With her Welsh sheep­dog Teg, Kate Hum­ble ex­plores the length of the Wye Val­ley, trekking from the river’s source to Tin­tern Abbey

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Kate Hum­ble ex­plores the length of the Wye Val­ley from source to her home near Chep­stow in the com­pany of Teg.

I’ve lived in an old stone farm­house perched above the Wye Val­ley and the ru­ins of Tin­tern Abbey longer than any­where else since I left home at 18. This is my 10th year here, so to cel­e­brate I de­cided to go for a walk.

The Wye Val­ley Walk runs 136 miles be­tween Hafren For­est in Mid Wales to

Chep­stow, on the English border. Most peo­ple choose to walk from Chep­stow and my guide­book de­scribes the walk from this di­rec­tion, but I wanted to do it the other way around and walk from the source to home.

Mid Wales is of­ten over­looked. It doesn’t have the dra­matic scenery of Snow­do­nia or the beauty of the Pembrokeshire coast, but I love this ru­ral part of Wales with its rolling hills, small farms and gruff hos­pi­tal­ity. So to­gether with my Welsh sheep­dog Teg and a ruck­sack full of socks and dog food, I trav­elled to Llan­gurig, the lit­tle vil­lage near­est the start of the Wye.

In the vil­lage pub I joined a group of men at the bar. They were lo­cal farm­ers, wear­ing checked shirts and hold­ing pint glasses in gnarled, hard-work­ing hands. There was


lots of ban­ter and teas­ing. “What are you do­ing here?” they asked and when I told them, one man of­fered to give me a lift to

Rhayader, a day and half’s walk away. “I can’t do that! That’s cheat­ing!” “Well then, you’ll be need­ing more of this,” replied an­other, pulling me a pint of cider. A third man, Dai, told me that he owned the source of the Wye. “It rises on a hill on my farm, so you’ll be walk­ing across my land tomorrow. How long will it take you to get back to Tin­tern?”

“I’m plan­ning to do it in nine days,” I said. “Although my nav­i­ga­tion skills aren’t bril­liant. My hus­band said he’d be sur­prised if I was home within a month…”


The next morn­ing, as Teg and I got out of the taxi at the start of the route, I stood lis­ten­ing to the sound of the re­treat­ing en­gine and sud­denly felt a bit ap­pre­hen­sive. Rain was fall­ing, cloud hung low, we were com­pletely alone and my phone had no sig­nal.

Teg, on the other hand, had no such qualms, and raced off down a path marked ‘walks this way’. So I buck­led up my ruck­sack and fol­lowed.

An hour or so later, go­ing through a gate on to an open hill­side, I heard the sound of a quad bike. “You made it this far with­out get­ting lost!” It’s Dai, the man who owns the land where the Wye rises. “Just thought I’d check to see if you are do­ing OK. Sorry the weather’s not great. You’ll see a path a bit fur­ther along this track that takes you to where you can get a view of the source of the Wye, but you won’t see a thing today. Good luck!” And with that he was gone, swal­lowed up by the cloud.

That small act of kind­ness made my ap­pre­hen­sion dis­ap­pear. I was re­as­sured that if any­thing did hap­pen to us – if we got lost, for in­stance – there would be some­one who would help, be­cause that’s just what peo­ple do around here.

We took a short de­tour across Dai’s hill­side to find the Wye’s source. There were any num­ber of boggy patches and lit­tle river­lets that could have been it, but if there was any sort of sign mark­ing the spot, it was ob­scured by the mist.

We re­turned to the main route, eas­ily nav­i­ga­ble here, but not in any­way beau­ti­ful. It fol­lowed a gravel road (which is used by a lo­cal rally driv­ing cen­tre) through a rather bar­ren and sod­den land­scape. At this point, the River Wye was just a nar­row stream trick­ling along be­low me. But af­ter a cou­ple of hours we crossed a main road and

fol­lowed the way­mark over a bridge and into the woods where my spir­its were lifted.


For three days we walked the paths, lanes and hills of Mid Wales. And as my hus­band pre­dicted, we got lost. Or rather we lost the path – nu­mer­ous times – although never dis­as­trously.

The Wye Val­ley Walk isn’t a na­tional trail, like Offa’s Dyke or the Pen­nine Way. It de­vel­oped as a col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween three lo­cal au­thor­i­ties and the Wye Val­ley AONB (a feat in it­self) and there isn’t the fund­ing to keep the route reg­u­larly main­tained. Some way­marks are miss­ing; oth­ers are so faded that they’re un­read­able or have been swal­lowed up by the un­der­growth. Paths, par­tic­u­larly in the early sum­mer, are of­ten over­grown. But the odd wrong turn and bram­ble scratch is a small price to pay for some truly lovely and var­ied walk­ing.

The route doesn’t stick be­side the river, but of­ten climbs away from it, pro­vid­ing a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive on the un­fold­ing land­scapes that are fre­quently, and some­times lit­er­ally, breath­tak­ing. The birdlife was, too – red kites, the bird syn­ony­mous with this part of Wales, wheeled above us; chif­fchaffs called from the woods; newly fledged swal­lows skimmed low over the river in for­ma­tion like tiny fighter jets; and the hedgerows were full of wrens and red­starts.

The first day we walked over 18 miles and camped in a field, af­ter get­ting per­mis­sion from the kind farmer who owned it. It was next to a stream and the only sounds were the evening bird­song and wa­ter bab­bling over stones, lulling us to sleep.

Hav­ing a Wales of a time: Teg and Kate ad­mire the view BE­LOW A red kite – the un­of­fi­cial bird of Wales – glides over the Wye

ABOVE Higher up­stream, the river winds its way through forested hill­sides of the Wye Val­ley

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