Paddling down the River Wye 250 years after it inspired Britain’s first tourism boom

It’s as irresistible as the original tour 250 years ago, says Mark Henshall

Friday 07 August 2020 17:12 BST
Canoeing on the River Wye
Canoeing on the River Wye (Wyedean Tourism)

Five days out we get news. “Lo-ren-zo? Is that what it’s actually called?” says my 14-year-old son, Gabriel, unconvinced about the most powerful hurricane ever recorded in the far east Atlantic. Our canoe trip to the Forest of Dean is looking dodgy as ominous storms swirl across The Azores and Gloucestershire riverbanks rise.

I wonder if William Gilpin, who took Revd John Egerton’s Wye Tour from Ross-on-Wye to Chepstow in 1770, had this kind of climate anxiety.

Gilpin went on to write an account of his riverboat tour, “Observations on the River Wye”, which many now view as the UK’s first tourist guide. The Wye Tour triggered a tourism boom by the late 18th century, as people came to view the valley from boats, starting a fashion for “picturesque beauty” travel rather than just history or architecture. This year is its 250th anniversary, with the year-long Gilpin 2020 Festival at Ross on Wye.

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