The picturesque lower Wye Valley has attracted tourists and walkers for at least 250 years. But 50 years ago it was officially designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). See the photo of Forgotten Valley, Newland, Wye.
It was of little surprise that the parts of the Wye Valley and the Forest of Dean were proposed by Lord Bledisloe and others in 1931 when the Government first considered setting up ‘National Parks and other similar areas in England and Wales’. However, it was not until 1971 when the 126 square miles of the Wye Valley, from Mordiford just east of Hereford down to Chepstow, were officially designated. Thus after 40 years of wrangling the 28th AONB came into being. It remains unique as the only cross-border Protected Landscape in the family of 13 National Parks and 46 AONBs in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland.
This outstanding landscape offers so much for walkers. There are the long-distance walks, including (probably the best) stretches of the Offa’s Dyke Path National Trail and the Wye Valley Walk, the start of the Wales Coast Path and Wysis Way, part of the Herefordshire Trail, and more. Hundreds of miles of footpaths, tracks, and lanes through ancient woodland, fertile farmland, or along the Wye lead to endless opportunities for tranquil walks and picturesque views. Many are promoted with printed or downloadable route guides and leaflets. The Walkers are Welcome towns of Chepstow and Ross-on-Wye, with also Coleford preparing to join, make planning and visiting even more pleasant. They lay on local Walking Festivals and organised walking groups regularly lead guided walks and step out throughout the year.
Anybody walking in the Wye Valley AONB is literally following in the footsteps of our ancestors. We know paleolithic hunter-gathers lived in the caves on The Doward. The iron age Silures tribes obviously found the dramatic topography of the Wye Valley outstanding for incorporating into their hill forts, likewise for King Offa with his Dyke builders and guards marching up and down the valley and the Norman lords building their castles and overseeing the locals. The Cistercian monks found the tranquility and productivity of the Wye Valley perfect for their second monastery in Britain (their first in Wales). The complex geology gave the area powerful streams, abundant forest, and copious minerals from which early industrialists forged the crucible of the industrial revolution, while on the rich red soils and fertile floodplain a wealth of crops and livestock grew, which could all be traded up and down the Wye. Meanwhile, artists and writers discovered picturesque, sublime, and romantic views in the Wye Valley from the mid-1700s onwards to this day.
If you haven’t visited the Wye Valley you are missing one of the nation’s most outstanding national landscapes. If you have been here before, you’ll know you have walked in mind & body with William Wordsworth, who wrote in 1798 ‘Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey, on Revisiting the Banks of the Wye During a Tour’
“O sylvan Wye! thou wanderer thro’ the woods,
How often has my spirit turned to thee!”