A change of scenery and location from our usual walks in Pembrokeshire, as we headed to the South-East corner of Wales last August for our first steps on the South Wales section of the Wales Coast Path.
This walk starts at the village of Redwick on the eastern edge of Newport, then along the Severn Estuary passing through villages and countryside before finishing at Chepstow. Redwick is a good starting point for this walk with roadside parking in the village and access to the coast path on way-marked paths.
The Wales Coast Path (WCP) runs for 870 miles around the entire coastline of Wales, from Chepstow in South East Wales all the way to North Wales and the border with England at Chester. The South Wales section is from Chepstow to Carmarthenshire, a distance of 237 miles to Amroth at the start of the Pembrokeshire Coast Path.
There’s some historical interest at St. Thomas Church, an engraved stone on the exterior wall marks the height of the Great Flood of 1606 and on a green nearby is a collection of antique objects, an old cider press and a set of stocks.
We set off walking through the churchyard and over farmland for about half a mile, crossed one of the drainage reens and climbed a slope to join the coast path which runs along the top of the seawall.
The seawall protects the low lying farmland and marshes known as ‘The Gwent Levels’ from the murky tidal waters of the Severn Estuary, which has the 2nd highest tidal range in the world.
The Gwent Levels are areas of land reclaimed from the sea since Roman times and are drained by an extensive network of ditches, known as ‘Reens’ in this part of South East Wales.
The Levels cover a vast area from Caldicot in Monmouthshire to Peterstone Wentlooge (to the east of Cardiff) so are a major feature on the landward side for over 20 miles of coast path. They are recognised as internationally important habitats. Read more here
With the sun shining, a light breeze and calm waters on the estuary, it was a peaceful and pleasant walk for the first few miles. The raised, level surface of the seawall offers walkers splendid panoramic views across the Severn Estuary. The impressive structure of the Second Severn Crossing, now officially retitled as ‘The Prince of Wales Bridge’ remains in clear sight ahead.
The shallow grassy banks of the estuary were exposed at low tide with some local fishermen at the shoreline casting some lines. These were the only people we were to see along the first few miles, as social distancing seemed to be taken to a whole new level.
The flow of the walk is unfortunately broken near Rogiet as a convoluted detour inland is necessary to go around a military firing range. This means some uninspiring walking of minor roads near Caldicot and twice crossing bridges over the M4 motorway with the heavy hum of traffic noise along the way.
After a couple of miles we get back on the seawall and the bridge begins to loom ever larger on approach, walking towards, then underneath, the huge structure.
Standing on the coast path almost underneath the carriageway provides a new perspective on the engineering feat of the bridge, as it gracefully curves 3 miles across the Severn Estuary to Avonmouth.
The path continues through Sudbrook, the village developed to house workers during the construction of the Severn railway tunnel in the 19th Century. It was a major engineering feat of the day and the red brick Pumping Station is still the most prominent building in the village, as millions of gallons of water are drained each day from the tunnel.
Sudbrook has a much longer history with an Iron Age hill fort and nearby the stone ruins of a 12th century chapel are all that now remains of an earlier medieval settlement near the coast which crumbled away due to tidal erosion over the centuries.
Walking on to nearby Black Rock at Portskewett, a picnic area with plenty of benches around the area and viewpoints offers the opportunity for a welcome rest stop. It’s a popular walking site for locals and the area was busy with families and dog walkers enjoying the day.
Information boards and a map plaque set on a plinth, provides the distances to other paths and places, helpfully informing coast path walkers that it’s 6 miles east to the riverside at Chepstow and 231 miles west to Amroth at the start of the Pembrokeshire Coast Path.
There’s currently a project by Living Levels titled ‘People of the landscape’ with a series of sculptures being commissioned and positioned along a heritage trail. Read about the project here . This location would be ideal for those wishing to sample a short walk along a nice section of coast path with good access and car parking.
Walking on to St. Pierre Pill, a secluded inlet with an anchorage for sailing boats, the path then heads inland across fields, a railway crossing and alongside a golf course before reaching the historic village of Mathern.
Mathern is steeped in the legends of a 7th century local Celtic King, Tewdrig who died there after being wounded in a battle at Tintern. A church was dedicated to him at his burial place and he was declared a Saint and martyr, St. Tewdric.
An impressive carved sculpture of Tewdrig stands outside the Church in Mathern. The opportunity to learn more about the history, legends and folklore linked to such places is so interesting and a really enjoyable part of the experience when walking the Wales Coast Path.
From Mathern the path crosses farm fields, then through some bland urban areas which is relieved by a woodland track at the rear of a housing area which provides an occasional view of the River Wye.
After passing Bulwark, the path goes by a section of preserved Chepstow Port Wall, part of the 13th century medieval town defences. I had a particular personal interest here, as my late grandfather had grown up in Chepstow and in the distant past the family had lived at Portwall Cottage, long since gone. For a moment it was like my own episode of ‘Who do you think you are’.
From here it’s a steady downhill walk through the streets into Chepstow town, following the path route to finish at the riverside overlooking the elegant ironbridge over the River Wye.
The River Wye is the fourth-longest river in the UK, flowing some 155 miles from its source in mid Wales to the Severn estuary. For much of its length the river forms part of the border between England and Wales. The Wye Valley is designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and locations such as Tintern, just 5 miles North of Chepstow, are incredibly scenic and worth visiting to explore more.
A landscaped area on the Riverside has a couple of stone pillars to mark the Wales Coast Path start / finish point. A stone circle set in the ground to commemorate the official opening of the path in 2012 is a lovely piece of colourful mosaic artwork of the coastline of Wales.
Stage 1 of the South Wales Coast is under our belts in a ‘not-so-short’, as quite a long walk over 16 miles in exactly 7 hours.
Start ~ Redwick Village / Finish ~ Old Wye Bridge, Chepstow
Distance ~ 16.4 miles
Time ~ 7 hours
Facilities ~ no shops or facilities available directly on the path for a large part of this route, until reaching Chepstow; it’s strongly advised to pack snacks and plenty of liquids, to avoid lengthy detours off the route.
Rest Stops ~ Black Rock Picnic site ( seating / picnic tables, but no facilities);
Public House ~ The Millers Arms, Mathern, is not far from the route, usual pub facilities with a good menu and selection of real ales;
Public House ~ The Rose Inn, Redwick has a good menu, a highly rated and popular traditional village pub;
Chepstow ~ a wide range of shops, many independents, Pubs and restaurants, accommodation and services are available in the town. Chepstow is officially a Walkers Are Welcome town, click on the link for further details.
A long and enjoyable day walk with scenery, interesting history and engineering marvels along the way. Walking was easy going along the Severn Estuary, on a low and flat landscape.
Some road walking on the inland detour at Caldicot & the urban approach outside Chepstow were not so enjoyable.
As an alternative this stage could be completed as 2 or more shorter walks, to focus on the main highlights along the route.