August bank holiday often seems to signal the end of summer but with a forecast of warm weather after a miserable few weeks of rain we decided to hot-foot it down the M4 to the Wye Valley in the campervan. After a busy drive down the M4 we crossed the Severn Bridge and detoured via Chepstow to the northern edge of the Forest of Dean.
Forest of Dean
Pan Tod Beacon on Ruarden Hill is the highest point in the Forest of Dean and has good views to the north. Though not too far from the village we were alone aside from the odd dog walker. However, a peaceful evening was interrupted at at 4am as we awoken by a noise outside. Sitting up in bed we then felt a thud on the van prompting Ali to grab a kitchen knife! Sticking my head out of the sky-light I could see a couple of dark figures rustling by a tree, which then darted off when they saw the light from my torch. Wild boar! Chatting to a local in the morning confirmed that wild boar are a common pest, churning up lawns and school sports fields. Allegedly there are around 1,500 wild boar in the forest though a culling programme is underway to reduce to more sustainable numbers.
After a lazy breakfast we headed to Ross-on-Wye and spent a couple of hours mooching around the antique shops. With the temperature hitting 30 degrees, and with our inflatable kayak with us, the River Wye beckoned. We happened across Byecross Farm campsite, set in an orchard by the river betwixt Hereford and Hay-on-Wye. Surprisingly only a couple of their four camping fields were busy so we found a quiet spot tucked away. The campsite is not geared up for campervans or motorhomes and has no chemical disposal/Elsan point for black-waste – but it does do fabulous fresh pizzas in the evening!
Chatting to the owner he told us that they bought the property 20 years ago so the fields could be used for his wife’s horses. They moved in at Christmas and it wasn’t till Easter when he found some guys having pitched a tent in one of the fields did they realise it was also a campsite!
There’s nothing more relaxing than gently meandering along a river surrounded only by nature. All was serene until the rapids of Monnington Falls, whence Rosie dog jumped ship. Mild panic ensued as we struggled to reach her in the fast moving current. After much shouting, including the odd expletive, and forceful paddling we managed to get alongside and haul her back in the kayak. Deep breath, no need to panic! Rosie was wearing buoyancy aid and is good swimmer – she didn’t understand what the commotion was about!
The next morning we departed and followed the Wye upstream to Hay-on-Wye for a bimble and lunch before braving the single-track road up to the parking area beneath Hay Bluff. There were already a few vans there when we arrived and were treated to a beautiful sunset and a peaceful evening (aside from a car arriving at 11.30pm and sitting idling for 30 minutes!).
We awoke to find we were enveloped in mist but after a short steep hike up onto Hay Bluff we found ourselves above the clouds with a magnificient cloud inversion stretching as far as the eye could see. Following the escarpment along we were accompanied only by a few sheep and wild ponies before dropping down to Gospel Pass and then ascending to the impressively named Lord Hereford’s Knob (which rather worringly seemed to be infested with a large swarm of flies!). The inversion lasted until late morning by which time we had re-traced our steps and descended back down to the van.
Time to start heading home we drove up to Gospel Pass (long since on my overnight wish-list) and then mistakenly(!) decided to follow the road south, down the valley via Capel-y-ffin towards Abergavenny. If you value your paintwork or side-windows my advice is don’t take this road! It’s mostly single-track, lined with overgrown tree/hedges and with few passing places you’ll likely be faced with some rather awkward reverses!
If you haven’t already visited the Forest of Dean and Wye Valley it’s a lovely area with beautiful countryside, lots of outdoor activities and interesting towns/villages. There are plenty of campsites and a few wild camp spots (see Park4Night app), but watch out for the wild-boar!