Day 2, Bigsweir Bridge to Monmouth

In terms of distance and time, this is a shorter section than many others and if your accommodation or scheduling requires, you can easily extend it beyond Monmouth, as I did the first time I walked Offa’s Dyke, opting to finish at Hendre.

However, I love Monmouth and the opportunity to spend a few hours here was irresistible and if you have the leisure, it will certainly repay the investment in time.

Starting at Bigweir Bridge, everything pointed to a wonderful day’s walking and I was certainly not disappointed. The April day was clear and bright and under blue skies and gentle breeze, the temperatures would climb to summer levels very quickly – within ten minutes, my jumper was tied around my waist and I spent the rest of the day in a T-shirt.

The River Wye sparkled as I crossed the bridge and began a steady uphill ascent on a road which can be deceptively busy so take care as there are no pavements.

Uphill was very much the theme of today, coming immediately out of the river valley means the need to gain height and whilst it was not too brutal in the main, it was sharp in places, particularly coming out of Redbrook.

If you are walking the other way, from Monmouth to Bigsweir, the climbs up the Kymin and out of Redbrook are brutal, there is no dressing that up …

The road section is short and soon you exit left into Slip Wood, where I was greeted with a stunning sight of swathes of bluebells. At this time of year, they carpet the woods and they were my constant companion through Bigsweir Woods and Cadora Woods, a truly breathtaking sight which my photographs can barely begin to capture.

These woodlands are well managed and cared for and the beauty of the floral display was matched by an array of chatter from the treetops as I picked my way along the broad and gently undulating path, the rat-tat-tat of a woodpecker providing the percussion to the birdsong.

This was a walker’s dream and I met several during that first hour and such was the day, it was impossible not to stop and chat and admire what was around us. It was actually a shame to leave the woodland for the sections in meadows skirting the edge and a joy to plunge back into them at Highbury Wood, which was every bit as beautiful as what had passed before.

The wonderful display of bluebells in Slip Wood, Bigsweir Wood Nature Reserve and Cadora Woods Nature Reserve is breathtaking during April/May

Coming out of Highbury Wood, the Wye Valley suddenly opens out again with Redbrook below and the distinctive old railway bridge

The bright white house at the top of The Kymin can be clearly seen from Monmouth

Towards the end of Highbury Wood, you start to get glimpses of the Wye Valley again as the trees thin out. It was a lovely view looking straight down the valley, reminiscent of that from the Devil’s Cauldron though this time it is the old railway bridge and the white houses of Redbrook instead of the medieval ruins of Tintern Abbey.

The descent down to Redbrook is extremely steep and whilst I was blessed with dry and firm conditions, if it is wet it is likely to be very challenging and will require a good deal of care.

Redbrook is a pretty little place and there is every inducement to make a stop in the shape of several pubs, a friendly village shop and a riverbank to sit on. It has been a few years since I had managed a pint in The Boat on the Welsh side of the river but I have the fondest memories of it and it took all my discipline to heave myself onwards.

I had set my goal of lunch at The Kymin and that meant a long, steep pull out of Redbrook before I could rest my legs. It was hard work and not terribly picturesque but the road gave way to a farm track and the gradient levelled off a little to make the whole thing more pleasant and soon I was in the countryside again, not woodland this time but in amongst the hedgerows, which trapped the steadily increasing heat as I pulled up towards Upper Beaulieu Farm enjoying some long distance views towards Monmouth and further into Wales.

There is a last uphill section in woodland before you reach a neat metal gate which gives you access to The Kymin estate, which is in the care of the National Trust.

The house itself is white and compact, making it a landmark for miles around but for me, the best bit is the Naval Temple, which handily contains benches where a walker can enjoy a sandwich and a wonderful view. If the weather is bad, it is sheltered too, which is always nice for a lunch stop.

The popularity of the Wye Valley as a place of beauty and recreation dates from the Georgian era, when rich people were starved of the glories of the European Tour by the Napoleonic Wars and so looked closer to home for natural wonders.

The Naval Temple pays homage to the Admirals whose victories meant that Britain suddenly started to rule the waves and it is a wonderful period piece, particularly the inscriptions which are full of nationalistic bombast – the Georgians were nothing if not confident in themselves!

It is a fine place for a stop and, as ever, I enjoyed it very much but Monmouth was now close at hand and so I started the steep descent though scattered woodland until I picked up the road on the outskirts of town.

The Kymin offers stunning views over Monmouth and out towards Wales

The Georgians really enjoyed a naval victory as this plaque on the memorial to the success of British admirals built in 1800 shows

Britannia sits atop the Naval Temple at The Kymin - the benches are a great place to eat your lunch ...

Suddenly, there was traffic and bustle everywhere – Monmouth is a very busy place, even on the outskirts. I crossed the bridge over the River Wye into Wales and sought out the underpass to take me over the very busy A40 and into town.

Monmouth School makes a very imposing gateway to the town and then you pick your way through some backstreets before emerging onto the main street, which is always very busy.

If you have some time to spend here, I would urge you to do it because there is lots to do. In Agincourt Square, there is a picture opportunity with the statue of the aviation and motoring pioneer Charles Rolls, who is overlooked by a stone façade featuring a statue of King Henry V, who was born a few yards away at Monmouth Castle.

There is only a sparse shell of the castle still to see but it is worth the short walk through the yard of the Regimental Headquarters of the Royal Monmouthshire Royal Engineers to visit. There is also a free military museum here if you can spare the time.

Just beyond that, along an elegant curved crescent is the Nelson Museum, which has a fine collection of memorabilia, the great Admiral having visited the area during a tour of the Forest of Dean to assess timber for naval shipbuilding.

Also in that museum is a section dedicated to the Rockfield Studios, where some of the biggest names in music during the 60s and 70s stayed and recorded, including Queen, who used it to record much of Bohemian Rhapsody. All in all, a surprising and engaging visit.

On top of that, there are plenty of places to eat, a good bookshop in the shape of Rossiter’s, which has a programme of literary events it might be worth looking into, plus two nice little theatres, the Blake Theatre and The Savoy.

A personal favourite of mine is Monteas, a specialist tea shop where you can get all sorts of different kinds of tea – Chinese Black Gunpowder tea is my choice.

I digress, picking up the path again will lead you to the end of Monnow Street, where the iconic medieval bridge spans the River Monnow. Built around 1270, it is the only surviving example of a gated stone bridge and is a must for a photograph. Resting on the banks in the sunshine enjoying the sight of that bridge was a wonderful way to finish my day’s walking.


The Monnow Bridge, built around 1270, is the icon of Monmouth and the only surviving structure of its kind in the country

Aviation and motoring pioneer Charles Rolls shares the spotlight with that other great figure from Monmouth's history - King Henry V, who was born in the town

The ruins of Monmouth Castle, birthplace of King Henry V, are sparse but there is a regimental museum next to it if you have some time to invest