Guide rediscovers birthplace of British Tourism

Picturesque locations that were featured in the first tour guide ever published in Britain are described anew in a publication sure to inspire today’s visitors to the Wye Valley.Launched by historian and writer Sir Roy Strong at the opening of an exhibition of contemporary paintings depicting the Picturesque Wye Tour, the booklet has been put together by adventa, Monmouthshire’s LEADER+ rural development programme.

Praised by Sir Roy Strong as “a delightful booklet… beautifully designed and produced”, the publication describes some of the Picturesque viewpoints and romantic ruins fashionable with Eighteenth Century visitors who visited the Wye Valley to take a boat tour down the river. These early “Wye Tourists” who contributed to the area’s reputation as the birthplace of British tourism, were influenced by a book, published in 1782, entitled “Observations on the River Wye and Several Parts of South Wales”. Written by William Gilpin, it started the trend for “picturesque tourism” - travel which focussed on an appreciation of scenery rather than just history or architecture.

The Wye Valley, this year celebrating its 35th anniversary as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, has an abundance of all three, making it to this day an inspiring and enjoyable place to visit. 

Introducing the booklet “The Picturesque Wye Tour”, Sir Roy Strong said: “The beauties of the Wye Valley were discovered for the first time at the close of the eighteenth century. The British, enmeshed in a war against France which lasted over two decades were forced to have what we call today holidays at home. What they found in this particular part of their native country entranced them both for its variety of landscape experience and historic association. That is still true over two centuries later.” 

Said Nicola Smith, green tourism officer for adventa: ” We hope the guide will help today’s visitors make the most of a short break in the area and perhaps inspire their own creativity. It will certainly enable them to enjoy the picturesque sites visited by the early tourists, who included Wordsworth, Turner and Coleridge. The viewpoints described in the booklet include those thought to have inspired Wordsworth’s “Lines composed a few miles above Tintern Abbey”, as well as the historic castles of Chepstow and Goodrich and the popular Yat Rock outlook. All the sites we have chosen remain inspirational to this day.”


Most of the sites depicted in the booklet feature in an exhibition of paintings organised by Wye Valley Arts Society. The paintings are on view to audiences of the Wyastone Summer Series of classical music concerts at Wyastone Concert Hall in the heart of the Wye Valley until the end of June, when the exhibition moves to Monmouth Museum. Some of these contemporary interpretations are included as illustrations in the booklet, alongside the work of some of the original Wye Tourists. 

The booklet encourages even more artists to pack their paints and capture the Picturesque by suggesting ideas for short breaks with an artistic or creative theme, including specially selected painting breaks and workshops. It also features art galleries throughout the area, and shops selling artists’ supplies. It suggests riverboat cruises and canoe hire to enable today’s visitors to enjoy views of the Wye Valley from the river, just as the first tourists did over two hundred years ago. A selection of accommodation includes hotels mentioned in the diaries and journals of those same tourists, which continue to welcome visitors today.