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Wye Valley Tour

Introduction bits
Welcome to the Wye Valley Railway
Full History
Abridged History
Location Maps
How would we re-open it?
Main Scheme
Part 1: Wye Valley Junction to Netherhope
Part 2: Tidenham Tunnel
Part 3: Tintern Quarry to Tintern
Part 4: Tintern Station
Part 5: Brockweir to St Briavels
Part 6: St Briavels to Redbrook
Part 7: Wyesham to Monmouth
Part 8: Signalling
Part 9: Rolling Stock
Part 10: Imagine the Journey
Local Entertainment
Does that picture really show that?
From Rags to Power
Other pages on this topic
Of Roads, Railways and Cycleways
Frequently Asked Questions
The Railway
Interesting snippets of history
The originally proposed alignment
Getting money off ex-directors
Completing the Railway
Social and economic effect of building culverts
Later Wye Valley Railtours
Remains of the route
It really is 50 years ago...
The Abandoned Wye Valley Railways
The Area
Wye Valley Journey
Brockweir Bridge: Dibden v Skirrow
Wye Valley Railway Menu

While the Wye Valley as a whole is beautiful (possibly except for some of its wetter bits) for all its journey from Plynlimon to the mouth at Chepstow, what is normally defined as the Wye Valley is the thirty mile long section from Ross to Chepstow, leading through rugged gorges and thick woodland out of the busy streets of Ross, round long bends past the slightly industrial village of Lydbrook and a nearby factory, past Symonds Yat, through picturesque Monmouth, past Redbrook, former home of a little tinplate works, around Tintern and its Abbey, and then through gorgeous valleys and signs of quarrying to Chepstow Castle and Chepstow itself before pouring into the Severn estuary. Throughout, there is one constant developed to a degree not seen elsewhere: magnificent, incredible, natural beauty. The whole valley has the air of one river – the Wye.

At Ross on Wye the Wye leaves a direct North-west to South-East route that would bring it into the Severn near Gloucester and turns South, curving as it strikes the rock on which Ross-on-Wye is built. From here it slips smoothly onwards in the green fields which it has left just enough room for up to this point. From here the Wye will leave less room for other developments, and for much of the rest of its course it will care only for itself. We follow the journey from the point of view of a boat or log following the Wye.

Upon turning south, we pass between green fields in a relatively unpopulated area where the Wye flows quickly southward. The valley is broad and merges into the surrounding countryside. We move from Gloucestershire to Herefordshire as soon as we leave Ross, but there is no immediate change in scenery.

The Wye runs through fields at the bottom of its sloping valley, winding slightly and running practically on the level. Several surrounding fields lie under plastic tunnels to protect their crop, which is mostly strawberries. The railway from Ross to Monmouth – closed in 1959 to passengers and in late 1964 to freight – joins us along here as it drops down the hill from the former station behind Ross-on-Wye.

The change comes rapidly though. We pass under Kerne Bridge – now the last crossing place for about 3 miles – and the old railway station of the same name – now a private house. Goodrich Castle stands on a hill to the west. To the east is the Forest of Dean. The river curves swiftly round to the left, slightly north of east, passes the site of the old Ross and Monmouth railway bridge, and runs past some caravans forming temporary housing which looks permanent on the left. The railway dived into the large hill on the right, which has Welsh Bicknor at its peak. Now we share the valley solely with the road. After about a mile and a half, we round a curve, and sweep southwards and to the southwest as we pass Lydbrook.

Lydbrook is on the left as we head downstream, an attractive little industrial town served by a mixture of very minor roads – none classified – practically from nowhere. The Severn and Wye Railway built a branch to here, amounting to a little single track line which spanned the Lydbrook valley on a large three-span viaduct at the mouth of the valley where it meets the Wye – the second most impressive structure on the Severn and Wye network after a bridge over the river Severn, but now long demolished. The railway provided stations at Upper Lydbrook and Lower Lydbrook from its opening in 1875, but traffic was never healthy, and what remained of the limited service had faded by 1956. Passenger trains ended in 1929. Lydbrook still presents a reasonably healthy image however.

A short distance downstream the Ross and Monmouth Railway bursts back out of the hill and passes the Edison and Swann Wireworks which, after keeping rail traffic going from here to Ross until 1964, now attempts to look derelict, despite expansion since then. A set of marks on the wall advertise flood heights over the years, taking the Wye about 20 feet above normal at best, and the viaduct remains intact as the sole place to cross the Wye between Kerne Bridge and Symonds Yat. The junction between the Ross and Monmouth and the Severn and Wye Railway has gone forever, and the site is now an industrial factory in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by fields and the Wye.

The river and railway join forces from here, even if now only an abandoned trackbed keeps the river company as the countryside grows more impressive and ever more beautiful. There is little habitation for miles, there are few roads, the hills steepen, and the fields are quiet, inhabited only by a few herds of cows.

This is one of the more lovely spots in the country, and people have died proving its beauty. Many years ago in the 19th century a Portuguese boy came in summer with his family – a relatively well-off group with four children. The boy went for a swim in the "treacherous stream", flowing smoothly and beautifully onwards – however good his swimming was, it was not good enough to save him. He was drowned – a memorial marks the spot, conveniently sited just where people will decide that a swim is a good idea hereabouts.

The Wye sweeps onwards, and the east bank rises into an abrupt cliff – the railway sweeps around the bottom, a scratch on the riverbank. Then it plunges into a tunnel as the Wye curves onwards, now heading north, albeit briefly.

The river sweeps into an enormous meander around Symonds Yat rock, but things even out briefly and a more gentle landscape appears around the river as it curves south, under another road bridge. There is only one bridge left between here and Monmouth – Monmouth is seven miles away.

The river, after a brief respite, returns to the bottom of the Symonds Yat rock, with the former station almost overhanging the river. A little island sits in the middle of the river while we sweep onwards, first westwards, but turning south to Monmouth. A footbridge crosses the river and paths go along both banks here – one on the bank (west) and one on the old railway (east).

The trees end a few miles south of Symonds Yat as the landscape becomes gentle enough for cultivation. Fields begin to cover both banks, though now with some crop growth as well as animals. A road of sorts appears on the east bank as we leave the woods – a narrow lane heading for Monmouth. It will link up the various farmhouses along the way and compete with the railway for limited space.

The A40/A449 found a quicker, more hilly route over the top and sweeps down to join us as we finally return to a southwards course. The valley narrows slightly and returns to being wooded. We cross the border, leaving England and Herefordshire and entering Wales and Monmouthshire.

The narrow form does not last long as the west side widens out to allow for the confluence of the Wye and the Monnow. This leaves enough room for the county town of Monmouthshire, Monmouth, to lie on the rolling landscape, facing down at the Wye and standing above the Monnow. The riverfront is dominated by the fast road. An industrial estate sits on the old railway and the station of Monmouth (May Hill). A canoe launching/landing point is on the right. The A466, carrying traffic for the Forest of Dean and the Lower Wye Valley, crosses us on a stone bridge. The next road bridge is 6 miles away at Bigsweir. Monmouth Boys' School sits beyond the road on the right, attempting to appear unperturbed by all the noise.

The river rapidly leaves the road, moving east to a confuence with the Monnow, under the Ross and Monmouth Railway and then past the old Wye Valley Railway viaduct. Above us on the left is Wyesham and the Kymin while on the right the Wye Valley and Ross and Monmouth Railways meet under the Gibraltar Rock in Monmouth (Troy) station – closed to all rail traffic for over 40 years. The Rock is bored under by the Coleford, Monmouth, Usk and Pontypool Railway as it proceeds to Pontypool and also by the dual carriageway as it heads south to Newport.

Shortly after the hillside on the left becomes steeped and more wooded again while the gentler slopes of the right bank are taken over by agriculture. The Trothy also eases in from the west in a small, easily missed confluence.

After this point the Wye enters a more steep-sided valley – while the west bank remains more easily graded than the east, it is not gently-sloping by any means. Penallt is visible three-quarters of the way up the hill, and we proceed onwards to Redbrook. The west bank is mostly given over to large green fields. From the bottom, the east bank has the river, the Wye Valley Walk, the A466 en-route to Chepstow, the Wye Valley Railway, the steeply ascending Coleford branch (both dismantled) and a few paths on top of the hill, including the Offa's Dyke Footpath. These, and a few stray deer, are all hidden behind trees.

Formerly the industrial centre of this part of the valley, Redbrook is now an attractive village built around several ruined tinplate works. One of the roads into this village (of which there are only four, and one doesn't go very far) has an old incline dropping over it; a lane from here has some kilns on one side, and until recently there were several abandoned buildings at the southern end of the village – however, the place is expanding steadily and these were pulled down to make way for more pleasing housing. While not a supporter of wanton destruction of everything in sight of no further immediate use, Redbrook does not advertise its past with guided tours, and makes use of the incline bridge and surrounding trees overhanging the A466 to impose a height limit of about 11' 6" on all things passing through – it is, therefore, not plagued by juggernauts and tourist coaches, but is a pain to move to. The English-Welsh border joins the river here, resulting in the west side of the river being in Wales from now on. So is the most northerly house in the village, by virtue of the fact that the border does not bother with going around the outskirts of the place.

The Wye Valley Railway crosses the Wye, skirts around the roof of the Boat Inn, and vanishes into the trees. We move into another section of the valley with thick tree growth on both sides, with the A466 at the bottom of the hill on the east side, the Wye Valley Railway on the west side, now in the form of a track, and a few roads and houses on the west side of the valley. The Wye heads south to Whitebrook.

Whitebrook is located on a small tributary which joins just before the Wye swings into a small meander. The English east bank remains wooded – the Welsh west bank loses its tree cover and turns into green fields. The railway is hardly more visible now than it was when hidden by trees – it has been ploughed into fields and quietly disappeared, while the road from Whitebrook to Bigsweir swings around above it.

The landscape stays pretty much the same until just north of Bigsweir. Here, the hills on the west become steeper, with trees growing over most of that side of the valley, while the east bank becomes a bit gentler and turns into rolling farmland. A road drops down from the large village of St. Briavels to join the A466 and a very old narrow iron bridge of 18th century origin spans the river in a graceful manner. It is now protected by traffic lights with a bricked-up tollbooth no longer charging for its use.

There is now nothing other than farming and a footpath, while the road from Whitebrook joins the A466 on the west bank and squeezes past the old station here before climbing around the hillside – road, dismantled railway and river all squashed against one bit of hill while the sheep and cows in the broad pastures on the other bank look on.

The river flows onwards, with trees appearing on the east bank again while the west bank widens into Llandogo. The road, railway and river spread out again with some fields around the outskirts of this village. The hill rises steeply up to the west, with the village climbing halfway up the slopes.

The valley narrows again, with the railway running along the bank and the road a little way off up the hill, with a few houses interspersed along the way. The valley narrows a little as we approach Brockweir and the road extends out onto the railway trackbed. The west hill is mostly covered in trees, while the slopes of the east bank are covered in fields.

Brockweir bridge was built in 1906; its backers promptly ended up fighting a court case against a local ferry owner, who was terrified that it would put him out of business. It did, and the ferry has gone, but the bridge remains, albeit a little out of place on the Brockweir side with a steep gradient into the village with its little Moravian church – burial place of, amongst others, the author and Girl's Own editor Flora Klickmann, who wrote several articles on the Wye Valley and her cottage nearby.

The river sweeps west and passes between two abutments marking where the railway passed over the river and plunged through a spur to the south in a short tunnel. Tintern appears on the west bank as we sweep around to the other side of the spur and pass under the old railway bridge to the former Tintern Wireworks.

Tintern village is now about the same size as Redbrook, but has more tourist attractions. The visitor economy is particularly buoyant and the car parks are of better quality. Tintern Abbey and the Old Station gain the most visitors, so to a certain extent it is a little ironic that in order to provide a rail service to bring visitors in from the North one of the area's tourist attractions would have to be heavily modified to take a through line en-route to Chepstow. There are also a large number of shops in Tintern village centre. The Abbey, however, is undeniably the major attraction of the Wye – one of the few in Wales, and the main building only lacks roof and glazing, although this is a pain if it starts to pour with rain in the middle of a visit. Here the Angidy river flows down from the west – the last river of any importance to join the Wye.

River, road and railway now run straight south with the river dropping gently down. The road climbs away on the west bank and starts to sweep up the hillside with some unpleasant curves on the steep hillside under the Wynd Cliff. Opposite, the railway climbs a more sedate gradient. The river takes a fairly straight southerly route.

As the road curves away and the railway finds itself high above the river we enter the industrial area of the Wye, with a large open quarry on the west bank, digging under the road yet invisible from it. It is complemented by a larger disused quarry on the east bank above the railway. Both extract limestone.

As the river passes the quarries it swings round to the west. The railway promptly plunges into Tidenham Tunnel while the A466 hops over the top of the hill on the west, leaves the valley, and heads off to St Arvans. The river starts to curve around to head east in a large meander with a steep wooded hillside on the outside of the curves. The inside is more gradual, sloping down to the water, and the east bank has some fields on it and a small, remote farmhouse.

From the meander the river sweeps on past the bottom of the 200ft high Wintour's Leap, off which Cavalier Sir John de Wintour is supposed to have leapt on his horse while being chased by Roundheads during the Civil War of the 1640s. The fact that he is supposed to have survived is just a little iffy. However, Wintour's Leap is soon past as the Wye pours on southwards before curving briefly to the east when it touches the rock on which Chepstow Castle is built. The trees end here and we enter Chepstow. Then the river curves round to the south again at the bottom of another large cliff, passing under the old road bridge – guarded by traffic lights owing to its narrow nature – and follows that up with the current A48 bridge and the railway from Gloucester.

The land starts to fall down to river level on the east bank, while on the west are the railway and some large cliffs. The Severn becomes visible on the left flowing down from Gloucester as a massive expanse of water. The west bank flattens out and the land between the Severn and the Wye becomes flatter and marshier. We pass under the Old Severn Bridge, or the First Severn Crossing, carrying the M48 across the rivers, and then we enter the area where the Severn and Wye are only split at low tide. A small ruined hut, formerly owned by a hermit, sits just above water level as a marker of the end of the Wye as it joins the Severn and their muddy waters sweep around together into the west and the sunset along the South Welsh Coast.

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Last modified 16/03/11

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