Weekends from Wye Valley YHA...
The southern end of the border between England and Wales is not only a political, but also a natural barrier, running down the middle of the River Wye as it nears the sea. Here, not only the river, but the high cliffs on either side and the woodlands crowding the steep slopes make this border country an ancient contested area, a land between kingdoms of Britons and Saxons, soon to become Welsh and English. This former region of suspicion and conflict is now recognised as one of the most beautiful river valleys in the country, protected for its history and its wildlife.
The River Wye itself runs over 130 miles from the centre of Wales to where it meets the sea in the Bristol channel. The Wye Valley, perhaps the best-known and most visited section, is the southern end where the valley deepens and the river loses itself in the mix of sandstone and limestone before emerging in one final meander to the sea. This stretch, normally seen as between Ross-on-Wye and Chepstow, is also where the long distance footpath of the Wye Trail runs right along the banks, allowing you to walk with the river as it slows to a gentle wide progression, as though admiring the valley it’s created.
As well as the Wye Valley Trail, which runs mostly on the western, Welsh, side of the river, walkers also have an excellent trail on the eastern English side in the form of the Offa’s Dyke Trail. This route, which follows the 8th century border earthwork, runs mostly at the high point of the valley side, giving walkers great views over the river and the surrounding woodlands. As well as these trails, there are plenty of other paths and rights of way through the nearby woods, also linking up with the adjacent Forest of Dean.
The entire lower valley is designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and is the only one which straddles England and Wales. It is a haven for various species, including the otter, and has seen a return of the rare bird of prey the peregrine falcon, which courses the sky like a dagger with wings. The woodlands that cover both sides most of the way down this stretch, and in some places for many miles beyond, were once the scenes of intense industry. Inhabited for at least 12,000 years, they have seen forestry, mining and agriculture. The woodlands used to provide wood for shipbuilding and for charcoal production, and though they have now been left to their ways for hundreds of years, these old uses are still evident when on walks to those who know what to look for.
The valley is somewhere walking is peaceful, where the pace of the river sets the tone and the semi-ancient woodlands the atmosphere, where nature is free to make it’s own decisions. As well as the many woodland paths, walkers can admire the natural crags of Symonds Yat or head down to the striking remains of the 12th century Tintern Abbey and the bastion of Chepstow Castle, the point at which the magic disappears and the Wye melts into the Severn.
Author: Alex Kendall
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