Chepstow to Brecon
Explore the Wye Valley and discover castles along the way
Follow the route - Chepstow to Brecon
> From Chepstow drive north on the A466 to Monmouth.
Monmouth was an old Roman settlement, but its main growth came after 1066, and in 1673 the 1st Duke of Beaufort built Great Castle House on the site of the old Norman castle. Near Agincourt Square, dominated by the 18th-century Shire Hall, is a statue of C S Rolls, of Rolls Royce fame, whose family lived near here. East of town is Kymin Hill, where the Naval Temple commemorates British admirals. The walk up to it from the town follows the line of Offa’s Dyke Long Distance Footpath.
Places to stay in Monmouth
> Take the A4136, then turn left on to the unclassified road 1 ½ miles (2.6km) past Staunton. Bear left on to Woodland Road after a further 1⁄2 mile (1km) to Symonds Yat East.
Visiting Symonds Yat
The scenery of the Wye Valley is among the finest in Britain and Symonds Yat is a particularly impressive beauty spot, above the deep gorge. The river flows for 4 miles (6km) in a large meander before returning to within 400 yards (365m) of the same point. An AA viewpoint on the summit at 473 feet (144m) affords magnificent views.
Places to stay in Symonds Yat
> Continue north via an unclassified road, turning right on to the B4229 to Goodrich.
Imposing Goodrich Castle is a red sandstone ruin which Cromwell lost to the Royalists during the Civil War, but then battered with a mortar which fired 200lb (90kg) shots. This dramatically situated castle had a moat which was excavated from solid rock, and you can still look down the 168-foot (51m) well in the courtyard.
Places to stay near Goodrich
> Cross the River Wye and take the B4234 left to Ross-on-Wye.
The splendid 208-foot (63m) spire of St Mary’s Church rises high above the roofs of this attractive town. Interesting old streets spread out from the market-place, with its 17th-century red sandstone Market Hall. Notable features include several ancient alms houses and 16th-century Wilton Bridge.
Places to stay in Ross-on-Wye
> Leave on the B4260 across the river again, then the A49 west. Turn left onto the B4521 Abergavenny road to Skenfrith.
Skenfrith Castle was built as one of a group of three castles, along with Grosmont and White, to guard the Marches against Welsh uprisings. Its remains include a central keep enclosed by a four-sided curtain wall and a moat. A small stone village clusters round the castle, with a quaint little 13th-century church and a mill with a working water-wheel.
Places to stay near Skenfrith
> Continue along the B4521, then turn north on to the B4347 to Grosmont.
Set on a hillside by the River Monnow, Grosmont is the site of another Norman fortress, taken and re-taken several times during the Welsh uprisings of the 13th to 15th centuries. The castle ruins can be reached by footpath from the town. Grosmont’s 13th-century parish church is noted for its huge but crude effigy of an armoured knight. At Abbey Dore, further along the road, the abbey remains include a vast, atmospheric church, tucked away in the Golden Valley.
Places to stay near Grosmont
> Follow the B4347, then the B4348 north through the Golden Valley and on to Hay-on-Wye.
Hay stands high above the southern bank of the River Wye. Folk hero Owain Glyndŵr destroyed its castle during the 15th century, but the keep, parts of the walls and a gateway remain. The town’s cinema has become the biggest second-hand book shop in the world; in fact, the whole town seems to be taken up with second-hand books. Thousands flock to the annual Hay-on-Wye literary festival.
Places to stay near Hay-on-Wye
> Head southwest for 8 miles (13km) along the B4350 and A438 to Bronllys.
From Bronllys there are clear views of the Brecon Beacons ahead and the Black Mountains, which dominate the scenery to the left. The 12th-century church, now rebuilt, has a very odd detached tower, and a stone-built Malt House is still in excellent condition and contains its original equipment. Bronllys Castle is half a mile (1km) along the A479.
Places to stay near Bronllys
> From Bronllys take the A438, the A470 and the B4602 to Brecon.
Brecon is a pure delight, encircled by hills at the meeting point of the Rivers Usk and Honddu. The cathedral, originally the church of a Benedictine priory, dates mainly from the 13th and 14th centuries, and Brecon Castle is now in the grounds of the Castle Hotel. The County Hall houses the Brecknock Museum, within the cultural hub y Gaer, with its wealth of local history, and the Regimental Museum of the Royal Welsh has relics ranging from the Zulu War in 1879 to World War II and later. East of town is the terminus of the Monmouth and Brecon Canal, and to the south is the Brecon Beacons National Park. The Visitor Centre, off the A470, west of the little village of Libanus, is an ideal starting point for exploring the Park.