Day 2 – Wye Valley Walk Monmouth to Ross-on-Wye

It was a snap decision to walk driven by a sudden burst of summer sun when the season had been sliding inexorably into autumn over the previous few weeks.

My reward was a simply fabulous day’s walking in a very beautiful part of the Wye Valley, with warmth on my shoulders and a cooling breeze on my face, the perfect combination as the season turns.

Most people split today’s walk into two, stopping at either Symonds Yat or Kerne Bridge, where there are excellent accommodation options plus the chance to do some sight-seeing, but I pressed on with thoughts of a pint at the King’s Head in Ross-on-Wye to keep me going on a fairly long stretch.

I was aided by the terrain, which was very level for the vast majority of the day as the route hugged the River Wye, making the walking easy and quick.

Leaving Monmouth at the underpass on the busy A40, I immediately passed Monmouth Rowing Club, which looks a terrific facility for rowers, as I picked up the riverbank. The A40 is a steady companion on this first stretch and the hiss of traffic provided an odd backdrop to the river, which flows wide and silent, drifting along without any apparent hurry at all.

I quickly passed Dixton Church, a fine example of a rustic medieval whitewashed church which crops up around the area, notably at Llangattock Lingoed on Offa’s Dyke. Somewhere were steps to the old ferry crossing and once as many people would have arrived by boat (including the vicar) as would have walked to worship. That is, of course, when the church was not flooded by the river …

On the hillside in the distance stood Newton Court, a mansion completed in 1802, and I tried to imagine the view from it as I strode along, with only the swans on the river for company. I saw lots of swans today, gliding serenely on the gentle current, occasionally presenting their rather large bottoms as they ducked underwater in search of food!

Another fine house presented itself, Wyastone Leys, built in the Victorian era and now a noted venue for classical concerts, but for the walker it offers another attraction in that the river bends away from the A40 and you soon start to leave the traffic noise far behind and can enjoy the river in peace.

Looking back from Monmouth Rowing Club towards the bridge by the A40, a fine view of the wide river

Level and easy walking, the majority of today’s route is a breeze

Dixton Church is an early landmark and there is a signboard with information about its interesting history

The next landmark is Biblins Bridge, which brought back to me the distress of last spring when severe flooding of the River Wye caused terrible damage to the riverside communities, notably the carrying away of the old suspension bridge at Biblins.

Credit to the authorities for such a quick and sturdy replacement and I was able to cross and pick up the wide, graded path which would carry me all the way to Symonds Yat.

I had hardly seen anyone so far but after Biblins there was a sudden burst of activity with walkers, runners, dog-walkers and canoeists all suddenly appearing. As well as being exceptionally beautiful, Symonds Yat is a centre for outdoor activities and even for a Thursday morning slightly out of season, there was the beginnings of a buzz about the path.

The river had suddenly seemed to wake up too and instead of the wide, slow glide I had got used to, it started to narrow and bubble culminating in a set of rapids festooned with slalom gates, Symonds Yat being a centre for British canoeing.

Suddenly I was in the narrow riverside street of Symonds Yat East passing first the Royal Lodge and then the Saracens Head Inn, both popular accommodation points for the Wye Valley Walk. There is a thriving canoe hire business operating on the edge of the village and I traipsed through the car park to pick up the path along the river once again before turning inland at the ferry point for Symonds Yat West.

Here we separate briefly from the river, taking the narrow road out of the village and striking slightly uphill along a very pleasant trackway around Huntsman Hill.

The sight of Biblin’s Bridge provided a reminder of the power of the River Wye, its predecessor having been carried away during flooding only a few months earlier

The spring of the suspension bridge as you cross, with a good picture opportunity of the river halfway over

The character of the River Wye changes near Symonds Yat, becoming rockier and more fast flowing, as on this section near the canoe slalom course

A word now on navigation because, inexplicably, the signage on this second day ranged from non-existent to poor and it would really help you to have a paper map. Following the river for much of the day makes it pretty easy but there are places where a map is more than handy because the signage simply cannot be relied upon.

Dropping down out of Elliot’s Wood beyond Symonds Yat, you are suddenly alongside the river again at Coldwell Rocks and, beyond that, a long stretch of open field, which was simply beautiful in the strong late morning sunshine.

The river is wide again here and I regretted that it was too early to stop for lunch as the soft grass and the lovely view up the valley simply begs you to take a seat and relax.

However, on I ploughed and reached a rather curious factory site, where I crossed the river once again via an industrial-looking bridge.

On the other side was a reminder that this is border country, fought over endlessly by our medieval forebears – behind me was English Bicknor and I now walked past Welsh Bicknor, where the bells of the splendidly Italianate parish church struck noon.

I had set my heart on lunch at Kerne Bridge as my legs were starting to feel the distance and my tummy grumbled. However, it is a long sweep of the river round to Kerne Bridge and it was over an hour before I got a welcome glimpse of its sturdy stone pillars.

Goodrich Castle is not far and is an option for people staying at the Inn on the Wye but I crossed the bridge and found a rather pleasant covered wooden bus stop to sit in and eat my lunch, looking at posters advertising events at Monmouth’s theatres and some of the village’s social activities – you got a real sense of community.

Blue sky and a cooling breeze, a simply stunning day for enjoying the Wye Valley just beyond Symonds Yat

The river divides English Bicknor and Welsh Bicknor – this is border country!

The Italianate church of St Margaret’s at Welsh Bicknor

For the first time today, I then found myself on a proper uphill tread as the path picks its way between some of the houses clinging to the hillside above Kerne Bridge. Again the map came in useful here as I kissed the road below Leys Hill and then turned into countryside towards Bull’s Hill and then Howle Hill.

It is a pleasant if not exceptional section and coloured by the sight of Chase Wood with its narrow band of contour lines on the map coupled with my now aching legs.

Chase Wood was duly everything it promised to be, a very vertical and fairly lengthy uphill section which was a real test at the end of a long day. I was rescued by some early wild blackberries which gave me the boost to force my legs those extra yards and I emerged at a three-way split in the path at the top.

Again, the signposting was lacking but I met another small group of walkers who told me to take the middle one and from there it was downhill through Merrivale Wood and the outskirts of Ross-on-Wye – where I got lost.

I kid you not, I have been coming to Ross for decades, it is only 15 minutes from my house, but it was an unfamiliar part of town and for neither love nor money could I find the road to the centre. A single sign led me in one direction and then abandoned me and I ended up wandering around for something like half an hour before I got my reference point (completely off the path) and enjoyed a tour of the industrial estate and household waste site en-route to the town itself.

The King’s Head was a beacon of hope and I sank gratefully into a deep armchair in one of its bars, which is set up like a country house library, with a cool pint of cider – a fine end to a simply wonderful day’s walking!

The impressive span of Kerne Bridge

The reward for the first uphill of the day beyond Kerne Bridge are some lovely views towards Ross-on-Wye

The Market House in Ross-on-Wye is a fine focal point for an exceptionally beautiful town