Still regarded as one of the most beautiful river landscapes in Britain, the Wye Valley is arguably the birthplace of the modern tourist industry. In 1745, John Egerton, who later became Bishop of Durham, started taking friends on boat trips down the valley from Ross-on-Wye. In 1782, the Reverend William Gilpin produced Observations on the River Wye, the first illustrated tour guide to be published in Britain. Some of the most famous poets, writers and artists of the day made the pilgrimage to the great sights – among them Coleridge, Thackeray, Wordsworth and Turner.
TINTERN ABBEY, SYMONDS YAT AND GOODRICH CASTLE
There can be few more sublime views than those of meandering River Wye from Symonds Yat Rock, as it wends its way through the pastoral landscape of the Wye Gorge. But man-made sights are just as impressive. To the south, where the river marks the line of the Welsh border, are the evocative ruins of Tintern Abbey, originally founded by the Cistercians in the 12th century then plundered by the commissioners of Henry VIII during the Dissolution of the Monasteries; and the sturdy Goodrich Castle begun in Norman times and a classic example of medieval castle evolution.
ROSS-ON-WYE, MONMOUTH AND HEREFORD
Ross-on-Wye is famous for the activities of philanthropist John Kyrle, otherwise known as the ‘Man of Ross’, Hay-on-Wye for its Literary Festival, and Monmouth as the birthplace of Henry V and the home of motoring and aviation pioneer, Charles Rolls. All make attractive stopovers on a journey along the river, with the Welsh border and the Black Mountains never far away. The city of Hereford is one of three cathedral cities that hosts the renowned Three Choirs Festival (the others being Worcester and Gloucester), and the impressive cathedral is also the repository for the Mappa Mundi, a medieval map of the world dating from the 13th century.
Smaller churches also have their treasures, including nearby Kilpeck church with its astonishingly well preserved carvings, and St Mary’s Church at Kempley with its superb 12th-century frescoes. The Arts and Crafts church at nearby Brockhampton is a wonderful fusion of various elements, from its thatched roof to tapestries by Edward Burne-Jones.