Andrew Swift guides us on a winding walk through a woodland wilderness that offers beautiful views of the Wye Valley
Although only four miles long, this walk is not for the faint-hearted, as it includes a 200m climb up a thousand crumbling steps once trodden by donkeys. For those prepared to take the challenge, however, there are ample rewards – some superb viewpoints (including the spot which inspired one of Wordsworth’s most famous poems), a vertiginous walkway beside a rocky cascade, a zig-zag path down a ravine and glorious beechwoods.
The starting point is Llandogo, three miles north of Tintern. Llandogo was once a busy port, with trows shipping timber and other goods down the Wye and across the Severn to Bristol. One of the trow owners did so well from the trade that he opened a pub on King Street in Bristol. Called the Llandoger Trow, it is still open today.
To get there, head north from Chepstow on the A466, and, as you drive through Llandogo, look for Brown’s Stores on the left and pull into the car park just beyond it (SO526042).
● Cross the road and turn right before bearing left past the church. Carry on past the church and the back of the Sloop Inn (with a 1707 datestone), then turn left along a path, which, after going through a kissing gate, leads alongside the Cleddon stream.
● A gate leads on to the trackbed of the Wye Valley Railway, closed in 1964. Carry on through another gate and on towards the river. Turn right along the river bank, cross a footbridge over the Cleddon and go through a gate leading back onto the old railway line (SO525038). The ivy-covered ruin ahead is Quay Cottage. The quay in front of it, where goods were loaded into trows, disappeared when the railway opened in 1876.
● The old trackbed trails off enticingly into the trees, but our route lies through a gate on the right. As you go through it, you will see the long-closed Ship Inn ahead. Turn right in front of it and follow a path up to the road.
● Turn right along the pavement for 50m. At Rosebank Cottage, cross the road and head up steps. Cross the end of a cul-de-sac and carry on up a footpath signposted to Cleddon. After climbing steps to a lane, cross and continue up a footpath. At the next lane, with Rose Hill Cottage ahead, turn right for 30m, before turning left up a footpath signposted to Cleddon Falls. Here the climb begins in earnest. Spare a thought for the donkeys and their owners who once brought coal up these steep, worn steps to the cottages.
● After passing the last of the cottages, the woods close in, with slender beeches striving upwards towards the light on this steep hillside. As you continue between broken-down walls, you come to two large boulders, known, because of their profile, as the Bread and Cheese Stones (SO521037). This is said to be the spot which inspired Wordsworth’s Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey. Today, the view he saw in 1798 – which could still be enjoyed as recently as the 1950s – is obscured by trees.
● Follow the path as it bears right. A few metres further on, turn right along a broad path – which soon levels out – beside a wall. After 150m, turn left along the Wye Valley Walk into Bargain Wood.
● Carry on past a turning to the right, and after 400m turn left to a viewpoint just as spectacular as the one immortalised by Wordsworth (SO521035). Carry on as the path bears right past the viewpoint along a broad avenue. After passing two more viewpoints, the path swings right. Carry on past a barrier, keeping the car park on your left, and, just after passing an open barrier, as the drive bears left, turn right up a steep and rocky path (SO522029) and carry straight on for 1000m.
● Continue past the turning to the viewpoint and the path you walked along earlier, and a little further on you will come to the top of Cleddon Falls (SO 520039). Here you have a choice. For the less adventurous option, carry on and bear right along a broad path heading gently downhill. Alternatively, turn right down steep steps just past the falls, and follow a winding path scooped into the side of the ravine, under the bole of a gnarled beech tree, before climbing steps to the broad path, along which you turn right.
● Whichever option you take, you will soon find the broad path running alongside a sheer drop, before crossing a boardwalk. Just past the boardwalk, turn right as the path commences a series of zig-zags down the hillside. Whether they were laid out for nineteenth-century tourists in search of the picturesque or for packhorses carrying goods down to the river is unclear, but they make for a glorious walk, gentle enough to appreciate these mossy, fern-filled woods without having to watch every footstep.
● Eventually, after countless zig-zags, the path leads to the edge of the ravine. Don’t take the path bearing right, but turn left down a steep path with wooden steps. At the bottom, follow the path as it bears right to follow another zig-zag down to a footbridge (SO523040). After crossing it, follow the path as it crosses another footbridge and continues downhill with the stream on the right.
● At the road, bear left up a lane leading to the Priory. Head along a footpath to the right of the Priory gateway, and, at the road, cross and head down a footpath to the left of a cider press. At the main road, with the Sloop Inn ahead, turn left to return to the car park.