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WYE, OH! WYE – A Most Theatrical and Musical Community Celebration of the Famous Wye Tour
Friday 16 May 7.30pm Drill Hall, Lower Church St Chepstow
Produced by OperaPlayhouse in collaboration with Chepstow Museum
Tickets £8, £6 concessions from Chepstow Museum (tel 01291 625981)
This production uses words written by the tourists of some 200 years ago from the many journals and guidebooks produced as the popularity of the two day boat trip from Ross to Chepstow brought increasing numbers of visitors in search of picturesque scenes, as well as poetry inspired by the Wye, all skilfully woven together with appropriate music of the period. Created with a host of talented performers from the Wye Valley, professional musicians and performers join to create the show at Chepstow.
The Wye Tour owes its origins to the Rev John Egerton, rector of Ross on Wye in the 1740s who entertained his friends by taking them down the river in a pleasure boat. The idea caught on, and by the 1770s the commercial version was becoming established as a two-day trip from Ross to Monmouth on the first, Monmouth to Chepstow on the second, becoming increasingly popular towards the end of the century when war in Europe made continental travel impossible.
The boats had a protective awning from the sun or rain, and a table at which the occupants could sketch or write poetry or prose, as the scenery inspired them, and indeed as it became expected for them to do. An itinerary became established to take in the important sites and viewpoints, with stopping places for picnics that were provided as part of the package. This stretch of the Wye had everything to inspire the romantic traveller, the scenery in all its variety, infernal industry, the ruins of Tintern Abbey, castles on cliff tops and the wonders of the Piercefield walks.
The early ‘tourists’ had no guidebook to tell them where to look, but in 1783 the book that was to become the essential companion for all those who ventured down the Wye, was finally published – the Rev William Gilpin’s ‘Observations on the River Wye…Relative Chiefly to Picturesque Beauty: Made in the Summer of the Year 1770’. Gilpin laid down rules for assessing the picturesque quality of the views encountered on the trip down the river, and while his extreme ideas were exposed to ridicule by some, the search for the picturesque scene became an obsession for the growing number of people who followed faithfully in his footsteps.
The Tour can be seen as the first ‘packaged tour’ and the lower Wye Valley has been hailed as the birthplace of British tourism, such was its importance.
This show was originally devised as part of Chepstow Museum’s project on the Wye Tour funded by Heritage Lottery Fund’s Collecting Cultures Scheme and last year sections were performed at the relevant stopping points down the Wye. For the River Festival this year the whole show has been restaged thanks to support from Sustainable Development Fund a Countryside Council for Wales initiative in the Wye Valley AONB.