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Monmouthshire Tour and Tourist Information Guide
Whether you’re looking for that action-packed holiday, or a get-away-from-it-all break, you’re likely to find just what you’re looking for – and more besides – in Monmouthshire.
The breathtaking landscape makes it an ideal place for walkers so it’s no surprise that the area attracts visitors from all over Europe. It even has its own Walking Festival, with guided walks to suit all levels.
Others seeking activities in the great outdoors have plenty of choice too. Horse riding – a great way to see the countryside, cycling – the ideal way to explore Monmouthshire, the Brecon Beacons, the Usk Valleys and the Black Mountains, and golf with 9 and 18 holes courses for all abilities. Monmouthshire also prides itself on the local produce found in inns, hotels, restaurants and cafes.
The borderlands of Monmouthshire has its fair share of castles. Caldicot Castle, founded by the Normans, became a stronghold in the Middle Ages and was later restored during the Victorian era when it was a family home. This magnificent castle is set in a country park of some fifty-five acres with the River Nedern winding its way through the woodlands and meadows, making it a perfect setting for picnics and walks.
The audio tours mean you can find out about the castle’s past while exploring the medieval towers and battlements. There is also a Children’s Activity Station where puzzles and games are on offer and where children are invited to create their own castles to take home.
Caldicot Castle is a registered museum with a collection of items relating social history of local interest.
Chepstow Castle was begun in 1067 not quite a year after the Battle of Hastings when William the Conqueror was crowned King of England, with the Great Tower being completed around 1090. The instigator was Lord William FitzOsbern, 1st Earl of Hereford and the castle at Chepstow was the southernmost of the chain of defences that were constructed along the English-Welsh border in the Welsh Marches.
Built in stone that came mostly from a local source, there is evidence, too, that some of the blocks were re-used from the Roman ruins at Caerwent. The castle ruins, which are open to the public, are poised on cliffs over the River Wye and the best view showing the full extent of the castle’s size is from the bank on the opposite (north) side.
The White Castle near Abergavenny, believed to have been the work of William FitzOsbern and later refortified by Henry II, is so called because it was once coated in a lime wash, making it visible for miles around. This imposing castle was remodelled during the 13th century and today it still has water in its deep moat. Access to White Castle is via a drawbridge and, from the towers, and because it was built on a hill, there are some fine views.
Tintern Abbey was founded by Cistercian monks in 1131. This great abbey is situated in the village of Tintern on the Welsh bank of the River Wye and was only the second Cistercian foundation in the UK, and the first one in Wales. Highlighted as the most spectacular ruins in the country, Tintern Abbey has been the inspiration for many artists and poets, not least, William Wordsworth, Alfred Lord Tennyson and J. M. W. Turner.
What now remains of the abbey dates from between 1136 and 1536 when Henry VIII carried out the dissolution of the monasteries. Little is left of the earlier structure apart from some wall sections and two recessed cupboards in the cloisters. In 1901, it was purchased by the crown from the Duke of Beaufort for the princely sum of £15,000, and repair and maintenance and some re-structural work began.
The Old Station at Tintern, at the northern end of the village was once the largest railway complex on the Wye Valley branch line and between the 1870s and the 1950s ran Abbey Specials for the many tourists who wished to visit nearby Tintern Abbey. Now restored, the station complex is a popular attraction with a picnic area, on-site barbecues and a cafe selling home-made products.
The site also includes a miniature railway and other family activities and two carriages contain exhibitions and information. Here, too, is the ‘Circle of Legends’ comprising six life-size carved wooden sculptures depicting historical figures from Monmouthshire’s history.
Usk is a small historic town in Monmouthshire, set on the River Usk. The ancient stone bridge is a familiar feature and above the town is a ruined castle. Each year, on the second Saturday in September, the Usk Show is held with displays, exhibitions, crafts, steam models, vintage machinery and trade stands of every description.
Usk Castle overlooks the town. The Norman gatehouse, built by the de Clare family, dates back to the 12th century. Later strengthened by William Marshall, the husband of heiress Isabella de Clare, it was further reinforced by later generations and the outer wall and gatehouse were added. Elizabeth de Burgh inherited the castle following the death of father Gilbert at the Battle of Bannockburn.
The Priory Church of St Mary was built for a priory of nuns in the 12th century. Further additions were added in the 13th and 15th centuries though it was greatly reduced in the dissolution of the monasteries. It has a fine Tudor rood screen and on the chancel screen is an inscription in Welsh – thought to be the earliest example. Several tombs are of note, including that of one Phillip Mason who died in 1772 weighing almost 40 stones. The tomb of the last Prioress of Usk is also in the cemetery.
Usk Rural Life Museum is housed in an old malt barn and has collections relating to the history and traditions of rural life in the county. This fascinating museum shows just how life was from the mid 1800s to the end of the Second World War.
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