It is said that the Wye Valley is the birthplace of British Tourism and with English Tourism week this week (16th – 24th March 2013), it seems appropriate to write about tourism back in the day.

The birth of tourism is said to be in the 17 and 1800s! The trend was apparently started by John Egerton, Rector of Ross on Wye who built a boat to entertain his visitors together with a best-selling guide book “Observations on the River Wye” by the Rev. William Gilpin. These two created what was probably the first package tour. By 1800 a trip down the Wye was a must for people of taste and fashion who now holidayed at home because of war in Europe.

The tourists came to be inspired by the scenery and to paint, sketch and write.

wye valley herefordshireA wonderful luggage list for the Wye Tour is written up on a information board in Ross on Wye and includes telescope, maps, barometer, sketch books, drawing pads and journal, pens, pencils and watercolours as well as a Claude glass (a convex mirror to miniaturise the landscape and simplify painting it) a pocket edition of Cowper’s poetry and provisions for a picnic!

Apparently by 1850 more than 20 of the more literate tourists had published their own accounts of the Wye Tour and among them were Pope, Coleridge, our very own Wordsworth, Thackeray and Turner.

The arrival of the railway in 1876 made the Wye valley even more accessible. In the early 1900s, crowds of up to 1,300 would travel on a special train journey to see Tintern Abbey on the night of the harvest moon! Haven’t we come a long way since then!

Today, it is easy to see why the wild beauty of the Wye valley still attracts visitors. The scenery is stunning and of course the river offers many options to enjoy it from walks along its banks, to kayaking or canoeing or a cruise where someone else provides the pedal power! There is fishing as well as paddling or bird watching from one of the pubs along the river. The Wye Gorge between Symonds Yat and Chepstow is probably one of the best known and one of the most visited landscapes in southern Britain.

Tourism today is big business and there are some interesting facts on the Visit England website.

Apparently, around 100 million domestic overnight trips are made every year contributing to a spend in 2009 of £17.3bn. And there are about 873 million day trips made each year with an estimated value of £39bn. England can host over 2.2 million people overnight in quality assessed accommodation.

England’s countryside offers a range of outdoor experiences to inspire, with ten national parks, 33 officially designated areas of outstanding natural beauty and over 4,000 sites of special scientific interest protected because of their importance as some of the most spectacular and beautiful wildlife and geological locations.

So, whilst Herefordshire and the Wye Valley may not be in the top 10 of tourism spots, it is more than worth a visit. Come and stay soon!

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