YHA St Briavels Castle is a venue with real 'wow' factor that will amaze and inspire visitors of…
The Wye Valley Walk is a 136-mile (218km) waymarked recreational trail that follows the course of the River Wye as it meanders its way between Plynlimon in mid-Wales to Chepstow on the banks of the River Severn. This walk takes in one of the most beautiful sections, full of historic interest, between Tintern Abbey and Chepstow.
Ranking alongside any of Britain’s most romantic ruins, Tintern Abbey was only the second Cistercian monastery founded in Britain and the first ever in Wales. Building works began in 1131 and continued on and off right up to its dissolution four centuries later. Its most captivating feature is its Gothic church. This was begun in 1269 and completed 32 years later. The lord of Chepstow Castle, Roger Bigod, rebuilt the church completely in the late 13th century. The monastery flourished, right up until 3 September 1536 when it was surrendered to Henry VIII and unceremoniously dissolved.
Built just a year or two after the Norman Conquest, Chepstow Castle provides an excellent schooling to anyone who wishes to learn about the development of stone castles in Britain. Unusually, the first castle was made of stone, not timber. One of William’s most trusted henchmen, William Fitz Osbern, had a keep constructed on a ridge above the river Wye. It is now Britain’s oldest surviving stone keep.
Around 1200, a bailey was added by William Marshall in what was then the new-fangled round style, which was less susceptible to damage by whatever missiles might be hurled at it. This innovation was followed up over the following century by the addition of various curtain walls, barbicans and gatehouses, vastly extending the castle until it dominated the entire ridge. Roger Bigod III then added a ‘D’ tower so strong that the castle was still fit to be used as a defensive position up until 1690 when, after it fell twice to the Roundheads during the War of Three Kingdoms, further adaptations had to be put in place to ward against cannon fire. Today, the castle is at last at peace and is well worth a visit as you come to the end of the walk.
The best way to join the Wye Valley Walk (WVW) from the abbey is to head out of the car park and keep straight ahead alongside the river bank on a drive that runs between houses, and then bear left past a converted church. This leads up to the main A466, where you’ll see two small lanes heading uphill opposite you. Take the left lane (as you look at them) and follow this uphill until it ends and you bear right up a stony track. Keep heading up through a canopy of beech trees until, after 0.5 miles (800m), you see a waymarker that directs you across a small stream on the left. Cross this and follow the narrow path up to a gate that leads on to an open hillside. Cross the field to another gate that takes you back into the wood.
Turn immediately right and the path now steepens and carries you up on to a narrow wooded ridge above Black Cliff. Bear left when it levels to climb steeply again, then continue for another 0.75 miles (1.2km) to a crossroads of paths. Keep straight ahead to continue above Wyndcliff to a fingerpost that directs you to the airy viewpoint of Eagle’s Nest. The river curls in a series of meanders and you should be able to see the limestone cliffs of Wintour’s Leap on the far bank. These are popular rock climbing crags and also mark the route of the Offa’s Dyke footpath, which runs along their tops. Head back up to the main path and continue to a car parking area, where you turn sharp left to go downhill, via a series of zig-zags, to the A466. Cross the road to another car parking area.
Keep right, parallel to the road, and locate the path, which at this stage is gravel and runs down into the wood next to a Wye Valley Walk information board. The gravel soon gives way to leaf litter and beechnuts and the noise of the road is quickly left behind as you delve deeper into the wood. After a short and particularly rough section of path, you’ll find yourself heading long a narrow terrace above the steep-sided valley. In common with most deciduous woods, there’s plenty to capture the imagination at any time of the year, but it’s certainly at its best when bathed in the rustic colours of autumn, or in spring when the forest floor is carpeted with flowers and the trees ring with the sound of birdsong. You’ll pass behind Piercefield Park and duck into a short, claustrophobic tunnel cut into the rock. Ignore the path off to the right shortly afterwards and continue to a junction with another track, where you turn right then drop to the left of this.
viewpoint by a bench marks the end of the woodland section of the walk and from here, a set of steps leads up to a gap in a wall. Go through and follow the path as it leads behind a leisure centre and out to a car park. Turn left on to the main road and follow it downhill to a narrow park opposite a turning called St Kingsmark Avenue. Turn left on to the waymarked footpath and pass the castle on your left. The Great Tower Keep was built by the Normans in 1067, just one year after the Battle of Hastings. Take time to have a look around and then turn right by the tourist information centre to emerge on Bridge Street.
Turn right to climb up through the High Street to the bus station, from where you can catch a bus back to the start. The number 69 bus runs roughly once an hour on weekdays between Chepstow and Tintern.
Excellent, waymarked forest tracks and paths
Steep-sided wooded valleys
Care needed on main roads; dogs not allowed in abbey or castle
OS Explorer OL14 Wye Valley & Forest of Dean
Pay-and-display car park at Tintern Abbey
Car park at start of walk and near Chepstow Castle
WALKING IN SAFETY
Read our tips to look after yourself and the environment when following this walk.
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About the area
In their bid to control the borderlands of Monmouthshire – also known as the Marches – the Normans built a triangle of castles: Grosmont, Skenfrith and White. At first, they were simple wooden structures strengthened by earthworks, but when the lively Welsh refused to stop attacking them, it was decided more permanent fortresses were needed. All three are worth a visit and the views from the battlements at White Castle over the surrounding countryside to the Black Mountains are stunning, as is all the scenery in this area – consisting of a patchwork of low hills, hidden valleys, fields criss-crossed with hedgerows and small belts of woodland.
Monmouth itself makes a great base to explore the beautiful Wye Valley, as well as being known as the home of Rockfield Studios, where Queen recorded Bohemian Rhapsody in 1975. The largest town in the county, Abergavenny is creating a name for itself as the foodie capital of the Usk Valley, and has held a weekly cattle market on the same site since 1863. Its location just six miles from the English border means it’s often described as the ‘gateway to Wales’.
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