The Wye Valley
Railway runs through quite a pleasant area of Britain. Officially
it is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, although anyone
who knows the history of the area is well aware of the fact that
it isn't, with a tinplate works at Redbrook and Tintern, a sawmill
at Tintern, quarrying limestone south of Tintern, quarrying "pudding"
stone at Penallt, paper-making at Whitebrook etc. All of this
is now closed.
The line starts
near Chepstow, so this is where our tour will begin.
called Striguil, Chepstow has two main features - an extremely
large church and an even bigger castle. The church has a large
tower, has been partially demolished and is now rather close
to the main road. The castle has many historic features, is long
and thin, and is yet to fall off its cosy rock into the Wye.
The picture shows it from the west end. Also notable are the
impressive Wye crossings which are either small and picturesque
or large, high and a bit plain, but never both, mostly owing
to the difficulties of being very big and very small at the same
time. The town has suffered from a severe case of an attack by
road lobbyists - as well as its rail service being not very notable,
the A48 carves through the town and nearly takes the church with
is linked to Cardiff by five trains every three hours, two of
which stop at Chepstow. This rather odd schedule is caused by
the stopping service between Gloucester and Cardiff only running
in two out of every three hours, despite the fact that none of
the four places served are exactly small and the trains tend
to be well-loaded. It may be something to do with it being a
cross-border rail route and hopefully if the line is electrified
as the regular diversionary route around the Severn Tunnel the
service will improve. Chepstow is the nearest station to most
villages along the former Wye Valley route.
The first record
of Dyddanhamme is in the mid 6th century when it appears to have
been a small unimportant village in an otherwise unpopulated
area. Although at first glance totally unimportant, the village
is in fact of immense historic importance - a small historic
accident means that it is one of the most heavily documented
villages in Britain from around the end of the first millenium.
The owner - the Abbot of Bath - was keen to ensure that he knew
as much as possible about this outpost of his estates, and some
of the documents were duplicated in the 12th Century for some
reason. This means that a whopping 3 documents survive to tell
us about Dyddanhamme's economy, its size, and its Saxon church.
By 1000 it had a manor and seems to have been one of the major
places on the outskirts of the Forest of Dean - but was still
called Dyddanhamme (although by 1086 it was Tedeneham). The village
retained its importance as the most important place in the area
until the Norman Conquest because the now internationally famous
Chepstow was virtually non-existent 1000 years ago.
is slightly lacking places of interest, being rather small -
the manor is still there, but is still a private residence (albeit
a very large Georgian one). As there is no river here there are
no bridges to cross it, although there is a pump and a pond.
The Normans made Chepstow the commercial centre, as it was on
the main trading route (the Wye) and could also be used to stop
bandits from sailing off up the Wye. Consequently the castle
to keep the Welsh bandits out of this part of England was built
on the other bank of the Wye at Chepstow, and Tidenham swiftly
declined in importance. What it does have is a new church - a
fairly impressive Norman structure on the Western outskirts of
the village - and Dayhouse Quarry, now a diving and rock-climbing
area since it stopped being a quarry a few years back - in fact,
it now goes under the far more imposing title of "National
Diving and Activity Centre". The picture shows the church
tower. The church is within walking distance of the station,
and Dayhouse Quarry is at the bottom of the access road to the
station. This can be seen to drivers as a turn-off on the north
side of the A48 adjacent to a very tall and narrow railway bridge
over the main road - the WVR.
course, has its fabled abbey, built by the Cistercians in the
1100s. One of the major tourist features of the valley, the expected
tourist traffic justified a third platform at Tintern station,
which is about a mile away. Particularly famous items include
the well-preserved Rose Window, although the outbuildings are
mostly strips of stone now and there is no roof. People who like
large numbers of staircases in their medieval ruins will also
be disappointed. Abandoned in 1533 at the orders of King Henry
VIII when he took over ("nationalised") the smaller
monasteries, it fell into ruin rapidly with the removal of anything
worth having like lead roofs, books, windows, stone and land.
Tintern station, this is the other place of note in the area,
and it now possesses a miniature railway, an art gallery, a shop,
a tearoom and a museum with videos of stuff. Car parking is available
at fairly low prices although the former flat rate of 50p has
now become 60p for three hours, rising thereafter. The site is
now "sylvan" i.e. lots of mature trees which are useful
in the respect that there is now plenty of shade to replace the
removed island platform roof. The gap between the former platforms
1 & 2 is now filled in without real trace. The station toilets
have been renovated. More benches have been provided since this
picture was taken in 2005 and the trees have grown a lot.
a church and a home for upset horses. The church was built by
the Moravians (descended from the Hussites) in 1832 and is a
pleasant enough little building, seen on the right. It was open
when we visited and is accessible down a little side road. The
road is three feet wide, the nearest car park is the one at the
old station (about quarter of a mile away), and the nearest bus
stop is on the other bank of the river - fortunately there is
a bridge here which was opened in 1906, much to the irritation
of a local ferry owner, who took the builders to court over it
(and lost). The next road bridge south is at Chepstow and the
next one north is at Bigsweir, near the former St Briavals station.
The horses' home tends to look like it has a fair collection
of animals knocking about whenever we amble past.
one particularly prominent feature, which is conveniently sited
for the station. This is the church, which is basically next
door. The church is of a Victorian design and has recently chopped
down the yew trees in the graveyard, presumably on the grounds
that they were too big. The station was sandwiched between that
and a nearby farmhouse.
from the railway (several hundred feet higher, about a mile away,
on the other bank of the Wye and in a different country) is St
Briavels. St Briavels has a very grand church with some very
old graves and a small castle. Formerly a hunting lodge for King
John when the King was young, it continues to perform a valuable
function as a place for young people to spend the night while
enjoying themselves in the area - albeit as one of the network
of Youth Hostels which are scattered around the country. Occasionally
it is even open to the public.
is a small village scattered up a narrow valley striking West
from the Wye (the stream passing under the railway in a large
culvert). Road access is provided by a narrow lane which starts
on the A 466 about one and a half miles south of Whitebrook and
goes on over the hill down into Wales and the Trothy Valley.
The village had a halt at its lowest end from 1927 until 1959
and several paper mills, one of which is seen in the picture
also lays claim to the Denise Yapp Contemporary Art permanent
exhibition in an 18th-century house towards the top of the valley.
It is a fairly simple two-mile walk straight up the road from
the halt - although if you want to go by train the wait for the
railway to re-open will be long enough to make the two-mile walk
feel like a formality. The exhibition also doubles as a (5-star)
Bed and Breakfast with some rather fine artwork in the rooms;
its only flaw is that the art is liable to be overwhelmed by
hamlet given a halt by the railway (with the possible exception
of Netherhope), Penallt is a small place squatting just below
the top of its hill, looking down on on the much larger village
of Redbrook. The church is rather handsome and it has a telephone
box. There are excellent views of Monmouth, Redbrook and various
distant hills available from here.
At least as
old as Tidenham, until 1961 Redbrook had always been an industrial
centre, which in its early days was curiously called Brocote.
Redbrook is really quite a pleasant place to visit, so after
stopping at Tidenham, Chepstow, Tintern, Llandogo and St Briavels
you really should pull up in the car park at Redbrook. It possesses
several pubs, a lots of new housing estates, a church or two,
part of the A466, part of the Wye, various riverside walks, various
hillside walks, a border between England and Wales which places
the most northerly few yards of the village in Wales, two tunnels
(on the former line to Coleford), an abandoned ammunition store
(in the tunnels), a viaduct (Penallt Viaduct), a car park (neatly
blocked by lumps of rock placed in exactly the right places to
stop lorries and heavy coaches getting in), a playing field (not
enough room for two), an abandoned incline, a long industrial
history, two short valleys (Upper Redbrook Valley and Lower Redbrook
Valley) and lots of people willing to pay good money to live
in expensive houses built on an old tinplate works.
It also has
a bus service of nine buses each way each day (Mondays to Saturdays
- only 5 on Sundays) to replace a rail service which offered
four trains each way each day (Mondays to Saturdays - none on
Sundays) which was therefore withdrawn in 1959. As the bus is
very small it can be assumed that everyone around here owns a
car, to the extent that Redbrook has built two houses on its
former station. The question is: in which form - as a station
and goods yard or as a car park and two houses - is the site
providing the most benefits in the long term?
wasn't commented on as being over-run by traffic in 1959...
again it's not all that busy even today.
summarise, Redbrook is the sort of place where anyone who doesn't
mind the state of the soil and the Annual Rising of the Wye (late
March) can live quite happily several miles from civilisation,
along with about 1000 other people. Technically it's called Lower
Redbrook and Upper Redbrook, but both halves are quite similar,
fairly small and have formed one large village, so they're just
called Redbrook. British Rail called the station Redbrook-on-Wye,
just to be confusing.
really a very nice sort of place, to visit and to live in, particularly
since a new bridge was built across the Wye lately and the old
gated bridge, one of only three left in Europe, was closed to
road traffic. The town also possesses a town hall with a memorial
to Charles Stuart Rolls (of Rolls-Royce fame) who was killed
near Bournemouth when his bi-plane broke up in mid-air. On the
front of the building in white marble is Henry V, born in Monmouth
Castle. Today, not very much actually remains of the castle owing
to continued development on the site since the castle itself
- perched a little way above the Monnow - was abandoned. What
is shown is most of what is left of the old structure. The church
is another attraction - crammed into the centre of Monmouth and
very nice to look at with an impressive spire on top of a quite
town centre is very busy owing to all the tourists and inhabitants
- it was, after all, mostly in place by 1900 when the tourist
industry was not very big and Monmouth was quite small.
With the tragic
loss of all four of its railways Monmouth now relies entirely
on roads, as very few people try to travel by river here for
some reason. The main local road is the A40/A449 dual carridgeway,
running between Newport and the M50 at Ross-on-Wye. There is
also the A466 to Tintern and Chepstow down the Wye Valley, and
another road to Coleford and Cinderford, along with the rest
of the Forest of Dean.
show (clockwise from top left) the bridge, the town hall, the
church and the castle.