The Picturesque Wye Tour | Taith Bictiwiésg Dyffryn Gwy
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Tintern Abbey

Birthplace of British Tourism

Inspirational Valley

In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries it was fashionable to take a boat tour down the Wye Valley, to view its romantic sites and picturesque landscape. ‘Tourists’ dined at specific locations, took walks to particular viewpoints and visited specific romantic ruins, making the ‘Wye Tour’ one of the first ‘package holidays’!

A rector from Ross-On-Wye, Dr John Egerton, was the first to build a boat especially to take his guests on excursions down the Wye. By the late eighteenth century there were several boats operating on a commercial basis, in response to growing demand from tourists. Much of the demand was a direct result of a book, the first tour guide to be published in Britain in 1782, Observations on the River Wye and Several Parts of South Wales, by William Gilpin. Gilpin took the Wye Tour from Ross to Chepstow in 1770 and wrote, “if you have never navigated the Wye, you have seen nothing.” Part of the popularity of the Wye Tour was that tourists viewed the valley from boats on the river and Observations started the fashion for ‘picturesque tourism’ - travel which focused on an appreciation of scenery rather than just history or architecture.

"If you have never navigated the Wye, you have seen nothing." William Gilpin, 1782

Increasing interest in, and appreciation of, Britain’s landscapes helped make Gilpin’s book an instant success and brought many visitors, including artists, writers and poets to the Wye Valley. Many kept journals and diaires which provide a wonderful insight into their travels: Samuel Ireland, William Coxe, Charles Heath, Thomas Martyn, Thomas Roscoe, Leitch Ritchie, Louisa Ann Twamley and Mr and Mrs S.C. Hall were amongst many who recorded their observations on the Wye Valley. Wordsworth, Turner, Philipe de Loutherbourg, Michael ‘Angelo’ Rooker, Coleridge and Thackery Makepeace left inspiring records of their own trips in paintings, poetry and prose. By 1850 over twenty guidebooks had been published, firmly establishing the Lower Wye Valley as the birthplace of modern British tourism.

Today the Wye Valley is designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, recognised as one of the nation’s most treasured landscapes. Although still a favoured touring destination, the Wye Valley is seen mostly from a car or coach window, although short boat excursions still leave from Symonds Yat.

We hope this online guide helps you enjoy the most ‘picturesque’ sites visited by the early tourists. Some of the views are remarkably similar today, others show considerable change in the landscape, but one thing all the sites still have in common is their ability to inspire.