clear­well­caves.com), in the For­est of Dean, you can dis­cover the ancient art of iron min­ing, which has taken place here for mil­len­nia. As well as join­ing a tour, you can have a more ad­ven­tur­ous ex­pe­ri­ence at this work­ing mu­seum by clam­ber­ing, crawl­ing and scram­bling about the rocks and pas­sage­ways. If you’re keen to stretch your legs fur­ther, walk one of the myr­iad routes that take in the valley (wye­val­leyaonb.org.uk and wyedean­tourism. co.uk), in­clud­ing one 136-mile-long trek that guides you down the full length of the river from its source in the Welsh moun­tains to Chep­stow Cas­tle. The Wye Walker (wye­walker.com) sug­gests shorter cir­cu­lar ram­bles to en­joy along the way.

Pre­fer to travel on two wheels? Then try one of sev­eral tracks in the For­est of Dean, in­clud­ing the 11-mile fam­ily trail along a former rail­way line or a seven-mile loop with more chal­leng­ing ter­rain for moun­tain bik­ers. Fur­ther de­tails and bi­cy­cles for hire are avail­able through Pedal­abike­away (pedal­abike­away.co.uk).

Few pur­suits are more ro­man­tic than horserid­ing along tran­quil coun­try lanes or wood­land paths (try sev­ern­wy­ee­ques­trian.co.uk or greenacressta­bles.co.uk for pony trekking), al­though a pic­nic in the grounds of the awein­spir­ing me­dieval ruin of Tin­tern Abbey is hard to beat (search ‘Tin­tern Abbey’ at cadw.gov.wales).

LIQ­UID GOLD

In au­tumn, the Wye Valley is es­pe­cially rich in food and drink. Best known for ap­ple pro­duc­tion, the area still main­tains nu­mer­ous or­chards. In fact, Here­ford­shire makes more than half the cider con­sumed in the UK. It’s the lo­cal tip­ple of choice and you can drive a route that takes in some of the best small pro­duc­ers (visit here­ford­shire.co.uk/cider-route.aspx). Bor­der­ing this AONB

is the charm­ing vil­lage of Much Mar­cle, where the We­ston fam­ily have been mak­ing their fa­mous fer­mented ap­ple juices in a beau­ti­ful 400-year-old farm­house since 1880 (we­st­ons-cider.co.uk). Sam­ple their recipe on a tast­ing tour or choose from seven va­ri­eties in the Scrumpy House restau­rant (the menu here in­cludes fish and chips fea­tur­ing a cider-based bat­ter).

TOWN AND COUN­TRY

Among the Wye Valley’s best mar­ket towns is hand­some Ross-on-wye, built above the river on a hill. The spire of St Mary’s Church is so tall, it punc­tu­ates the sky­line for miles around. Spe­cial­ist shops in­clude Fritz Fryer (fritzfryer. co.uk), a stylish light­ing emporium, which sells an­tique chan­de­liers along with unique hand­blown con­tem­po­rary de­signs, while Field Fayre or­ganic deli (field-fayre.co.uk) has ev­ery­thing you need for the per­fect pic­nic, from ar­ti­san breads to lo­cally grown ap­ples.

Don’t miss the op­por­tu­nity to visit mod­ern rus­tic home store Bai­leys (bai­leyshome.com) in Brid­stow, near Ross, whose wares com­bine beauty and util­ity, and reg­u­larly fea­ture on the pages of CL. Fur­ther south is Mon­mouth, famed for its 11th-cen­tury cas­tle (search ‘Mon­mouth Cas­tle’ at cadw.gov.wales) – the birth­place of Henry V. It is teem­ing with in­de­pen­dent shops in­clud­ing green­gro­cer Mun­day & Jones (mun­dayand­jones­mon­mouth.co.uk), which sells eggs, cheese, ap­ple juice and honey from the area, and Green & Jenks (greenand­jenks.com) for ar­ti­san gelato made with Mon­mouthshire milk and Here­ford­shire fruit.

The area’s most beau­ti­ful vil­lages in­clude Brock­hamp­ton, with its stun­ning Arts and Crafts church, me­dieval manor house and farm (na­tion­al­trust.org.uk/brock­hamp­ton-es­tate), or Wool­hope, which is sur­rounded by a rocky land­scape stud­ded with fos­sils. (Search ‘Wool­hope’ at here­ford­shirewt.org to learn about the con­ser­va­tion project based here.)

WA­TER, WA­TER EV­ERY­WHERE

Make the most of the river, which varies from shal­low and sin­u­ous to deep and dra­matic with rapids flow­ing be­neath lime­stone gorges, and try a spot of ca­noe­ing (search ‘Wye Canoe?’ at gov.uk to find out more). You’ll be fol­low­ing in the foot­steps of the orig­i­nal Wye Tour, which took place in boats that fol­lowed this stretch of wa­ter. Look out for signs of ot­ters – their sweet-smelling drop­pings called spraint and large paw prints – and other wildlife on the banks (dis­cover more about canoe hire at ca­noethewye.co.uk and river­wye­ca­noe­hire.com).

The short wooded walk from the ham­let of Sy­monds Yat East to Sy­monds Yat Rock (search ‘Sy­monds Yat Rock’ at forestry.gov.uk) will re­ward you with stun­ning views of the wind­ing Wye – best taken in along­side a slice of homemade cake from the Log Cabin café (keep an eye out for the pere­grine fal­con that nests in neigh­bour­ing cliffs). For less ex­er­tion, along with the chance to see leap­ing sal­mon, take a cruise (see wye­val­l­ey­cruises.co.uk or click on ‘Ac­tiv­i­ties’ at wyenot.com).

LEFT The tran­quil lanes of Hewels­field in Glouces­ter­shire’s Wye Valley are per­fect for horserid­ing RIGHT Ad­mire the spec­tac­u­lar gorge from Sy­monds Yat Rock, a view­ing point on the bor­der of Wales and Eng­land, where you can also spot wildlife and birds of prey

ABOVE Enter the Na­tional Trust’s Lower Brock­hamp­ton Manor House through a tim­ber­framed gate­house BE­LOW St Mary’s Church in Ross-on-wye is seen from miles around

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