Day 1 – Wye Valley Walk Chepstow to Monmouth

The border town of Chepstow is a familiar jump-off point for me having already walked Offa’s Dyke and the Gloucestershire Way though for once I was not crossing the iron bridge over the River Wye to Gloucestershire, instead  I was remaining  firmly in Wales.

The Wye Valley Walk takes you past the massive entrance to Chepstow’s medieval castle ruins and alongside its landward flanking wall, giving a fair idea of the extent of this powerful fortress.

There is a stone commemorating the start (or finish) of the path in a community orchard as a picture opportunity and then there is the steady pull uphill towards the road at the top of town.

This was my first walk after the Covid-19 lockdown and it felt a little strange to be out once again. Along the path to the road, there was a ‘snake’ of painted stones which people had contributed to, some bearing the ‘stay safe’ message and support for the NHS, others carrying the Welsh flag design, some made to look like insects or children’s TV characters – a charming addition to the street scene.

At the road, you turn right and begin to leave the town behind you, turning right again at the leisure centre and then finding a gap into woodland. Navigating was fine, as it was all day, the Wye Valley Walk is very well signposted here and I barely used the map for much of that first day.

My target was the 16-odd miles to Monmouth, though many choose to split that over two days to take advantage of good accommodation options at Tintern or Redbrook.

The path passes through Alcove Wood, typical of the terrain in this early stage

Giant’s Cave, an early 19th Century tourist attraction!

The viewpoint at Giant’s Cave offers a rare glimpse of the River Wye on this early stage, which follows a route high up the heavily wooded valley

The opening couple of hours was almost entirely in woodland, first Alcove Wood and then Pierce Wood, the cry of gulls on the Severn Estuary being quickly replaced by the ‘hoo-hoo’ of a wood pigeon and the chatter of woodland birds.

The River Wye can be sensed rather than seen as you walk high along the valley, unseen too was Chepstow Racecourse a short distance to the left though I should imagine on race day the cries from the grandstand would be clear enough.

All was quiet today though, I had started early and the British weather was playing its cards close to its chest with regard to its intentions. I knew it would be hot later but forecasts differed on whether the sky would clear and it would be baking, or if it would remained lowered and offer a violent summer thunderstorm.

For the moment though, I was delighted with the cool of the woodland and the breeze through the trees as I trudged towards Giant’s Cave, the first of the day’s landmarks. A small cave, the path crosses right through it, emerging through a small rough-cut exit at the back. A signboard carried an excerpt from a travel guide of 1821 paying tribute to its creator, who also thoughtfully provided a balcony point giving the first real view of the River Wye far below.

The river is tidal and this low down carries the mud and silt of the Severn Estuary. It moves sluggishly and its banks are like liquid chocolate, a far cry from the dancing, sparkling babble we will walk along later in the day.

I was greatly taken by the map names on this section – Lover’s Leap, The Temple, Apostles Rock – and there was something faintly magical about the quiet as the path returned again to woodland before climbing slightly to Wyndcliff Wood, a popular stopping point with a car park and signposted circular walks.

One promised Eagles Nest and a fine viewpoint, which I sadly contrived to miss as I strode along. I was making better time than I thought and it came as a shock to realise where I was when the woodland suddenly ended in an open field on the heights above Tintern.

The gaunt ruins of Tintern Abbey, immortalised by the poet William Wordsworth, have been a magnet for tourist for centuries

A rustically charming signpost on the hill before the descent into Tintern

The woodlands around Wyndcliff are faintly magical

It was a steep path down, probably a little tricky in wet weather, but some two hours and twenty minutes after leaving Chepstow, I had the ruins of Tintern Abbey in front of me.

These iconic ruins on the banks of the River Wye are an extremely popular tourist attraction and after the quiet of the morning, Tintern was a really bustling place. The road here is busy, the car parks were full and there was the happy babble of tourists together with the smell of chips and tempting adverts for bacon butties.

I drifted with everyone else for a while and enjoyed the Sunday atmosphere but I couldn’t linger. The path follows the road, which is not peaceful but soon you turn down by the church to pick up the loop of the river bank, which is lovely.

It brings you to Tintern Old Station, which is a favourite spot for families, with its railway carriage, tea room in the old station and the signal box. I was sorely tempted by tea and a slice of cake but managed to muster the discipline to push on to nearby Brockweir Bridge and from there, up into the woods again towards Botany Bay.

Although there is nothing particular to point out, I enjoyed this section, the walking is pleasant, the path easy and I was suddenly making good time again as I hit Bargain Wood, another popular picnic spot.

The smell of a barbecue made up my mind to an early stop for lunch and there are three viewpoints just beyond the car park, where a comfortable bench and a nice outlook made for a welcome rest and regroup.

A circle of woodcarvings celebrate figures from Welsh history & legend at Tintern Old Station

Tintern Old Station is a lovely spot and popular with families, not least because of its cafe

The signal box at Tintern Old Station

Having not walked for some time, I was starting to feel it in my legs as I resumed past Llandogo and onto the long trudge downhill towards Whitebrook. I knew things would be easier when I got to the riverbank and I was very pleased to see the sparkle of water at last and hear the laughter and splashing from day-tripping canoeists, a popular pastime on this stretch of the river.

The walking was now simple, flat along the bank and ticking off the miles until Redbrook suddenly hove into sight and I faced the terrible, terrible temptation of The Boat pub. I love The Boat and by now the sun was starting to break through properly, making the prospect of a cooling pint of cider terribly attractive.

However, I knew that if I sat down now, I would not want to get up again and with a heavy heart I crossed the old railway bridge and tried not to think about the distance to Monmouth which lay ahead.

The path at Redbrook follows the road for a short section and it is a busy and fast stretch so walkers need to take some care. However, it is not long before you are dropping onto the riverbank again and, despite my post-Boat mopes, it is actually not far to Monmouth though the sun was by now blazing down out of a clear blue sky.

There are some lovely little shingle spots as you draw close to Monmouth where you can take a break right by the river if you wish though I pushed on to the final bend, which runs along the back of the Monmouth School cricket field, where there was a match in progress.

Up and over the bridge, crossing the A40 via the subway and you are in Monmouth at last – I managed a pint in Agincourt Square, I felt I had earned it …

The river between Redbrook and Monmouth, sparkles and flows freely, the Severn estuary mud left far behind in Chepstow

The Boat at Redbrook, the path crosses the river here on an old railway bridge taking you into the village itself

The sun was belting down by the time I spied the pedestrian bridge over the Wye on the approaches to Monmouth