Home to some of the most diverse regions in the UK, the Welsh Borders is certainly not short on spectacular landscapes and boasts a history that travels back in time as far as the 8th century. From the ancient walled city of Chester to small market towns such as Hay-on-Wye and Knighton that sits right on the border of England and Wales, it’s a land of castles and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty including the striking Wye Valley. You’ll discover unlimited ways to be charmed on what will certainly be an unforgettable countryside break in the Welsh Borders.
Leominster is an historic town in stunning north Herefordshire, which prospered from the wool trade during medieval times and traces of this past are evident in the ancient, narrow streets, while Tudor half-timbered houses and elegant Georgian townhouses can also be seen. Leominster has an excellent reputation for antique-hunting with over 100 dealers trading from the town, whilst a range of independent shops, cafes and a weekly Friday market offer that ‘staying local’ feeling. It’s a great base from which to explore the rolling countryside in the area and you should begin with the riverside walk that starts from Corn Square.
Discover more by jumping into your car or hopping on your bike to join the Black and White Village Trail, which runs for about 40 miles and starts in Leominster. Along the route you’ll find an array of points of interest in picturesque settings including a 12th-century church at Dilwyn and the unusual pink and black timber-framed house in Weobley. Simply stop off at the places that appeal to you. Meanwhile, minor detours lead to attractions such as the Small Breeds Farm & Owl Centre at Kington and Westonbury Mill Water Gardens, as well as the Cider Barn Restaurant near Pembridge which offers quality food surrounded by orchard views.
Nestled just inside the Welsh Border on the banks of the River Wye, Hay-on-Wye is a picturesque market town that is renowned for its second-hand bookshops, including the popular Booth’s Books. There’s also the acclaimed Hay Festival of literature held every year in May and June. It runs for 10 days and includes a wide variety of events and readings; it was also famously endorsed by former US president Bill Clinton. When you’re not dipping in and out of bookstores with a coffee in hand, there’s an abundance of other things to do in the area from exploring castles and historic homes, to horse-riding in the Black Mountains.
However, the River Wye located in Wye Valley, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, is the perfect place to start an outdoor adventure, whether a quiet riverside bike ride, a boat trip or spotting the incredible wildlife that calls it home. Keep a watch out for salmon leaping, darting kingfishers or otters having a swim as you canoe or kayak through the calming waters. On land you may encounter minks, deer and a variety of birds – so bring your binoculars and have your camera at the ready!
On the other side of the River Wye lies Symonds Yat in Herefordshire, close to the borders of Gloucestershire. Well-known as one of the best spots and viewpoints in the Forest of Dean and Wye Valley, this English village is the perfect place to get away from it all. Some of the most breath-taking views can be found at the summit of Symonds Yat Rock viewpoint, which towers at 300-foot tall, and is known as a top spot to watch Peregrine Falcons.
Discover the ancient hill fort, marked trails to the River Wye and walking routes into the forest at your own pace from Symonds Yat. This area of countryside offers the opportunity to spot a variety of wildlife from sparrowhawks and buzzards, to ospreys and Tawny Owls – so keep your eyes peeled as you stroll through these ancient woodlands.
Delve into history in Monmouth, which has connections to Henry V and more recent associations with iconic artists such as Queen, Oasis and Simple Minds. Beautifully located between the Trothy Wye and Monrow rivers, this Welsh town with a medieval history is situated just a few miles from the borders and is a stone’s throw from spectacular countryside making this a wonderful location for walking. There are plenty more ways to be captivated too, whether it’s watching a show in one of Wales’ oldest theatres, visiting Nelson Museum dedicated to the famous Admiral Nelson, or indulging at one of the independent restaurants or cafes.
Rich with walking trails, the Monmouthshire countryside provides a variety of ways to get you outdoors. Whether it’s mile-long walks through Wye Valley, the Wales Coast Path or Offa’s Dyke National Trail, there are varied countryside landscapes to unveil. From riverside meadows to wooded hillsides, to working farms and historic castles, including Monmouth Castle. It’s not just walking trails that can fill up your time outdoors, discover a variety of activities such as mountain-biking, golf, abseiling, caving, archery, rock climbing and canoeing.
Chepstow is situated in the lower Wye Valley, on the Welsh border where Wales meets Gloucestershire. One of this charming town’s most incredible features is Chepstow Castle that stands on a limestone cliff overlooking the River Wye and despite being over 600 years old, is beautifully preserved. If you’re a real history buff pop into Chepstow Museum to discover more about the town’s salmon fishing, wine trade and shipbuilding past. Chepstow is also famous for its horse-racing scene, while if you like to shop, there are many independent boutiques and if you need some refreshment whilst doing so, Three Tuns on Bridge Street has a delightful beer garden with castle views.
Chepstow is also a great place for walkers and you can start off with a gentle meander around the Chepstow Port Wall, which was built in the 13th century. For longer hikes, there are plenty of long-distance trails that are easily accessible form the town. From Chepstow Castle car park there is a 17-mile walk that stretches all the way to Monmouth via the stunning Lower Wye Valley. Meanwhile, there’s Offa’s Dyke National Trail where, not far from Chepstow, the Devil’s Pulpit offers superb views of the ruined, but romantically set Tintern Abbey. Or, for hikes with sea views, head onto the Wales Coastal Path.
This large English market town, situated inside a loop of the River Severn in Shropshire and nine miles from the Welsh border, is a charming place to soak up some history. Shrewsbury boasts unspoilt medieval streets, over 600 listed buildings, delightful 15th– and 16th-century timber-framed buildings, a castle that dates back to 1070 and is also the birthplace of Charles Darwin. Meanwhile, there are plenty of modern-day attractions including a large range of shops and a vibrant indoor market, riverside restaurants, Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery that is housed inside an old music hall and a theatre.
Countryside walks along the River Severn, noted as the longest river in Great Britain at 220 miles, are a must when visiting Shrewsbury. The Severn Way, a continuous path along the river allows for exploration of the entire length by foot, so it’s easy to join it at Shrewsbury. Or, take the car and start exploring from another town nearby such as Ironbridge which is famous for the Ironbridge Gorge and its part in the Industrial Revolution, or Welshpool which is a fantastic springboard for visiting the impressive Powis Castle.
Rich in history, some sites should simply not be missed and you can see most of them on a leisurely walk of about two miles around the historic city walls – the most complete in the UK. From this elevated position you will see the remains of the Roman amphitheatre; the racecourse which is the oldest in the UK and hosts race meetings from May to September; the pleasure boats on the river and the gothic-style cathedral, parts of which date back 1,000 years.
What makes Chester truly unique is the black and white, half-timbered ‘Rows’ where a second covered row of shops are positioned above those at street level for double the retail therapy. There are plenty of shops across Chester, a vibrant cafe culture, cosy pubs serving great real ales (try the Brewery Tap on Bridge Street for starters) and great restaurants. We like the small but authentic Porta for Spanish tapas and the Michelin-starred Simon Radley restaurant at the Chester Grosvenor Hotel for fine-dining. If you like animals do visit Chester Zoo where ‘The Secret Life of the Zoo’ series is filmed, or a short drive to delightful Ness Botanic Gardens will please those who like to admire floral beauty.
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