We were meeting a group of friends for a long weekend in Hereford, but had a few extra days to explore. A month or so earlier we’d travelled to South Wales on the A40, so we decided to travel to North Wales and then head back South to Hereford. It turned out that a theme of our trip was rivers, canals and lakes and we found ourselves alongside the Wye a number of times. And why not?
Bury to Trevor (near Llangollen)
Forget about getting your kicks on Route 66.
I like to drive b-dum b-dum
The A5 b-dum b-dum
OK, it doesn’t scan well, and doesn’t quite have the same romantic appeal. Having recently travelled to South Wales mostly on the A40, when I noticed that the A5 stretched all the way to North Wales I couldn’t resist the challenge of following that route rather than whatever Garmin thought was sensible. The fact that much of the A5 was built by the Romans as Watling Street made it all the more appealing. Considering it’s been around for couple of thousand years, the road surface is pretty good.
So was the plan a good one? In truth probably not – we normally avoid the endless dreary and decaying Midlands suburbia on the motorway. I had hoped that we might discover hidden charms in the area but they were few and far between. We finally found a pleasant canal-side lunch spot at Sutton Wharf near Bosworth, but it was a late lunch.
Once we cleared the Midlands the A5 became less crowded and more scenic, and our overnight location at Trevor, beside a canal and looking across the Dee valley, was delightful. The Sun pub was very hospitable, the natives were friendly and the food and drink were good.
A creation of Thomas Telford, this is the longest and oldest in the country and highest in the world. It’s certainly one of the classic constructions and as it was only a couple of miles from our overnight stop it had to be done – we enjoyed a peaceful walk along the canal and eventually found ourselves at Trevor Basin, to one side of which the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct takes the Llangollen Canal over the River Dee. It’s a magnificent piece of engineering, but even as an engineer the most pressing feeling I had as we walked across was how narrow was the path alongside the cast iron trough that carries the waterway.
Having walked the walk along the canal we decided to move on to Betws-y-Coed – more specifically the Swallow Falls Hotel, which is hotel, pub, campsite and Youth Hostel. As a motorhome, we could park overnight and took advantage of the location to visit the Swallow Falls, just over the road from the hotel. They’re pretty, and there’s something compelling about the sheer energy of a waterfall – I guess it’s a lot more energetic when the weather’s not as good.
We had dinner and a couple of pints at the hotel – slightly caught out by the fact that they stopped taking food orders at 8pm, so we missed out on dessert. I now understand the significance of the barman coming round and collecting the menus – he could have said!
Swallow Falls to Rhayader
When you’re driving a motorhome in Wales (or Scotland or Cornwall) and the GPS tells you to take a B-road you think twice. When the start of that road advises that it’s not suitable for HGVs or coaches, your feeling of insecurity just grows. However, in the case of the B4518 we hit lucky. Not only was it reasonably wide and well maintained – it was also a glorious road taking us o’er hill and dale through verdant pastureland, with the highlight lunch stop at a viewpoint over Llyn Clywedog, an artificial lake used to control the River Severn. The wet weather meant that we had decided to travel rather than explore locally, so we had plenty of time to stop off for a walk at the nearby Caban Coch reservoir in the Elan Valley before heading to our camp site. The Elan Valley holds memories for us of a holiday we took before we were married – except today the weather was decidedly autumnal. Nice that the Elan Valley is still not over developed – just walks and bike trails from car-parks that are still free.
Just a few minutes walk from the centre of Rhayader this is a new acquisition by the CCC. It used to be council run, and has seen little development or investment. The upside of this is simple quiet camping on grass right beside the River Wye, within cycle or energetic walking distance of the Elan Valley. Sadly we’re only here for one night. Definitely worth another visit in the future.
Rhayader to Hereford
Just a short 47 mile drive through green and rolling countryside to our rendezvous with friends in Hereford. The destination was the Hereford Rowing Club, which runs a substantial campsite, open to the public, on the bank of the Wye.
Hereford Rowing Club
Their main business might be rowing, but the campsite at the Hereford Rowing Club is bigger than some dedicated campsites. Pitching is on grass, and it has all the facilities you might expect. The location is a few minutes from the town centre, but also provides quick access to a peaceful riverside walk and extensive parks, paths and cycleways.
A Walk around Hereford
Our group had arranged a guided tour around the city. Whilst there is some ugly modern development, the historic areas offer lots of history, secret delights and charm. A lovely place.
Waterworks Museum and Hereford Society of Model Engineers
At Broomy Hill, just a gentle and green walk along the river from the city centre, there’s a veritable playground for those who love engineering (I worked hard to find another way of describing boy’s toys). We were fortunate that the weekend of our stay coincided with a steam day at The Waterworks Museum and a public running day at the Hereford Society of Model Engineers, and absolutely beautiful weather.
The Waterworks Museum (http://www.waterworksmuseum.org.uk) was running an incredible number of working engines, variously powered by steam, gas and oil, including the oldest triple expansion steam engine working in Britain which is enormous, and for a Meccano kid like me, simply gorgeous. The lucky guys tending these engines were very happy to talk about them – a great visit.
And then, right next door at the Hereford Society of Model Engineers (https://hsme.co.uk/) there is nearly a mile of track and a great range of engines (steam, petrol and electric), offering rides, sounds and smells. The site also features a pond for model boats – boy’s toys indeed.
Hereford to Coleford
We had two days remaining, and decided to try the Camping in the Forest Bracelands campsite at Christchurch, near Coleford in the Forest of Dean. Years ago (long before the days of GPS) I was careless in route planning and found myself towing a caravan through Symonds Yat – I got away with it, but it’s the sort of mistake you should only make once in your life, so I took great care to ensure that I forced the GPS to avoid such folly. A waypoint at Monmouth did the trick.
I had initially booked just a single night in case we didn’t like the campsite. We needn’t have worried. It was very spacious and we picked a pleasant horizontal spot on the grass (with no defined pitches). The facilities were fine, and there was a proper motorhome service point, all for a surprisingly low fee. Very civilised.
One reason for visiting the Forest of Dean was to fit in some off-road cycling, and the area delivered. My initial exploration soon found a short trail to Symonds Yat Rock – mostly forest track, and a nice enough ride to an impressive viewpoint. As I set off on the return journey I had a chat with an activity leader to find the best way to get to the Cannop Cycle Centre. It turns out that connecting the trails with an off-road route is not easy, and I settled for getting there by road, with a bit of help from Google Maps and some hassle from uncouth car drivers.
Having established the route to the trails, on the next day I once again set off to the Cycle centre to ride the Verderer’s Trail, 7 miles of fun off-road riding, cunningly finishing with an exhilarating decent.
Time to go home
After a week and a half of enjoyable travelling in glorious weather, it was time to go home. This was a simple direct journey with the familiar problem of UK motorhome travel – decent places for a picnic lunch, without a height barrier.
To see many more pictures (good, bad and indifferent) from this trip visit my Flickr album at: