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River Wye

River Wye (Afon Gwy)
The Wye at Hay-on-Wye
Countries Wales, England
 - left River Lugg, Bachawy, Afon Edw, more
 - right River Trothy, River Monnow, Dulas Brook, more
 - location Plynlimon
 - elevation 690 m (2,264 ft)
 - coordinates
 - location Chepstow, Severn Estuary
 - elevation 0 m (0 ft)
 - coordinates
Length 215 km (134 mi)
Basin 4,136 km2 (1,597 sq mi)
Map showing the River Wye from source to sea, excluding tributaries

The River Wye (Welsh: Afon Gwy) is the fifth-longest river in the UK, stretching some 215 kilometres (134 mi) from source to sea. For much of its length the river forms part of the border between England and Wales. The Wye Valley (lower part) is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.[1][2] The Wye is important for nature conservation and recreation.


  • Etymology 1
  • Description 2
  • Conservation 3
    • Salmon 3.1
  • History 4
  • Navigation and sport 5
  • Tributaries 6
  • Cultural references 7
  • Views of the river 8
  • Bridges on the river 9
  • See also 10
  • References 11
  • Further reading 12
  • External links 13


The Wye's Latin name is Vaga, an adjective meaning 'wandering'. The Tithe map references a Vagas Field in both Whitchurch and Chepstow.[3] The modern Welsh name Gwy may be derived from old Welsh Gwybiol or Gwyr (crooked wandering hills).[4]


The source of the Wye is in the Welsh mountains at Plynlimon. It flows through or past several towns and villages including Rhayader, Builth Wells, Hay-on-Wye, Hereford (the only city on the River Wye), Ross-on-Wye, Symonds Yat, Monmouth and Tintern, meeting the Severn estuary just below Chepstow. Its total length is 134 miles (216 km).[5] The lower 16 miles (26 km) of the river from Redbrook to Chepstow forms the border between England and Wales.


River Wye (Lower Wye)
Site of Special Scientific Interest
Grid reference to
Interest Biological/Geological
Area England: 1159.6 hectare, Wales: 245.2 hectare, Total: 1404.8 hectare
Notification 1978
Natural England website

The River Wye forms two Lower Wye Gorge.

It is also a Special Area of Conservation[8][9] and one of the most important rivers in the UK for nature conservation. It is an important migration route and wildlife corridor, as well as a key breeding area for many nationally and internationally important species. The river supports a range of species and habitats covered by European Directives and those listed under Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.[7] In Powys the river lies within the Radnorshire Environmentally Sensitive Area. Much of the lower valley is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.


The Lower Wye has been designated as a salmonid fishery under the EC Freshwater Fish Directive.[7] The Wye is largely unpolluted and used to be considered one of the best rivers for salmon fishing in the United Kingdom, outside of Scotland. However, in recent years the runs of salmon in the Wye have declined dramatically and according to the Environment Agency rod catch returns for 2012 it is not even the most productive salmon river in Wales, as more salmon were caught from the Welsh Dee. In England the Tyne, Ribble, Wear, Lune and Eden all had larger catches in 2009. In 1967 the Wye rod catch was 7,864; as recently as 1988 it was 6,401 but by 2002 it was only 357, a low from which it is recovering only very slowly despite the extensive habitat improvement work carried out by the Wye and Usk Foundation that was set up to restore the spring salmon runs. The Wye was particularly famous for its large "spring" salmon that had spent three or more years at sea before returning to spawn. They used to enter the river between January and June and sometimes reached weights of over 50 pounds (23 kg), the largest recorded being 59 lbs 8oz landed after a long fight by Miss Doreen Davey from the Cowpond Pool at Ballingham on 13 March 1923. The last recorded 50 lb rod-caught salmon from the Wye was taken in 1963 by Donald Parrish and weighed 51 lbs 8oz. These large spring salmon have virtually disappeared over the past two or three decades.


The Wye at Chepstow, showing the castle and the road bridge linking Monmouthshire (on the left) with Gloucestershire

The Romans constructed a bridge of wood and stone just upstream of present day Chepstow. The River Wye was and still is navigable up to Goodrich, which survived until about 1815. This was paid for by a tax on the County. Weirs were removed all along the Wye in Herefordshire, making the river passable to the western boundary, and beyond it at least to Hay on Wye. A horse towing path was added in 1808, but only up to Hereford; previously, as on the River Severn, barges were man-hauled. Money was spent several times improving the River Lugg from Leominster to its confluence with the Wye at Mordiford, but its navigation is likely to have been difficult. The Wye remained commercially navigable until the 1850s, when commercial traffic moved to railways. It is still used by pleasure craft.

Navigation and sport

The Environment Agency is the navigation authority for the river. The Normal Tidal Limit (NTL) of the river is Bigsweir and navigation below this point is under the control of the Gloucester Harbour Trustees as Competent Harbour Authority. There is a public right of navigation downstream from Hay-on-Wye.[11] Canoes are generally permitted at and downstream of Glasbury, so long as they do not disturb anglers.[12]

The River Wye provides for canoeing and kayaking as it has sections suitable for all ranges of skills and free access all the way downstream from Hay to Hereford and Monmouth, and the tidal Wye to Chepstow and the Severn Estuary.[13] There are a wide range of canoe hire and supervised trips, as well as campsites at key points on the river. Symonds Yat has a particularly popular series of rapids that was purchased by the British Canoe Union in 2003 to preserve the rapids for recreational use, canoe trips through the rapids stop next at Monmouth.[14] There are three rowing clubs on the river at Hereford, Ross-on-Wye and Monmouth. Annual regattas are held at Ross-on-Wye and Monmouth for rowers and scullers of all abilities, next to the local rowing club.

Walkers can enjoy the Wye Valley Walk which follows the route of the River Wye from Coed Hafren, near Plynlimon, to Chepstow along a series of well-maintained way-marked paths. A viewpoint near The Biblins on the Wye is known as 'Three Counties View', the meeting place of the counties of Herefordshire, Gloucestershire and Monmouthshire.


The Wye's tributaries include the river Lugg, Elan, Dulas, Irfon, Marteg, Monnow, Trothy, Ithon, Llynfi, Letton Lake, Tarennig (the Wye's first tributary) and Bidno.

Cultural references

The Romantic poet William Wordsworth includes an apostrophe to the Wye in his famous poem "Lines Written a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey" published 1798 in Lyrical Ballads

How oft, in spirit, have I turned to thee,
O sylvan Wye! thou wanderer thro' the woods,
How often has my spirit turned to thee!

Views of the river

Bridges on the river

See also


  1. ^ "Natural England information on AONBs and map". Natural England. Retrieved 5 October 2012. 
  2. ^ "Natural England information on Wye Valley AONB". Natural England. Retrieved 5 October 2012. 
  3. ^ The Tithe map (1844)
  4. ^ David Hancocks, Dean Archaeology No. 11, 1998 p39 ISSN: 0954-8874
  5. ^ Sue Owen et al., (2005). Colin Pooley, ed. Rivers and the British Landscape. Carnegie Publishing.  
  6. ^ "Countryside Council for Wales Landscape & wildlife statement for River Wye (Upper Wye) / Afon Gwy (Gwy Uchaf)". Countryside Council for Wales. Retrieved 18 August 2012. 
  7. ^ a b c d "Natural England SSSI information on River Wye (Lower Wye) or Afon Gwy (Gwy Isaf) SDdGA – citation, maps and unit details". Natural England. Retrieved 18 August 2012. 
  8. ^ "Information on River Wye Special Area of Conservation designation". DEFRA. Retrieved 20 September 2012. 
  9. ^ "Joint Nature Conservation Committee Listing of Special Areas of Conservation". DEFRA. Retrieved 20 September 2012. 
  10. ^ I. Cohen. 1958 pg 86–94)"Transactions of the Woolhope Naturalists Field Club,"The Non-tidal Wye and its Navigation (from . Retrieved 9 December 2006. 
  11. ^ "Wye canoe?" (PDF).  
  12. ^ "Canoeing in the Area". Hay-on-Wye Tourist Information Bureau. Retrieved 30 November 2013. 
  13. ^ "Boating along the River Wye". Waterscape. Retrieved 10 April 2012. 
  14. ^ "River rapids sold to canoeists". BBC News. 15 March 2003. Retrieved 22 May 2010. 

Further reading

  • I. Cohen, 'The non-tidal Wye and its navigation' Trans. Woolhope Nat. Fld. Club 34 (1955), 83–101;
  • V. Stockinger, The Rivers Wye and Lugg Navigation: a documentary history 1555–1951 (Logaston Press 1996);
  • P. King, 'The river Teme and other Midlands River Navigations' Journal of Railway and Canal Historical Society 35(50 (July 2006), 350–1.

External links

  • The River Wye described from Source to Sea
  • Natural England (SSSI information)
  • Countryside Council for Wales (SSSI information)
  • The Wye and Usk Foundation conservation charity
  • Canoeists' guide to the River Wye
  • River Wye Preservation Trust
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