Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Wye Valley Walk Monmouth - Chepstow

Monmouth Viaduct
One of these days I shall complete the whole of the Wye Valley Walk from Plynlimon to Chepstow along what is perhaps the most scenic of all rivers in England and Wales.  I have completed the sections from Hereford to Chepstow although sadly no photographs exist for the section north of Monmouth and I shall once again make the pilgrimage (perhaps as part of the full 12 day walk!).
Monmouth Wreck

However, the section from Monmouth to Chepstow is definitely worth doing in its own right and makes for a great walk at any time of year.  On the day I completed this section it was a cold February day, starting grey and after a few bouts of snow it became very sunny for awhile before heading back into terminal greyness as I approached Chepstow.  One of the best parts about this stretch of the walk is that you are never too far away from the Wye Valley bus route, which runs 7 days a week even during the winter months.  It means that if you struggle to complete the 16 miles the bus will pick up the pieces (although be warned – there are only 4 return journeys on a Sunday).
River Wye

I had stayed the night in Monmouth and as I was anxious about making an early start, I set off walking from there rather than getting the bus to the beginning as is my normal preference.  It was a Sunday morning and as a result the first bus was quite late in the morning and I knew that would mean the possibility of it getting dark before finishing otherwise.  It did mean that I had Monmouth pretty much to myself at this fairly early hour, since most sensible people would have been having a leisurely breakfast or even a lie-in!
Redbrook Bridge

I immediately crossed the Wye using the A466 bridge and headed out across that most Welsh of leisure facilities, a set of rugby pitches.  A little further on at the confluence of the River Monmow, the remains of two viaducts that once carried railway lines from Ross-on-Wye and Chepstow into Monmouth Troy station, stand guard over the river like monuments to a lost railway empire.  The path continues around a sewage works, not the nicest of introductions to the day!  On such a grey morning the fields looked very muddy and the river was swollen and full of sediment.  I couldn’t help but notice an abandoned vehicle in the middle of one of the fields, partially burned out and creating a pollution hazard to the hapless farmer owning the land, a visual nuisance to passers-by and a logistical headache to anyone tasked with removing the old heap.  Looking at the field it must have been quite a journey to get down here for the nearest road was a good few hundred metres away.
February Mud

Around the next meander loop I was once again joined by the A466 and every so often the sound of the wind through the trees and the bubbling water below me was punctuated by the sound of the odd car passing by.  Luckily on a fairly cold and inhospitable day there wasn’t much traffic about.  As I approached Redbrook, I was heartened to see some blue sky and suddenly the sun came beaming through, completely transforming the scene.  I began to think that I had made the right choice continuing as I had contemplated earlier not bothering and heading home early.
Wye Overview

At Redbrook I was reunited with the disused railway line, which would once have had a station hereabouts although now completely obliterated by road improvements.  Despite the disappointment of the station having disappeared there was a treat in store as the path crosses the river courtesy of a footbridge still attached to the substantial former rail bridge that once made the same crossing.  On the other side of the river I passed by a very attractive looking pub that was once apparently served by another station on this side of the river (now also disappeared).  For the next three miles the walk continues along the old trackbed of the railway line, which makes for very easy walking.  Unfortunately the sunshine which had greeted me earlier had now disappeared once again and the clouds above looked very threatening.  By the time I got to the site of Whitebrook Halt (also now gone) I feared the worst as far as the weather was concerned.  Within seconds the heavens opened and the shower that ensued was a wintry mixture of snow, sleet and hail all within the space of a few minutes, making my surroundings completely white very quickly.
Classic Wye View

Luckily the precipitation didn’t last long and from here I was faced with a complete change of pace as the path left the nice easy disused railway path and climbed steeply out of the valley.  To be honest it felt good to get some climbing done after the 5 mile or so warm up I had had sauntering along the river valley.  It was good to get a complete change of scenery and I hoped that I would get some views from up top.
Frog Spawn

When I eventually reached the top of the hill at Cuckoo Wood what I was actually greeted with was a sea of mud which was quite hard work.  Nevertheless with the sun out once again it was a delightful stretch and the woods smelled very earthy and wet.  There were signs of spring coming too, with camellias out in bloom, snowdrops in flower and I even spotted some frog spawn in a puddle (which hopefully won’t dry the poor blighters out before they’ve even hatched!).  I crossed a road high above Llandogo and could hear the rushing sound of Cleddon Falls below me.  I then continued on to Bargain Wood where now and again I got some fantastic views across the valley, when gaps in the trees allowed.
White Bridge

At the southern end of Bargain Wood I started coming across other walkers and even families, tempted out by the sunshine.  I wasn’t wholly in favour of this as I had enjoyed the solitude offered so far.  However, I soon left these people behind as they seemed to restrict themselves around a small area near the forest car park.  At the intriguingly named Botany Bay, the path started to head back down into the valley, gently at first but eventually pretty steeply as I got towards the bottom.  I crossed the A466 and reunited with the trackbed once again.  From here it was a short walk down to Tintern old station, where I used the opportunity for a sit down and a spot of lunch.  I didn’t hang around too long this time (see the walk at … for more details of Tintern Station).  I continued along the trackbed until it comes to an abrupt halt where the bridge once crossed the Wye but is now missing.  At this point I left the trackbed for the last time and headed along the banks of the Wye once again into Tintern village, a good mile away from the station.
Tintern Signal Box

Tintern itself was pretty quiet, which was pleasing since the path continues along the side of the road through the village.  Before getting to the famous abbey, I left the main road and headed up out of the valley once again.  The only view of the abbey was a brief glimpse as I headed out behind one of the hotels overlooking the old place.  Eventually the road ran out and I found myself climbing slowly up a fairly dank and dark valley to Limekiln Wood and then up on to Black Cliff.  The woods at the top were completely deserted and a joy to walk through, although strangely quiet as most of the birds I assumed had hunkered down out of the cold.  One of the most enjoyable aspects to this stretch of the walk were the odd glimpses of view that I got across the wider countryside and the valley below.  Eventually I reached Wyndcliff and stood and gazed out at the fantastic view from the wonderfully named Eagles Nest.  From here the mouth of the Wye can be seen where it meets the Severn, together with the Severn crossings and across into England beyond.
Approaching Chepstow

From Wyndcliff the path then negotiates 365 steps down to a lower level on the valley sides.  It’s a deceptively long way from here to Chepstow through the woods and by now the weather had closed in once again.  Despite the proximity of Chepstow racecourse on a piece of flat land above the path, it is like a different world walking through the woods.  This is a most interesting stretch of the walk full of fairly derelict features such as grottoes and viewpoints, which apparently formed part of a landscaped walk around the grounds of Piercefield Hall (see http://www.dyfedarchaeology.org.uk/projects/piercefieldreport.pdf).   These apparently are subject to some improvements being carried out, which will no doubt raise their profile considerably  (see http://www.wyevalleyaonb.org.uk/pages/projects/ChepstowProjects.pdf.pdf for details).  Knowing that I was up against time, I rather skipped through this section but have made a mental note to return one day and pay proper attention.  I was very aware that I would face a two hour wait if I missed the next bus back to Monmouth so hot footed it the last mile or so to make sure I wasn’t stranded!  As it happened I just made it and my five hour walk to get here was reduced to a half hour journey back on the bus.
Chepstow Castle

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