Wye Valley Walk

Of all the long-distance walking routes in Wales the 136 mile Wye Valley Walk (WVW) must rank as one of the gentlest.  If you’ve done Offa’s Dyke and the Wales Coast Path you’ll find it a doddle.   There are few big ascents, and some stages are virtually flat.

There are differences, though, between the southern and northern halves of the Walk (most people do the WVW from south to north).  The first is pastoral, and much of it passes through gentle Herefordshire.  The second is exclusively Welsh, and its finale is through wild upland on the edge of Pumlumon in the Cambrian Mountains.

C., M. and I completed the southern half in September 2021, taking seven days to walk from Chepstow to Hereford.  We were joined by two ‘guestwalkers’ for four of the days.  The second half C and I did in early May 2022, this time with a total of eight guestwalkers. We took thirteen days in all; stronger and younger walkers could reduce this number with ease.

The WVW passes through many villages, but you need to be careful about supplies of food and drink: the decline in the number of villages shops and pubs (and pub opening hours) means that it’s essential to plan ahead.   Accommodation is still plentiful, at least in the southern half. We cheated by using Celtic Trails to organise our itinerary, accommodation and luggage transfer; they were, as ever, excellent.

One of the attractions of the WVW is its variety of terrain.  Sometimes it follows the river across plains, at other times it’s high above, or it deviates on to hills.  It has a particular liking for woods.  Most of it follows paths or bridleways, but there’s some use of minor roads (often a relief).  Sometimes, after rain, the going is harder thanks to mud and greasy stones under foot, especially in woodland.

For 250 years the Wye has enjoyed the reputation of being one of the most scenic rivers in Britain, and justly so.  But the river itself has fallen on hard times.  Sewage discharges and phosphates from agriculture, especially from the rash of chicken farms that have spring up in recent years, have led to a steep decline in water quality.  In summer algae stifle many species.  Fish, especially salmon, are becoming rarer and rarer every year.  Fewer birds and other riverine animals can survive.  Many ecologists now regard the problem as an emergency.  It’s certainly obvious enough to the passing walker, especially if you talk to anglers on the banks.

Navigation is usually reasonably easy, but on occasion it can be tricky.  We used a combination of OS Explorer map (on a phone app, which helpfully includes a ‘red arrow’ to indicate your position), guidebook and signs (fingerposts and roundels) on the ground.  Sometimes, even using all three, we went wrong.  The only comprehensive guidebook, produced by the Wye Valley Walk Partnership, uses inadequate maps and is often imprecise and sometimes unclearly written.  The WVW logo, which features a leaping salmon, is poorly designed, and is hard to spot, even close up. Signposting is variable, and posts are often missing altogether when you’re in a quandary and unsure which way to go.

You’re unlikely to meet very many fellow WVW walkers (at least, long-distance ones).  We walked for many miles without seeing anyone.  If you like peace and solitude it’s an ideal route for you.

A note on reading 

I took two books with me to read on Stage 1.  Drooping eyelids in the evenings meant that neither was finished before the end of the trip.  One was Penelope Fitzgerald’s novel At Freddies (1982).  Fitzgerald, who never wrote the same book twice, has the sharpest and most economical of styles, and always leaves plenty to the reader.  The other book was a late work by Jan Morris, Trieste and the meaning of nowhere (2001).  It’s not necessary to have been to Trieste to appreciate it.  In fact, I suspect it’s best not to.  Short chapters examine different aspects of this strange, hallucinatory place.  The final one is an elegiac farewell, to Trieste, to travelling and to life.

Stage 2 was more tiring, and the eyelids drooped even more quickly, though I did read some of the chapters in the excellent collection Welsh [plural]: essays on the future of Wales. The only purchase was a guide to Llangurig Church, which takes a very generous line on the Normans and their church regime.

The Wye Valley Walk day-by-day

Day 1: Chepstow to Llandogo
Tuesday 14 September 2021

Day 2: Llandogo to Symonds Yat
Wednesday 15 September 2021

Day 3: Symonds Yat to Ross-on Wye
Thursday 16 September 2021

Day 4: Ross-on Wye to Fownhope
Friday 17 September 2021

Day 5: Fownhope to Hereford
Saturday 18 September 2021

Day 6: Hereford to Monnington-on-Wye
Sunday 19 September 2021

Day 7: Monnington-on-Wye to Hay-on-Wye
Monday 20 September 2021

Day 8: Hay-on-Wye to Broughrood
Wednesday 4 May 2022

Day 9: Boughrood to Builth Wells
Thursday 5 May 2022

Day 10: Builth Wells to Newbridge-on-Wye
Friday 6 May 2022

Day 11: Newbridge-on-Wye to Rhayader
Saturday 7 May 2022

Day 12: Rhayader to Llangurig
Sunday 8 May 2022

Day 13: Llangurig to Rhyd-y-benwch
Monday 9 May 2022