A day at the races
Wales’ passion for sport extends right to the south east border county of Monmouthshire. There’s a wealth of fun to be found in these parts. For starters, there are the horses. Chepstow’s world-famous racecourse has been delighting crowds since 1926 and has been home to the Welsh Grand National since 1949, when the famous jockey and author, Dick Francis, won.
The race takes place annually on December 27, but the track is used all year round, with other highlights including the Spring races and a ladies’ day in the summer. Time a visit right and you may even catch a gig there: past performers include Sir Tom Jones, Simply Red and UB40.
Cycling enthusiasts will love this part of Wales for several reasons. For a start, there are the two long-distance cycling routes that start in Chepstow: the National Cycle Network’s 220-mile Celtic Trail and Lon Las Cymru, a 185-mile route that takes riders north through the Brecon Beacons to Snowdonia. Those after a lung-bursting challenge will want to try ‘The Tumble’ – a famous six-kilometre, 10 per cent gradient climb south from the small village of Govilon, near Abergavenny. In case you need further convincing, Monmouthshire is also home to the Abergavenny Festival of Cycling.
Monmouthshire’s waterways provide umpteen opportunities to experience water sports. If canoeing or kayaking appeal, head to Monmouth Canoe and Activity Centre. Experience the Wye Valley from a new perspective, with a guided tour from its waterways. Alternatively, you can hire equipment from the centre and go it alone at your own pace. The centre’s friendly and knowledgeable staff will help you sort out accommodation should you fancy an overnight stay en route, and they’ll even arrange to drop you and your equipment off (and pick you up again).
Cyclists after a lung-bursting challenge will want to try ‘The Tumble’ – a famous six-kilometre, 10 per cent gradient climb south from the small village of Govilon, near Abergavenny
At Llandegfedd Visitor & Watersports Centre, which spans the border of Monmouthshire and Torfaen, you can windsurf, dinghy sail, stand up paddleboard and more. Most of the activities take place on a 434-acre lake, but the water is drinkable, free of weeds and has no tides to contend with – good news for those likely to end up in it.
Keen anglers will be pleased to note the reservoir is well-stocked with rainbow trout, wild brown trout, bream, roach, dace, eels and pike. In fact, Llandegfedd holds the UK pike record of 46lb 13oz. And should you want some time on land, there are around four miles of surrounding footpaths and signposted walks that are open to the public and ripe for exploration. However, as the area is a Site of Special Scientific Interest because of its importance to over-wintering wildfowl, it is closed to all activities between November 1 and March 1 each year.
If exploring life underwater is more your thing, the National Diving and Activity Centre, east of Chepstow, is well worth a visit. Home to Britain’s deepest inland diving site, the centre offers PADI courses for those new to the sport, while there are plenty of wrecks for more experienced divers to discover, including a troop carrier, plane and bus.
Back above water, Monmouth Rowing Club’s annual regatta attracts hundreds of competitors from across the UK, with more than 400 boats participating in the two-day event held on the Spring Bank Holiday in late May. Fancy a round of golf? You’re in luck – there are seven courses of various lengths and difficulties across the county, many of which accept visitors and new members. The oldest club in the area is the Monmouthshire Golf Club.
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