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River Wye

August 14, 2011

Glasbury to Chepstow

The river Wye, on the England/Wales border, is one of the least spoiled large rivers in the United Kingdom. 

In the 17th century an Act of Parliament removed riparian owners rights and confirmed it as a “free and open” navigation up to Hay and it became an important waterway in the early industrial era. Weirs of various degrees of permanence were built to allow large barges to pass and the river must have been fairly polluted. However with the development of canals and railways the commercial traffic disappeared and the river naturally cleansed itself. Over the last century fishermen have pushed to reduce pollution, followed more recently by a new constituency, canoeists. The following is a guide to finding camp sites and access for launching along the main canoe-touring stretch from Glasbury to Chepstow. Compiled from various sources and many paddles.

It seemed pretty clean when I first canoed it as a child in about 1970, and was still so when I last did so in Spring 2011.  I predict that with increasing numbers of canoeists caring about the river, it will steadily improve.

  • Glasbury

From here to Hay access is disputed but the current informal agreement is for canoeing between 10 am and 4pm, leaving the morning and evening for the fishermen. The normal launching point is on the left bank just above the bridge. A fee of 50p per canoe is payable to the post office.   

  • 3 miles- Hollybush Inn right
Super camp site on the right bank mid-way between Glasbury and Hay.
  • 4.5 miles – Broken weir.  Shoot right
  • 5.5 miles – Hay on Wye right

Shallows below the bridge.

Good public access on right bank 50 yards below the bridge. The campsite has no river access but is about 300 yds from the left bank below the bridge. Mr & Mrs Davies. Tel 01497 820780 

Hay is the home of the largest second hand bookshop in the world as well as innumerable smaller ones, all congregating efficiently together under the influence of Adam Smith’s invisible hand! Penelope Chetwode, the writer (Two Middle-Aged Ladies in Andalucia) and wife of the poet laureate John Betjeman, lived nearby at New House in Cusop.
  • 10.25 miles – Whitney toll bridge.  I love toll bridges. Imagine the environmental benefit if all roads were toll roads!
Land a few yards before the bridge on the left. £1 per canoe.
  • 10.5 miles – Boat inn left.  Camping
  • 12 miles – Lockster’s pool.  Camping right
  • 16 miles – Turner’s boat. Camping.
  • 19.5 miles – Bredwardine.
Launch/land below bridge on left but ask permission first from Prue Cartwright 01981 500229
Bredwardine parish was the last living of Francis Kilvert before his death, a few weeks after he finally married. Peritonitis, not marriage was to blame.
  • 20.5 miles – Brobury scar
Sharp left hand bend beneath sandstone cliffs.  The lower old red sandstones, known locally as  the Raglan mudstone formation.
  • 21.5 miles – Moccas Court right bank
  • 22.5 miles – Byecross campsite right bank
As you round the bend towards Monnington falls, look out for a posh house and a STRICTLY PRIVATE sign. Byecross is the next stretch of land. As soon as you see the Monnington falls island in front of you, land right. Byecross campsite, has toilets and a shower, road access to river and orchard.  Open fires allowed as long as you use drift wood.  Pub 3/4 mile.
  • 22.75 miles – Monnington falls
Land on gravel bank left about 50 yards above the rapids to inspect.   The usual route is left of the island.  Beware of fallen trees obstructing the route.   Right of the island is only shootable in very high water.    In very low water the right is dry.
  • 23.5 miles – Preston

Half a mile below the falls on the right bank. Campsite basic, just a tap, and a Portaloo from April-Oct, but great site (like Locksters Pool) if you like peace and quiet.  Open fire allowed so long as you only use driftwood.  Pub.

NOTE Unless you are prepared to camp on an island or to use the Hereford Racecourse site, which is well back from the river, the next campsite is 20 miles downstream at Holme Lacey.

  • 23.75 miles – Byford
Free landing and launching on left bank 200yds below pumping station. No permission required but narrow road with no parking space.
  • 28 miles – Weir gardens
No weir.  National Trust gardens left bank.  Easy landing.  A good place for a picnic.
  • 33 miles – Hunderton railway bridge, now a footbridge

  • 33.75 miles – Hereford

Land right below the old road bridge. This is a public park with plenty of pay and display car parks. No permission required to land or launch but the nearest camping is at Hereford Race Course two miles from the river on the other side of town. Open April to September. Tel 01432 272634     

Colin Wilkinson reports “Hereford Rowing club allow camping in their field, best to call first. You get use of their showers, pay at the bar, though they’re not sure of the price, we were charged £5 per head, the next couple £5 per tent. Excellent, as very close to town”.

Headquarters of Bulmers cider. Market demand is leading the world’s largest cider company to promote organic cider and to encourage local apple farmers to change to organic methods

  • 34.5 miles – railway bridge
  • 35 miles – Bartonsham sewage outfall

In 1988 this treatment works run by the Welsh Water Authority was the subject of questions in Parliament for failing pollution standards. Since privatisation it has been substantially upgraded and effluent quality has improved.

  • 37 miles – Wye invader
Look out for this 150ft Dutch barge beached on the right bank, a sharp reminder of the downside of a communal navigation right. It was somehow brought up river in 1990 to act as a floating restaurant. The process took nearly a year and would never have been allowed by private riparian owners. However it could not be stopped because of the ancient right of navigation. The owner even persuaded Hereford council that it would bring economic benefits to the river. In 1994 a group or motor boaters calling themselves the Wye Restoration Trust actually bid for £85M of EU and lottery money to dredge the river and install locks and weirs to repair the navigation. Fortunately such mad schemes have been stopped for the moment, but there will always be some danger when ancient right of navigation mix with loony councils who get captured by motor boating interests.
  • The river cuts into the St Maughans formation of old red sandstone at two sharp left hand bends under cliffs at 40 and 41 miles.   Holme Lacy village lies at the top of the latter cliff.    Between the two bends the river has recently moved but the old cliffs mark its old course
                   
  • 42 miles – confluence with river Lugg
  • 42.5 miles – Holme Lacey bridge
Good landing point in the small orchard 100 yards below the bridge on left bank. It is for those using the camp-site, but the owners are very friendly so long as you ask nicely. Lucksall Caravan site has camping and all the showers, shops etc., anyone could want. They even do a special deal for canoeists. Open Easter to October.
  • 51 miles – Hoarwithy

Two campsites here.  Tresseck farm reopened in 2003.  Landing steps on right below the bridge.    Portaloos.  Open fires allowed with driftwood.   Click here for their wonderful website with fine pictures of the river access.   A grand site.

Mr. Jenkins 400 yards below the bridge on the left is another super site but a longer walk into the village.  To reach the village directly land on the right immediately below the bridge. It’s rather steep. ¼ mile to Hoarwithy.

The New Harp Inn is a wonderful friendly pub.  In 2003 the landlord let us camp for nothing so long as we drank his beer

  • 57 miles – Hole in the wall
Canoe centre with access on left bank just above rapid. Looks like you should be able to camp here but I’ve never tried.
  • 61 miles – road bridge
  • 61.25 miles rowing club left

You can usually camp here, but do ask first. They’ll make a small charge if they remember what it is!

  • 61.75 miles – Ross on Wye
The main landing point is on the left bank below the Hope and Anchor pub but this is a public park and you can’t camp there.
  • 62 miles – Wilton bridge

It replaced an earlier wooden bridge. as well as at least one ferry.  There was also a ford on the same site.  It was originally a toll bridge.   🙂   In my humble opinion the next stretch of river, Ross to Tintern, is the finest stretch of canoe touring in the world.

  • 67.2 miles – Goodrich castle
                 
When I first canoed past here in the 1970s the castle stood on a grassy hill.  I cannot find a picture from that time but others have confirmed my recollection.  The hill is now so heavily wooded that views of the castle from the river are rather obscured.  Just one example of the re forestation in Europe and North America.
  • 67.5 miles – Kerne bridge.  Don’t try landing at the bridge.  
The famous Kerne bridge duck race takes place every year on August bank holiday from the bridge to the excellent access point and picnic site ¼ mile below bridge on left bank.  W.C. Pub. Parking. Honesty box.  

About here the river starts to cut a deep gorge, first into the harder upper red sandstone and after a short distance into the carboniferous limestone of the forest of Dean.

  • 69 .5 miles – Lower Lydbrook

Picnic site and car park on left bank just above the rapids. W.C. Pub. Honesty box, but landing has not been allowed here since Oct 2006

  • 70 miles – Welsh Bicknor
Lovely campsite right bank owned by the Youth Hostel.
                
Three lovely old walnut trees next to the church.  If you get there in June take a few for pickling. 
     
In the film “Shadowlands”, Anthony Hopkins who plays CS Lewis, describes this view of the Wye, looking back upstream towards Welsh Bicknor from Symonds Yat rock, as a “View of heaven”. 
  • 74 miles – Huntsman’s bridge.  Access right.
  • 75.5 miles – Symonds Yat West

Pick-up/Drop-off point (fee). Pub. W.C. Camp/Caravan Site. Good site.  All facilities, but often fully booked and they may not take single night bookings in summer.  March to October.

A garish funfair, some sort of children’s maze, and motor boats plying tourists up and down the river rather spoil the splendid natural beauty of Symonds Yat for me. I don’t think we can blame the government for the funfair or the motor boats directly, although the maze is Lottery funded

  • 76 miles – Symonds Yat East
Good launching/landing point on left bank before the Saracens head ferry, at Wyedean canoe centre. Also camping.
A word to the wise.  Don’t try to drive to Symonds Yat East on a fine summer w/e – the road is single track and traffic is terrible.  Use the ferry.
  • 76 miles – Symonds Yat rapids
Pretty straightforward for those touring canoes who plan to go straight through.  The main hazard are the squirt boats zipping across the main stream and practicing their breakout moves.    And “health and safety” obsessives on the bank who object if you’re not wearing a helmet!

The British Canoe Union (BCU) bought this stretch of river in 2003 for £125,000 and put rocks and other obstructions in the river to create a slalom course.  They said that otherwise the rapids would have disappeared.  The taxpayer (the Environment Agency) contributed £50,000 :(.     

I have mixed feelings about the whole thing.  One part of me wants the river left as nature intended.  Another says that if people are prepared to pay for artificial rapids, who am I to stop them.  I even discovered that I had contributed to the original campaign to buy the rapids!  Keeping hundreds of canoeists bunched up in the 100 yard stretch probably improves the experience for tourers elsewhere. 

       

  • 77 miles – Biblins campsite and footbridge.   Adventure centre site geared to youth groups.  It’s not really suited to family campers.
  • 79 miles – Seven sisters rocks right.  The river is now cutting through carboniferous limestone.
  • 82 miles – Wye bridge, Monmouth

Excellent access adjacent to the rowing club on the right before the Wye bridge. Car park. Don’t attempt to land at the Monmouth school rowing club on the left back just above the bridge – they are not welcoming.    Camp site on bank of river Monnow at Monnow Bridge.

  • Bigsweir bridge A466.  Originally a toll bridge.  Here’s the old toll house.
     
  • 91.5 mile – Brockweir bridge.  Land left just upstream of bridge.   Beyond here the river is tidal and muddy. Experts only.
  • 93.5 miles – Tintern bridge and Abbey.   Land right, just before the abbey and car park, in front of small houses. Easy to miss, muddy, slippery steps and metal platform to pull boats up on. Free parking and easy access for pick-up vehicles, lovely public loos nearby, tea rooms further up village.
  • 100 miles – Chepstow.  Landing point.  Car park (fee).  Camp site 2 miles from river: Mrs M. Cracknell, Beeches Farm, Tel 01291 689257
Jim Thornton.   The original version of this itinerary was published on igreens.org.uk in 2001.
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