The lower Wye River Valley in Wales is nature at its most beguiling—a lazy river meandering in great loops through a wooded, steep-sided valley that is almost like a gorge in places.
There are numerous walks, notably the long Wye Valley Walk, but try a short one at least—perhaps the steep climb to Symond's Yat Rock, northeast of Monmouth. Start your journey at Chepstow at that city's wonderful castle. The high walls are set on a cliff overlooking the river (this castle is particularly impressive because it was in active service for more than 800 years—beginning in the 11th century—and has architectural touches added during the entire span of its use).
The next stop should be the stunning Tintern Abbey, immortalized in the poem by William Wordsworth. The stained glass is long gone, and the skeleton of the church now has only the sky for a roof and dirt for a floor, but one can easily spend an hour there, strolling through the imposing structure and along the nearby river.
There are more castle ruins in Monmouth, but Raglan Castle, to the west of Monmouth, is much more interesting: It is a fancy-looking fortification built in the 15th century, on the eve of the Tudor age, with an eye to aesthetics as well as defense.
End your journey at Hay-on-Wye, which promotes itself as "the world's largest secondhand bookstore." It has myriad used-book stores that stock, in all, more than a million antiquarian books—one shop is located inside the walls of the dilapadated Hay Castle. Serious bibliophiles could spend days there. At the end of May, the town hosts the Hay Festival of Literature & the Arts.
The Wye River Valley begins 30 mi/50 km northeast of Cardiff.
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