Days out: To Tintern Abbey and beyond ...

A walk in the Wye valley
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The Independent Travel

Two hundred years ago, fear of war was stopping the English from taking their customary grand tour of Europe, so they turned instead to places such as the Wye Valley for impressive vistas, grottoes, waterfalls and ancient castle ruins.

Two hundred years ago, fear of war was stopping the English from taking their customary grand tour of Europe, so they turned instead to places such as the Wye Valley for impressive vistas, grottoes, waterfalls and ancient castle ruins.

Turner came here and painted Chepstow; Wordsworth scribbled some lines above Tintern Abbey and Nelson had himself rowed down to Monmouth. These days you can drive the 16 miles from Chepstow to Monmouth in just half an hour. Alternatively, you can get closer to a landscape that inspired the Romantics by legging it along the Wye Valley Walk.

I began my journey at Chepstow, which is, sadly, no longer the mystical spot painted by Turner. But a footpath heading north through Pierce Wood does offer some splendid views and a "Giant's Cave", created by Valentine Morris, the governor of St Vincent. This cave was carved out of solid rock in 1771. Morris used to fill it with coloured smoke to strike good-hearted terror into his visitors.

A mile north of the Giant's Cave we're back to reality crossing the A466 Monmouth to Chepstow road, but a flight of precipitous steps on the farther side leads up to a delightful 19th-century vantage point cut into the top of Wynd Cliff. From here I could see the Wye looping on to Chepstow with the Severn beyond, with its two huge modern suspension bridges shining in the sunlight.

Staying on top of the valley for the next two miles I was able to make out the Devil's Pulpit, a sheer cliff face on the English side of the Wye where Satan is supposed to have preached to the monks. Then I made the gradual descent into Tintern itself for lunch at a modern craft centre that stands where the Abbey's mill once straddled the Avon Giddy.

Tintern is worth a look and has a fine second-hand bookshop, Stella's. A mile north of the town is Tintern Old Railway Station, a reminder of the days when this whole route was served by trains. Tintern station is now a museum and tea room. I followed the line to Brockweir where I crossed briefly into England and followed Offa's Dyke as far as Bigsweir, where a beautiful early iron bridge and derelict tollhouse take you back into Wales.

There were llamas in the fields I passed. At first I thought this an illusion but, no, they are being bred in the Wye Valley. At Whitebrook Farm I found myself on the old railway line again and tramped north until the Boat Inn, an ancient structure believed to have been built by the monks of Tintern Abbey. The Boat is very welcoming with warm fires though – thanks to the fact that it sits under a waterfall – water frequently runs down the back wall of its bar during heavy rain. From here it's possible to cross on the old railway bridge and continue through meadows of sheep into Monmouth. Hardier walkers can follow King Offa's path to the town which goes up on to the Kymin and enables you to see the Naval Temple Nelson visited in 1802. There's a fine view of Monmouth from the top and fine food to be had in the town below. Here it was that Henry V was born and I have to admit I ate like a conquering hero myself.

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