An urban walk exploring history and modern culture.
Huge bridges and small villages with big histories
Caldicot Castle and Country Park to Chepstow Castle.
9 miles / 15 kilometres, or 10 miles / 16 kilometres if adding the walk around Caldicot Castle country park.
We start this route in the tranquil gardens and a 55 acre wooded country park at Caldicot Castle. Founded by the Normans, developed as a stronghold in the Middle Ages, then restored as a Victorian family home, the castle has a romantic and colourful history.
We have an option to extend this walk slightly by following the Health Walk route around the very pleasant country park. Then it’s down to the Severn Estuary by turning right on the B4245 Caldicot bypass, carefully crossing over to walk down Pill Row, and finally turning right onto Symonds cliff Road to cross the railway and join the Wales Coast Path.
The estuary has the second highest tidal range in the world (14.5 metres or 48 feet) and strong currents. At low tide much of the estuary is mud flats which have been designated a Special Protection Area, protected for it’s rare, vulnerable and regularly occurring migratory bird species. It’s also a Site of Special Scientific Interest, a site protected under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 for it’s flora, fauna, geological or physiographical features.
We join the Wales Coast Path in the shadow of the mighty three-mile-long Second Severn Crossing, a monumental feat of engineering that was completed in 1996.
Heading up the estuary we soon reach Sudbrook, a village that has much older roots than it appears. The remains of the ancient Sudbrook Fort, Portskewett have yielded finds of Iron Age, Roman and medieval pottery.
And nearby, the evocative ruins of Holy Trinity Church are all that now remain of a medieval settlement. Built in the twelfth or thirteenth century, it was still in use in 1560 but was abandoned by the end of the eighteenth century. The remains now sit perilously close to the crumbling cliff edge.
Directly underneath our feet at this point is the lowest part of the Severn tunnel, the four-mile-long, 125-year-old route which carries trains beneath the estuary.
And that is why the massive Sudbrook Pumping Station was built here. It prevents the tunnel from flooding by pumping out 10 million gallons of water every day. We’ll pass the Tunnel Centre, well worth a visit when open, as it tells the history of the area and how the crossings were built. It also has toilets and, for a donation, drink-making facilities.
Just a little further on, we reach Black Rock Picnic site, a great place to stop for a packed lunch. We can also see 2 sculptures here, The Fisherman and The Engineer, presenting a great photo opportunity.
We continue up the estuary for a mile-and-a-half until the path turns inland on reaching St Pierre Pill. The term “Pill” is a common name for a tidal stream or small river on both sides of the Severn Estuary. A short walk inland is the St Pierre Marriott Hotel and Country Club, handy to stop for a bite to eat and to use the toilets.
After another mile or so we reach Mathern – another small village with a big history.
St Tewdric’s Church is reputedly the burial place of a former king of Morgannwg. Called from retirement to repel invading Saxons, Tewdric won the battle at Tintern but received a mortal blow to the skull. His wounds were washed in a well on his last journey and Tewdric’s Well can still be found on the road to the church.
He asked for a church to be built wherever he died and a tablet in the church records details of a skeleton found under the chancel floor by archaeologists in the nineteenth century. The skull had apparently been split by the blow of an axe-like weapon.
Between 1408 and 1705 the Grade I listed Mathern Palace was the main residence of the Bishops of Llandaff. After falling into ruin, it was restored and its gardens laid out between 1894 and 1899.
And Moynes Court is a Grade II listed building that was rebuilt as a private residence by Francis Godwin, Bishop of Llandaff in about 1610. Much of the building remains from that period although earthworks in the grounds are thought to be the foundations of an earlier manor house and moat.
Leaving Mathern we cross under the M4 and head towards Chepstow. When the path enters a wooded area at Thornwell, make sure to turn around for a fine view of the Severn Bridge across the mouth of the River Wye.
The remains of the late Iron Age Bulwarks Camp are easy to miss but if we look a little closer we’ll find traces of an enclosure marked by a double bank and a ditch.
This spot was probably chosen as the location for a fort due to it’s strategically important position perched on a cliff overlooking the River Wye – it was later occupied by the Romans.
Moving on along the outskirts of the town, we’ll come across the remains of Chepstow’s medieval town’s walls. Built between 1272 and 1278 the walls remain an impressive feature of today’s town.
Originally stretching for almost three quarters of a mile from the castle to the Wye, they enclosed the medieval town, its port and a large open area of orchards and meadows.
And finally we reach the beautifully preserved Chepstow Castle. Its Great Tower keep was commissioned by William the Conqueror barely a year after the Battle of Hastings, making it Britain’s oldest surviving post-Roman stone castle.
Possibly the best place in Britain to see how castles changed over time to counter new and more powerful weaponry, some of the wealthiest and most powerful men of the medieval and Tudor ages called this home. For more than six centuries these hugely influential and fabulously rich aristocrats adorned the castle with their gold, silver, elaborate silks and brightly painted furniture.
Among the castle’s highlights are Europe’s oldest castle doors and the first twin-towered gatehouse in Britain.
When we’re finished exploring we really should cross the beautiful Old Wye Bridge to the English side of the Wye – the views from there of the castle on top of the limestone cliffs above the Wye are quite spectacular.
From here, you can join the Offa’s Dyke Path National Trail, the 177 mile / 285 km long walking route travelling the length of Wales, along the border with England and Wales.
Tricia Cottnam, Wales Coast Path officer, said: “Mostly sandwiched between the two Severn Estuary bridges, this is a very interesting walk up the estuary and River Wye at the very end (or start) of the Wales Coast Path. Apart from the obvious modern architectural feats there is a lot of history to explore, from ancient Iron Age forts to the ruins of medieval settlements and the spectacular Chepstow Castle.”
All facilities are available at Caldicot and Chepstow, but there is very little by way of services in between.
There is a regular bus service between Caldicot and Chepstow and a train station a mile or so away from the start of this route at Severn Junction Tunnel Station.
Download the Caldicot to Chepstow map (JPEG, 3.03MB)