“I just saw a snake!”
My friend’s daughter was paddling in the shallow, clear waters of the River Wye, amongst the tiny fish and endless paddle boarders. Within seconds of her sighting, she was scrambling back on the banks, vowing to stay on dry land.
We examined the rock where the creature had apparently dipped under, but found nothing apart from a long leaf and more tiny fish streaming past.
Snaking between England and Wales is the River Wye, the fifth-longest river in the UK and the heart of the Wye Valley. Thankfully there are no snakes in the actual river (or outside it) — as far as I know. This stretch of the Wye is beautiful, and as the sun shone down, illuminating the glistening water, I felt as though I had travelled further than the 2.5 hour drive it took for me to get here from London.
We trundled back up the banks of the river, across boundless farmland near the village of Lydbook. I looked around me and felt excited in anticipation of seeing more. The Forest of Dean and the Wye Valley are a sight to behold, and whether you have a few days, five days or forty days, there is so much to see and do here.
So what did I do in three days?
Day 1 – soaking up the sun
Arriving before 11am, I stepped out into the glorious sunshine and exhaled. I have left the city and country several times this year, but something about the deep valleys and lush greenery punctuated by the trickling of the river here gave me a sense of peace.
It was a sizzling 30 degrees, so we decided to get a move on and make the most of the beautiful sunshine. Exploring more of the river just has to be done, and the best way to do it is by canoe! We opted for a self-guided tour with Wye Adventures. This three-hour journey had me feeling like Pocahontas as we twisted and turned through the river bends, starting and ending at Symonds Yat West.
After our canoe jaunt, we meandered over to the impressive viewpoint at Symonds Yat. It may be irritatingly touristy, but it’s irritatingly touristy for good reason. The sprawling views across the valley are simply breath-taking, and it isn’t hard to spend a long time gazing down at the paddle boarders and canoers, inching their way up the river like a colony of ants on a quest. If you want to feel on top of the world (or forest) then this is how to do it.
Just before sunset we took a drive to Eddys Lane. This lesser-known viewpoint over the Forest of Dean into the Welsh mountains is void of tourists, and — besides a passing Morrison’s van playing an obscure Celine Dion track — we enjoyed a moment of quiet watching the sun sink below the horizon.
Day 2 – over to Wales
It’s easy to dip in and out of Wales on a visit to this region, and often you’ll do so without even realising it. So when the clouds loomed over and teased us with a bit of rain, we thought that visiting a couple of Welsh towns would be a great way to spend the morning soaking up some culture and history.
First on the list was picturesque Crickhowell. Nestled in the Usk Valley and gateway to the Brecon Beacons National Park, this pretty corner of Wales was a delight — even in the drizzle. With independent shops, a crumbling castle and the River Usk flowing through it, Crickhowell makes for a charming visit.
Second up was Monmouth. The sun crept out in the afternoon over this bustling town, casting light upon the colourful bunting that streams across the high street. The town has strong links to Henry V who was born in the tower above the castle’s gatehouse, and there are many historical features such as the medieval stone gated bridge — the only one of its kind left in Britain.
The sun was well and truly out by the time we made our way back across the border to England, and a refreshing gin and tonic overlooking the river was in order. We ambled down to the 15th century Ye Olde Ferry Inn, which is perfectly located overlooking the Wye and the trickle of boaters enjoying this magnificent part of the river. There couldn’t have been a better way to end my second day here.
Day 3 – views and villages
By my third day, I had already explored various villages and seen some views that I’ll never forget. But there is always more to see in this corner of the country.
Today, we started off at the Malvern Hills. An Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the hills roll across three English counties — Worcestershire, Herefordshire and Gloucestershire. I had donned my walking boots in preparation for a hike to the peak to see the glorious, expansive views that stretch far and wide, and I wasn’t disappointed. It is easy to see why the Malvern Hills inspired composer Elgar who lived in the area for most of his life.
Next, we sauntered over to the market town of Ledbury. Home to several timber-framed structures which crookedly lean over like they’re about to whisper a secret in your ear, Ledbury is full of character and perfect to waste an hour or two in. Head to The Feathers Hotel Coffee House for a warm drink on the funkiest sofa for miles.
Three days in the Wye Valley really aren’t enough to see everything, but you can certainly get a good taste of what the area has to offer. From getting active with hiking and canoeing, to sitting and enjoying a beverage with a view, there is something for everyone. I’m just hoping that the snake won’t appear on my next visit…
By Alice Bzowska