Know Before You Go Covid-19: Please check UK Government guidelines for England and Wales, as well as attraction and producer openings, before you embark on either of these Wye Valley canoe trips.
250 years ago, Anglican cleric and English watercolour artist, Rev. William Gilpin, took a boat tour down the River Wye which culminated in the publication of his book, ‘Observations on the River Wye and Several Parts of South Wales’.
It was the first travel guide book in history and proved extremely popular with its late 18th-century readers who were being kept out of Europe by the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars. Instead, travellers began roaming the wild landscapes of Britain and came in their droves to follow in Gilpin’s paddle strokes. Amongst these early tourists were the artists, Turner and Coleridge, and the poet, William Wordsworth.
What is the Wye Tour?
The original ‘Wye Tour’, as Gilpin’s route was known, was a two-day boat trip along the river from Ross-on-Wye to Chepstow – travelling from Ross to Monmouth on day one and, on day two, from Monmouth to Chepstow (where the River Wye ends and joins the River Severn). The tour had a fixed route and set places to stay and eat along the way, making it one of the first ‘package holidays’.
Romantic sights, landing spots and places to stay
To this day, one of the best ways to experience the same picturesque Wye Valley settings and romantic locations is on a Wye River canoeing trip. Although you can’t travel the whole of Gilpin’s Wye route on an organised boat tour today, you can build your own adventure by doing sections of it by canoe or kayak – either on your own (if you’re an experienced paddler) or by signing-up to a half day or full day guided canoe trip with one of the many brilliant canoe and kayaking outdoor companies in the region.
If you fancy trying a Wye River canoeing weekend in the spirit of Gilpin’s Wye Tour (once lockdown lifts), here are two routes that take you to the sights and spots loved by many of England’s writers, artists and poets of Gilpin’s time. And introduce you to some of the region’s best food and drink producers you’ll encounter along the way.
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Wye River Canoeing | Route 1:
Ross-on-Wye > Goodridge Castle > Symonds Yat Rock > Monmouth
Start Here: Back in the day, Ross-on-Wye was the start of the Wye Tour. It’s here that the 18th century jetset would board their pleasure boat for the Wye River trip, embarking at the town dock in front of the Hope and Anchor Inn. This historic market town has commanding views over the River Wye as it meanders through the countryside towards Goodridge Castle.
Launch 100m downstream of the Hope and Anchor Pub, no permission required.
Along the route, you’ll pass under Wilton Bridge. Wilton Castle was one of the first romantic ruins the tourists passed and you can see it from the riverside footpath near Wilton Bridge. Continue south down the Wye Valley, twisting and turning through the countryside, until your next romantic spot melts into view, Goodrich Castle.
See This: Goodrich Castle was the first grand scene on Gilpin’s Wye Tour and was considered by Gilpin to be ‘correctly picturesque’. Picturesque was a movement in art during the 18th and 19th century which meant, literally, a scene which would make a painting. The term came to be used outside of the context of art and painting, and applied to landscapes with certain aesthetic ‘rules’.
Admire the view of the castle from the river, as the early Wye Tour visitors did. If you fancy seeing the castle up close, it’s open to visitors (but you’ll need to double check Covid-19 restrictions). Get to it just off the A40, signposted with brown castle signs.
Pic credit: Visit Monmouthshire/Wye Dean Tourism
Visit This: As you follow the sweep of the river Symonds Yat Rock viewpoint comes into view, noticeable by its flagpole. Symonds Yat Rock is an internationally famous viewpoint sitting high about the River Wye, popular with tourists who come for the magnificent views and with ornithologists who come to watch peregrine falcons nesting nearby at Coldwell Rocks.
On the Wye Tour, many tourists left their boats to climb up to the Symonds Yat Rock, Gilpin’s second grand scene on the Wye, then scrambled down the east side of the rock. You’ll find landing at Ye Olde Ferrie Inne on the right bank of Symonds Yat West.
Pic credit: Wye Dean Tourism
Stay Here: Mad Dogs and Vintage Vans, is a retro glamping site a couple of miles outside of Ross-of-Wye set in a beautiful meadow with lots of open space. Open for group bookings from 4th July, it’s a great base for a Wye Valley canoeing adventure with friends or family.
White House on Wye Glamping, north of Ross-on-Wye, is a dog-friendly site with your own private access to the Wye River. Choose from 5 luxury tipis, tucked away in an apple orchard on a working farm, complete with everything you need for a long Wye Valley weekend.
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Wye River Canoeing | Route 2:
Monmouth > Whitestone > Tintern Abbey > Chepstow
Start here: Monmouth in Wales was the half way point on the Wye Tour, many visitors choosing the hotels and inns in the town’s Agincourt Square as lodgings for the night. With its ancient walls and fortified bridges, it’s a market town with all the picturesque qualities you want from the birthplace of modern-day sight-seeing.
You can get on the Wye River at Monmouth by taking the second set of steps on the right immediately downstream of rowing club, by the car park – just a short walk from town. No permission required.
Below Monmouth the Wye flows past several rural villages which were important industrial settlements in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Pic credit: Crown Copyright – Visit Wales
Visit this: As well as exploring Monmouth town, you might like to visit The Kymin – 9 acres of grounds overlooking the valley. On top of The Kymin is the Naval Temple, where Lord Nelson enjoyed a ‘handsome’ breakfast when he visited Monmouth in 1802.
The ‘round house’, as it is known locally, is a 2-storey Georgian banqueting house, built during the Picturesque movement when it was fashionable to have summerhouses at sites with spectacular views. Other excursions loved by the Wye tourists were to the nearby ‘romantic ruins’ of Raglan Castle and Llanthony Abbey.
Do This: The Whitestone area of the Wye Valley is a beautiful woodland area of mature oaks and beeches, overlooking the Tintern and the Wye Valley below. It’s near here that William Wordsworth wrote ‘Lines composed a few miles above Tintern Abbey’ in 1789. Head up to Whitestone for the magnificent views and be sure to catch a glimpse of the dramatic Cleddon Falls when you do.
Pic credit: Visit Monmouthshire/Wye Dean Tourism
See this: Tintern Abbey was built by Cistercian monks in 1131 and was the architectural highlight of the Wye Tour. Tintern slowly turned into a majestic ruin during the first round of Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1536, after which it lay forgotten until its second heyday as a tourist attraction in the 18th century.
Visitors would arrive on their boats, picnic hampers in hand. In 1792 they were joined by English romantic painter, JMW Turner, who sketched the ruins during the visit, his first proper trip to Wales.
Please note: This section of the Wye River down to Tintern Abbey is tidal and should only be paddled by experienced paddlers.
Pic credit: Crown Copyright – Visit Wales
End here: Follow the lower Wye River as it snakes down towards Chepstow, the highlight and end of the Wye Tour. The landing place in Chepstow is on the right just under the first bridge.
It’s in Chepstow that you’ll find the ruins of Wales’ first stone-built castle: Chepstow Castle. Beautifully preserved, it still inspires artists today as it did back in the 18th century when Turner and Wordsworth paid it a visit.
Across the road from the Castle is Chepstow Museum, filled with prints, paintings and engravings by artists who took the Tour.
Pic credit: Crown Copyright – Visit Wales/Visit Monmouthshire
Stay Here: Hidden Valley Yurts in Chepstow is set in a flower-filled south-face meadow with views to the west and the Welsh Hills. All 5 Mongolian yurts are fully-furnished and insulated, and each sits on its own wooden deck. Sleeps up to 7 people.
Hudnalls Hideout is the UK’s first A-framed timber treehouse, made for especially for adults. It’s perched deep in the heart of the Wye Valley Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in Gloucestershire in two acres of private woodland at St Briavels Common near Tintern who appreciate the finer things in life.
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Wye River Canoeing
Must-Try Local Food & Drink
Wye Valley Gin, made at the Silver Circle Distillery in the beautiful Monmouthshire village of Catbrook. Wye Valley Gin is the distillery’s first and signature product, inspired by the lush woodland and meadow walks that crisscross the valley.
White Castle Vineyard wine. White Castle Vineyard is a Welsh vineyard near Abergavenny and Monmouth, owned and run by Robb and Nicola Merchant. They produce a number of red and white wines, and also run tours and tasting (when the vineyard is open).
For a local morning pick-me-up, if you’re camping en route, try Kontext Coffee. Roasted in Ganarew, on the border between Monmouthshire and Herefordshire, Kontext prides itself on its sustainably source, speciality graded coffee.
Parva Spices is another local producer worth checking out. They handcraft a range of Great Taste-winning hot sauces, sambals, spice blends and curry powders using only natural ingredients. Based in Tintern, Monmouthshire.
Canoeing done? Then crack open a beer from award-winning Welsh brewery, Tiny Rebel, from Newport. Vibrant, funky and modern, Tiny Rebel offer many mouth-watering craft recipes (we love the Rhubarb and Custard Sour) just the thing after a Wye river canoeing trip.
If you prefer cider to beer, choose Orchards award-winning traditionally crafted cider and perry. It’s produced in the village of Brockweir using cider apples and perry pears from Gloucestershire and Monmouthshire
Breakfast in the Wye Valley has to be thickly spread with jam from The Preservation Society. Based in Chepstow and founded by Angharad, who grew up on a Welsh farm, they make award-winning preserves using local seasonal ingredients.
Wye Valley Meadery based in Chepstow create a refreshing twist on the world’s oldest alcohol. Blended with hops, ginger, elderflower, or rhubarb, their mead is light, sparkling and refreshingly delicious.
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