OS Explorer map OL14, Wye Valley & Forest of Dean – I own this map, but had not visited it before starting this blog. Visited for this post 26th December 2021. This is the first of three posts about my trip to the Wye Valley with the Dearest Progenitors.
In the past few years, I’ve usually ended up going on a short holiday with my parents just after Christmas. In fact, such trips have featured on this blog three times before, with the first post that to such a trip – Lockerbie in 2017, Malmesbury in 2018, and Ludlow in 2019 – always starting off with a little preamble (and a few photos) about what I got up to on Christmas day itself.  Well, as I’m sure you’ve guessed, you’re about to get a fourth example of this genre!
This year, Father Dearest drove over to Cambridge on Christmas Eve, to collect me and take me back to the parents’ Northamptonshire home. It was just the three of us for Christmas Day itself, and for various reasons we ended up going out to a pub for Christmas lunch. The vegetarian version of the meal was rather disappointing unfortunately: while the veggie sausages they provided were very nice and the vegetables were fine, unlike the meaty version the potatoes were just boiled, not roasted, and there was no stuffing: it’s not particularly difficult to make vegetarian roast potatoes and stuffing, so I wasn’t very impressed. Nevertheless, we had a nice day, including plenty of lounging about at home!
On Boxing Day, my parents and I set off on our regular post-Christmas hoilday, which this year took us to a holiday cottage in Wye Valley, in the countryside just south of Ross-on-Wye. The house was a barn conversion, which had been interestingly done with the living area upstairs and the bedrooms downstairs, which I thought worked really well, letting the daytime areas have the high ceilings, exposed beams and the like. It was on a working farm, which gave us a lovely view into the cowshed just across from our window.
We stayed four nights at that place, doing a good amount of lazing about interspersed with occasional trips to explore the area – indeed, given that a few of the days were very rainy, I think the balance was further even to the lazing-about end than our usual, already very lazy, holiday standards!
Our trips out included a couple of short walks in the area, one rainier than the other, and, logically enough, a visit into Ross-on-Wye. Ross is apparently well-known for its antique shops, but unfortunately, with us visiting it on a bank holiday – due to Christmas falling on a Saturday this year, the 27th and 28th were bank holidays – these were all closed! Nevertheless, we had a good wander around town, and admired the very interesting 17th-century Market Hall, under which markets are still held regularly, and which holds a commanding position at an intersection.
The town’s letterboxes and bollards had also been the target of a delightful campaign of yarnbombing, which greatly pleased me!
One evening, we decided to have a second Christmas dinner, because why not really, which went very well – Mother Dearest made some really mushroom and blue cheese Wellingtons, which I prepared some broccoli, sprouts, carrots, potatoes and stuffing to accompany.
Our longest trip of the holiday, though, took us southwards, crossing the border into Wales to visit Monmouth, before going off further west to see a couple of castles. I really liked Monmouth! There were scores of interesting little shops and streets, which I’d love to come back and explore a little more deeply at a future date.
By far the most notable, though, was the 13th-century Monnow Bridge. All surviving medieval bridges are cool, of course, but this one is especially cool – and unique in Britain – for retaining its fortified gate tower. We spent a good long while wandering around, over, and in my case under the bridge and generally appreciating it. An interpretation board told us of the wide range of uses the tower has been put to over the years, including a private dwelling! The bridge was in regular use by road traffic right up until 2004, when the sensible decision was made to pedestrianise it – apparently lorries were regularly getting stuck in it.
After lunch outside a local restaurant, we departed from Monmouth to head deeper into Wales to a couple of castles I wanted to see – but you’ll have to read about those in my next two posts, as they’re not in this map area. All in all, we had a very nice few days on this little trip. Unfortunately we never got around to visiting the Forest of Dean or, as I’d hoped to, Caerleon amphitheatre – I’ll just have to come back!
[Map of maps]
 2020 ended up being, in this as in so many things, an exception to this rule, this being the first year of the coronavirus pandemic. The Dearest Progenitors and I planned to do a trip as usual, and so booked a holiday cottage in North Norfolk where we could spend a few days. However, unusually, we booked a period including Christmas Day itself, since (a) a large family gathering wouldn’t be happening that year, and (b) it was near enough my Cambridge home that, if it should transpire that I wouldn’t be able to meet them indoors, we could still at least meet for a walk or something.
In the end, restrictions did come crashing back down to at least some degree, preventing me from joining them for the full stay; however I did go to that holiday cottage during the middle of Christmas Day itself, and passed a very nice few hours there! (That cottage was in map area 251, which I’d already posted about, so this visit didn’t get a blog post.)