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
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.
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).
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