Do I behold these steep and lofty cliffs,
Which on a wild secluded scene impress
Thoughs of more deep seclusion; and connect
The landscape with the quiet of the sky.
From Lines written a few miles above Tintern Abbey by William Wordsworth.
As usual, I didn’t get away as early as I intended, but after driving through the Forest of Dean I had time for a quick scamper on my way to Chepstow for the Walkers Are Welcome Towns annual get-together in mid October. I stopped at Tintern, one of our smallest Walkers Are Welcome Towns, and set off on the footbridge across the River Wye, back into Gloucestershire with a splendid view of Tintern Abbey.
I gathered ripe chestnuts on the old railway-line and enjoyed an even better view of the abbey.
Then I climbed through the woods to the Offa’s Dyke National Trail, noting a fallen tree across the path en route. (I reported this to Gloucestershire County Council’s rights-of-way department which quickly passed it on to the Forestry Commission.)
I joined Offa’s Dyke at the top of the hill and turned south until I reached the Devil’s Pulpit
From here the view to the Wye and abbey, far below, was spectacular.
Then I had to hurry to Chepstow for the weekend’s events. And what a weekend it was. Chepstow Walkers Are Welcome did us proud.
On Saturday morning we were taken on a walk through Piercefield Park, landscaped in the eighteenth century by Valentine Morris. This was a must for anyone taking the Wye Tour in the eighteenth century, a two-day boat trip from Ross to Chepstow. William Gilpin was an early visitor, publishing his guidebook Observations on the River Wye in 1782. He advocated use of a Claude glass, which was a small mirror that miniaturised the reflected scenery. You stood with your back to the view and manipulated it in the mirror—rather like taking a selfie!
The park is laid out with paths and vistas to charm and delight the visitors, but some of them have become overgrown, such as the view from the Platform, which at one time took in Chepstow Castle and Lancaut cliffs. Today it is a mass of trees.
The view from the Alcove, towards Chepstow Castle and the Severn, is rather better.
Piercefield House was redesigned by John Sloane, but unfortunately it is now a ruin.
We were joined on the walk by my friends Marika Kovacs and Arthur Lee from the Ramblers’ Hereford Group. Marika (about whom I have written before) is visually impaired but that does not prevent her from playing a full part in any walk, nor from leading it. The mud and stiles along the Wye didn’t bother her a bit, provided there were a couple of strong chaps to give her a hand.
Later she made a valuable contribution to the conference by participating in a workshop on walking with visually-impaired people.
After an afternoon of workshops we were entertained by the Chepstow Male Voice Choir.
On Saturday evening and Sunday we met at the St Pierre Hotel and Country Club, an old manor house. Coincidentally, one of our number, John Kieran from Emsworth Walkers Are Welcome in Hampshire, was responsible, for one of the stained-glass windows.
He told me that he had a franchise business called Stained Glass Overlay, one of very few in the UK. When St Pierre was looking for a window in about 1989 it went to John’s firm in Emsworth. The original window, of traditional glass and leadwork, was falling apart. John copied it using his overlay technique of adhesive lead-strip and Mylar colour film. John had to climb a very tall ladder to gain access to the window. It still looks very fine.
An attractive feature of the weekend was the banner made from squares designed and produced by each town. Each square reflects features of the town’s locality, and each one was different. The banner will grow as more towns add their squares, and it will be on display at WAW events.
On Sunday we had sessions to discuss how the WAW towns network can develop, and learnt of good practice and ideas from the various towns. I love Chepstow’s innovation of providing left-luggage lockers in the tourist information centre, so you can dump your stuff and enjoy the town unencumbered.
Enjoying the town was something for which there wasn’t quite enough time in a busy weekend. I slipped out to walk over the lovely old bridge, which marks the boundary between Monmouthshire and Gloucestershire.
There is also the magnificent castle.
And the town itself is attractive and interesting, with a pleasant pedestrian area.
Bridge Street, leading to the river, has a fine row of houses.
And the fact that Chepstow welcomes walkers is well publicised.
I have written here about the exquisite plaque by the river, celebrating the start and finish of the Wales Coastal Path and Offa’s Dyke. It was a super weekend, crowned by seeing a peregrine on the limestone cliffs early on Sunday morning. As Wordsworth wrote in Tintern Abbey:
… Nature never did betray
The heart that loved her.