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The beautifully rich and gently rolling scenery of the Usk Valley (Vale of Usk) lies between the well known spectacular and wooded Wye Valley and the Black Mountains and the Brecon Beacons. This is the stunning setting of Vanilla Cottage.
(Distances are small and from Usk itself you can be in Tintern in the Wye Valley or in the heart of the Beacons in around 40 minutes by car). Most visitors to the area do in fact visit all three lovely landscapes- relishing their differences!
RIVER AND CANAL
The River Usk flows from the mountains and turns broadly south through Monmouthshire .Beyond the eponymous town of Usk it passes the Roman legionary fortress of Caerleon to flow through the heart of the city of Newport and out into the Severn Estuary and the Newport Wetlands with their exceptional birdlife easily visited. The River is second only to some of the Scots rivers for the quality of its salmon fishing and many guests enjoy a riverbank sojourn.
The Monmouth to Brecon Canal follows the River Usk for much of the canal's length and is a firm favourite with cyclists and walkers. Running for 32 miles through idyllic scenery a visit to the Canal is a wonderful way to slow things down a little.Take to the towpath on foot or by bicycle to enjoy the breathtaking surroundings (and walk off those extra welsh cakes).
Less than ten miles from the M4 but feeling a world away, Usk sits on one of the finest salmon fishing rivers in the country, the River Usk. Visit the 11th century castle, take a refreshing riverside walk and enjoy the charming independent shops, crafy shops , tearooms , restaurants and pubs Usk has to offer. The end of June is a weekend not to be missed because that is when the town hosts its OPEN GARDENS weekend., Around 20 gardens are open from immaculate allotments to the elegant gardens of the Castle and amazing designs and care for smaller plots. Even the prison and the School join in! Usk is a repeated winner of Wales in Bloom and Britain in Bloom and the floral decorations are a joy all summer long. During summer 2017 BBC2 will be filming Blooming Marvellous in the town. Look out for it on TV!
The town has a lively community , a monthly Farmers Market , a top quality Agricultural show ( September) , a summer festival with music and stalls and a winter one too. The Winter Fair is very lovely as Santa usually attends with REAL reindeer.!
The little town of Raglan is just a few minutes from Vanilla Cottage. Its major attraction is its mighty Castle plus a good restaurant and a wonderful butcher!
Wales was the farthest outpost of the Roman Empire. In AD 75, the Romans built a fortress at Caerleon that would guard the region for over 200 years. Today a visit to the National Roman Legion Museum - built inside what remains of the fortress - will show you just what made the Romans such a formidable force, and how life today wouldn’t be the same without them. This makes a great visit for families as there is lots of outside space to run in and lets children imagine!
EAT DRINK AND BE VERY MERRY
The Usk Valley does of course have " normal" shops and supermarkets but its when you want something special that it comes into its own. Farm gate stalls? Farmers market? Undercover weekly market? All here especially in summertime. Riverside pub? Tick. Dog friendly pub with modern Welsh menu. Tick. Takeaway chip shop? Tick. Roaring woodburners? Tick. And some of the best retaurants in Wales.Tick with stars.
Try the Walnut Tree ( Michelin star) at Skirrid., 1820 at Cross Ash, The Hardwick at, well, Hardwick! or treat yourself to a slap up Afternoon tea at the Angel in Abergavenny..
There are vineyards and cidermakers too. Your only problem is choice.
GARDENS to ENJOY
If you visit any gardens in this region, make Dewstow first on your list. Originally built around 1895, what makes Dewstow Gardens exceptional is the labyrinth of underground grottoes, tunnels and sunken ferneries. Buried under thousands of tonnes of soil just after WW2 and rediscovered in 2000, these eccentric and fantastical gardens have been restored and boast ponds, tropical glasshouses, rock gardens and an alpine garden. A must-see.
The Clytha Estate is a classic 18th-century landscaped park combining fine architecture, grand sweeping views and tranquil countryside in a timeless atmosphere. It was originally built with money from the coalfields and ironworks of the nearby valleys and includes a large house, castle, gardens, cottages, farms and parkland.Clytha Castle is considered one of the outstanding 18th-century follies of Wales.It was designed by John Davenport and built in 1790 by William Jones of Clytha House. He built it as a memorial to his late wife Elizabeth, last surviving child of Sir William Morgan of Tredegar House, with the purpose of ‘relieving a mind afflicted by the loss of a most excellent wife’.The folly stands on top of Clytha Hill, on the edge of an old grove of chestnuts, and is currently cared for by the Landmark Trust. It is a wonderful backdrop to the many waymarked walks enjoyed by guests from nearby Vanilla Cottage. The parkland is free for you to wander in all year round, and with a charming route along the River Usk, it really is a wonderful day out.
Tredegar House. Dark arts, riotous parties, war heroism, crocodiles and crucifixes...Tredegar House has never been an ordinary household. A place of dark days and golden ages where flamboyance is at the heart of the history. Tredegar House and gardens is especially dog friendly ( not inside the house itself but there are good facilities and pets are welcomed outside). A must.
Usk's own gardens and Flowers
Usk town is a serious competitor in the Wales and Briatin in Bloom competitions each year and wins more often than not. You will see why! There are flowers everywhere all summer long , from the chip shop to the prison and the Castle everywhere is decorated for your enjoyment. At the end of June each year the Open Gardens are a great way to pass a fragrant afternoon. Some 20 gardens open for Charity , there are plants to buy and lovely tea and cakes ( of course!) During summer 2017 BBC2 filmed Blooming Marvellous in the town. Look out for it on TV from 16 April 2018!
SPECIAL SPORTS and ACTIVITIES
HOT AIR BALLON RIDES OVER THE USK VALLEY ( and/or the WYE VALLEY )
Still looking for more to do in the Usk Valley?
Climb the Skirrid There are many intriguing myths and legends around Skirrid and the surrounding area.!
Lord Elis-Thomas was in Tintern Abbey for the opening of the Museum of the Moon, part of the exceptional Wye Valley River festival.
Monmouthshire Cottages has again won the top accolade of Best Self Catering in Wales
Snow blanketed the Wye Valley in early March 2018