Sunday morning saw us driving down the M5, destination Tintern in the Wye Valley. We had arranged to meet a Twitter friend, Béatrice from Zurich, the following day so we decided to make a night of it and pack in as much as we could during the two days we were to be away. Our first stop was to be Ross-on-Wye, a small market town in south eastern Herefordshire and close to the border with Wales. We wanted to look around this town and it made a convenient place for lunch. The beautiful market house is the focal point of the town and there are several quaint streets and interesting buildings. There was an art exhibition on the first floor of the market house, so we looked around that and admired the view of the surrounding streets from its windows. Another important building is St Mary’s church, a prominent landmark while approaching Ross; in the churchyard, there is a plague cross, a memorial to those struck down by the plague in the 17th century. Nearby, there is a belvedere giving commanding views of the Wye Valley, which made a good place for our picnic lunch.
Our next stop was the reasonably well preserved Goodrich Castle, just south of Ross, built by the Uncle of King Edward I in the 13th century around a Norman keep built in the 12th century. The castle eventually fell into ruin after being captured by the Parliamentarians in the English Civil War. The ruins are quite extensive and we climbed the Norman keep via a very narrow and dark spiral staircase to its roof. The views of the Wye Valley were extensive. We enjoyed sharing a cream scone at the tea room afterwards.
Symonds Yat rock is close by so this was the next logical place to visit. This is one of the region’s most celebrated viewpoints high above a wooded loop of the river Wye and is very easy of access. Peregrine falcons nest on the cliffs, but we weren’t fortunate enough to see any. However, the views alone were sufficient compensation.
From Symonds Yat in England it was a shortish drive to Tintern on the Welsh side of the Wye and our bed and breakfast accommodation at Parva Farmhouse. Tintern is located on one of the most scenic stretches of the river Wye and is well provided with cafes, pubs and places to stay. It was difficult to imagine that in the 1600s the area was heavily industrialised and a side valley from Tintern was the most industrialised area of South Wales making iron and wire in factories powered by water. Brass was alloyed from copper and zinc for the first time at Tintern. We went for a quick look at the abbey before returning for dinner at the Wye Valley Hotel across the road from our accommodation.
In contrast to the previous day’s sunshine, Monday started overcast and misty. I had time for a pre-breakfast run, which included going past the old station at Tintern closed along with other stations on the Wye Valley line from Chepstow to Monmouth in 1959; what a lovely train journey that must have been! The station is now a cafe and visitor centre and the old signal box is also still there.
After breakfast, we met Béatrice at the abbey and decided to do a walk before lunch, the weather by now starting to brighten up. This was 9/10 km long and took us up through the woods on the east side of the Wye to a viewpoint called the Devil’s Pulpit offering great views of the abbey below. It’s where the devil reputedly used to preach to the monks to try and persuade them to leave their order. Part of the route was on the Offa’s Dyke long distance footpath, which we left in order to descend back down through the woods to pick up an old railway trackbed back to Tintern. Then it was time for a light lunch at the Abbey Mill cafe.
After lunch, we went to look around the substantial abbey ruins. The abbey was founded by the Cistercian order in the 12th century and lasted until its dissolution under Henry VIII in the 16th century. The most impressive part of the ruins is undoubtedly the Gothic church, which is largely intact apart from its roof. Fortunately, the abbey was fairly quiet of visitors so it felt quite atmospheric.
By now, it was mid afternoon and time to visit Monmouth, one time county town of Monmouthshire. Its status as part of Wales was anomalous until being clarified and confirmed by a Local Government Act in the 1970s. It is about the same size as Ross, but I ended up preferring Monmouth. Its main feature is a long wide street leading from the 13th century bridge over the river Monnow to the handsome Agincourt Square. The bridge is unique in Britain in having a gate tower, used for collecting tolls and for the defence of the town, actually on the bridge itself. We said goodbye to Béatrice after tea and cake, then had another walk around the town before fish and chips and the drive home.