travel by boat down the Wye

One of the most expensive journeys in Wales, and as a result, one of the most exclusive, was the 37 mile trip down the Wye from Ross to Chepstow. This usually took two days, with the passengers staying over-night at Monmouth. Many stopped off at Goodrich castle and Tintern Abbey and walked across the headland at Symonds Yat for the views (with a guide, for whom there was an additional charge), while the boats took a much longer journey around it.

The cost of the full trip at the end of the 18th century and well into the 19th century was normally 3 guineas [£3 3 shillings] per boat plus the cost of the tourist’s and boat-men’s food and drink plus tips.  At least one generous family paid an additional 3 guineas for provisions and another guinea as a tip.

Some took half the trip down stream, either from Ross to Monmouth, or Monmouth to Chepstow. The cost for each of these journeys was 1½ guineas plus expenses and tips.

Some tourists travelled up the Wye from Chepstow to Tintern and back which cost 1 guinea. A few continued on to Monmouth.

Two tourist explained the high charge:  the boatmen had to bring the empty boat back upstream and tow it over shallows and rapids which took 14 hours, nearly 3 times the downward passage. (1796, 1802 below)

Tourists who took this picturesque trip and had brought their own vehicle, or hired one for the tour, had to arrange to send it to their destination. An anonymous traveller in 1808 paid 3 guineas for the boat and provisions and an additional 17s 6d to send his carriage by road.

Summary of the cost of travelling down or up the Wye by boat (details below).

A guinea was £1.1s. 0d. It was extremely rare for tourists to pay more than 10 shillings for any single bill in Wales: at the end of the 18th century it was possible to tour Wales for between £3 and £5 a week. See further  so paying several guineas for a trip down or up the Wye was a very significant item of expenditure.

trip year person guineas note
2 days navigation down the Wye 1766? Anon 3g boat hire
Chepstow to Tintern and back 1769 Grimston 1g boat hire
Ross to Monmouth 1780 Bernard 1.5g boat hire
Ross to Monmouth 1780 Bernard 1.5g provisions
Monmouth to Chepstow 1781 Byng 1.5g boat hire
Boat on Wye (upstream) 1789 Anon 0.5g boat hire
Ross to Chepstow 1796 Anon 3g boat hire
Ross to Chepstow 1796 Anon 3g provisions plus tip
Ross to Chepstow 1797 Colt Hoare 3g boat hire plus tip and food for boatmen
Ross to Chepstow 1801 Martyn 4g boat hire and provisions
Ross to Chepstow 1801 Martyn 0.5 g for boatmen
Ross to Chepstow 1802 Gray 3g boat hire
Ross to Chepstow 1802 Gray 1g provisions plus tip
Ross to Monmouth 1803 Farington 1.5g boat hire
Ross to Monmouth 1803 Farington 0.5g for the boat-men
Ross to Monmouth 1803 Farington 6s tips
Ross to Chepstow 1804 Anon 6g boat hire, ?Including provisions and tip
Ross to Monmouth 1805 Mavor 2g boat hire plus tips
Ross to Monmouth 1806 Douglas 2g boat hire plus cost of sending carriage on
Monmouth to Chepstow 1806 Spence 3g boat hire, ?Including provisions and tip
Ross to Monmouth 1811 Cullum 2g boat hire and provisions plus tip of 5s
Chepstow to Tintern and back 1811 Cullum 1g boat hire plus tip of 2s 6d
Ross to Monmouth 1808 Haldimand 2g boat hire
1808 Haldimand 0.5g provisions
1808 Haldimand 0.5g for the boat-men
Chepstow to Tintern 1808 Haldimand 1g boat hire
1808 Haldimand 5s for the men
Ross to Chepstow 1816 Coare 4g boat hire, ?including provisions and tip
Ross to Monmouth 1824 Martineau £1/2/0 boat hire plus tip
Ross to Monmouth 1824 Porter 2g boat hire ?including provisions
Ross to Monmouth 1824 Porter 2s 6d for each man
Monmouth to Chepstow 1824 Porter boat hire ?including provisions
Monmouth to Chepstow 1824 Porter 5s             for each man
Ross to Monmouth 1842 Anon (Tom) 1.5g boat hire

1766 [but there is no internal evidence for this date]
‘If it is proposed to go down the Wye, it will be better perhaps to set out from Ross than H [Hereford?] … The price of yr [your?] two days navigation from Ross to Chepstow is 3 guineas …
Anon, Cornwall Record Office, Truro, ‘Hints for a south Wales tour’, PD/475, p. 1

A boat is engaged to go down the Wye to Monmouth at the moderate price of a Guinea and a half, and about as much more for provision: And the passage is 25 miles and so vast pleasant … we had 9 hours Recreation in floating to Monmouth.
Bernard, Thomas, A Holiday Tour, 1780, Baker, J.B., (ed), Pleasure and Pain, 1780-1818, (1930), p. 42

1796 Ross to Chepstow
We came 50 miles by water for the expense of 6 guineas which considering the boat is to be tugged back all the way by men, I do not think too much. The fare is 3 guineas and to provide provisions for three men [2 guineas?]. I gave them a guinea over for themselves.
Anon, A Tour from York into Wales in the year 1796, NLW MS 4489, p. ?

1781 Monmouth
The landlord tells me, to my sorrow, that a boat to Chepstow will cost one guinea and a half, and that I had better ride and save my money.
Byng, John, (Viscount Torrington) Andrews, C Bruyn. (Editor). The Torrington diaries: Containing the tours through England and Wales of the Hon. John Byng between the years 1781 and 1794, (London, 1934), vol. 1, p. 21, (15th June 1781)

Thomas Martyn’s journey along the river Wye from Ross to Chepstow cost four guineas and an extra half a guinea for the men, which would have been the same price, whether an overnight stop had been made at Monmouth or not.
Martyn, T., A Tour of South Wales, [1801], NLW MS 1340C, p. 59

‘The hire of a boat to [from Ross on Wye to] Chepstow is 3 guineas besides 1 guinea for provisions for the rowers and an extra present. The charge appears enormous but when it is considered that on their return that have a most labourious task in working the boat up so rapid a river, the sum appears more moderate.’
Gray, Jonathan, 1802, North Yorkshire Record Office, ZGY/T4, p. 30

[Trip down the Wye, Ross to Chepstow
{Boats can be had at Ross to take visitors to Chepstow for 6 guineas, taking two days and staying the night at Monmouth, but they had neither the time or money to do this.}
Anon, [Richard Phillips – written in pencil on the title page], Gleanings of a Wanderer in Various Parts of England, Scotland and North Wales, made during an excursion during the year 1804, (London, 1805), p. 165

Expensive to travel by boat. It saves 2 guineas to go [along the river side] by horse.
White, James, Picturesque Excursion into South Wales, British Library Add MSS 4499, pp. 30-33

1806, Ross,
To Monmouth by boat down the Wye ‘for 2 guineas and sent on our servant and phaeton to Chepstow’
Douglas, George L. A., NLS Ms 10349 p. 225 [NLS Ms 10350 (a tidy copy of the same)]

1806, 1807
Beachley Passage-house, August 23.
The first intention of sailing down the Wye from Monmouth to Chepstow was abandoned, owing to the precarious state of the weather. To those persons who wish to survey the highly picturesque beauties of Monmouthshire, from what I have seen in my walks on the romantic borders of the Wye, the most delightful must occur in sailing from Ross to Monmouth, and thence to Chepstow. The expense is three guineas for a boat to go about thirty-seven miles, the charge being the same to one person as to a party.
Spence, Elizabeth Isabella, Summer Excursions through parts of Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire, Warwickshire, Staffordshire, Herefordshire, Derbyshire, and South Wales [in 1806, 1807] (1809), letter X.

The boats down the Wye have an established price 2 guineas includes all expenses except 5 shillings I gave the boatman upon reaching Monmouth.
Boat from Chepstow to Tintern Abbey [and back] cost a guinea and half a crown.
Rev. Sir Thomas Gery Cullum, NLW 5446B, pp. 7-21

Malvern – Ledbury – Ross ….took a boat for which we paid four Guineas down to Chepstow and had two delightful days on the Wye.
Coare, Mary,?  Centre for Kentish Studies U1823/8Z4

£1.2s.0d is the price of a boat from Ross to Monmouth. We had two men to row and one to steer. They expected two to three shillings amongst them, that is all, and even that seems more than is usually given.
Martineau, Margaret, Travel diary from St Albans into north and South Wales.
Hampshire Record Office, 83M93/21, July 26th, 1824

We embarked at 12 o’clock on our tour down the Wye from Ross to Chepstow. Papa gave two guineas for the boat from Ross to Monmouth, which is the regular charge & half a crown to each of the boatmen [two rowers and a steersman].
Porter, Martha, Worcestershire Record Office, BA 3940 Parcel 64 (ii) 705: 262

19th Thursday. We sent our carriage horses the servant & trio by land to Monmouth & took a boat down the Wye for which Papa paid two Guineas. We left Ross at 12 o’clock in an open boat which had an awning to let down in case of rain & was rowed by two men with a third to steer. … Monmouth where we arrived in a soaking rain about nine o’clock & had some distance to walk from the landing to the Beaufort Arms.
20th A Honny (?) morning which induced to decide on staying here all day.
21st Saturday. Proving a fine day we sent our Servants Carriages Etc. to Chepstow by land & took a Boat for ourselves at two guineas to go down the Wye to the same place.
Anne Porter, Worcestershire Record Office, BA 3940 Parcel 65 (ii) 705: 262

The high charge of 1½ guineas for a boat and 2 rowers is because the boatmen have to bring the boat back and tow it over shallows and rapids which takes 14 hours, nearly 3 times the downward passage.
Anon, 1842 NMW 190489, p. 20