Lower Wye Valley
019 Highmeadow Woods
Ancient Woodland: woodland management features: charcoal burning hearths; relict industrial archaeology: charcoal burning at Priory Grove; and quarrying; communication: footpaths ('picturesque' walk through Beaulieu wood); public rail (dismantled Ross-Monmouth railway); Roman road (OS 1st edition); ornamental/leisure; tourism ('picturesque' walk and viewing platforms); woodland boundaries. Back to map
The historic landscape area of Highmeadow Woods is an area of ancient woodland, which occupies the summit of a hill overlooking a large bend in the River Wye. The boundaries are defined by the extent of the ancient woodland, and by the national border with England to the east.
The earliest evidence activity in the area is a Hollow Way, which preserves the line of a track which may date to the Roman period.
The manor of Hadnock in the parish of Dixton, within which this area of woodland lies, was included in a grant of land given to the Priory of Monmouth by Withenock, the second Lord of Monmouth (Bradney 1904). This association between the Priory and the woodland is demonstrated by the name of 'Priory Grove', an area immediately above the west bank of the Wye, which directly overlooks the river. The area of woodland to the south, known as 'Beaulieu Wood' is also associated with Beaulieu Farm in the adjoining agricultural area, which is believed to be associated with the medieval Beaulieu Grange, a possession of the Abbey of Grace Dieu.
The area of Highmeadow Woods historically fell within the parish of Dixton, in the manor of Hadnock (Bradney 1904). The area has existed as woodland throughout most of its history, evidence of woodland management of unknown date is represented by a large number of charcoal burning hearths. Large parts of the area, which was named 'Hadnock Wood' on the tithe map of the parish (1845), survive as semi-natural ancient woodland to the current day. After the dissolution of the monasteries, the area belonged firstly to the Huntley and Herbert families, then to the Duchy of Lancaster. It then fell to the family of the steward, Benedict Hall of Highmeadow, and eventually to Lord Gage. The area was then divided, Upper Hadnock being sold around 1800, and Lower Hadnock being sold to Admiral Griffin in approximately 1747. Following the death of his heir without a son, the estate was then sold to Richard Blakemore of the Leys, MP for Wells (Bradney 1904, 23). The tithe map lists Blakemore as the owner of much of the land within this character area, while the area of the Beaulieu farm was part of the Beaufort estate.
The development of Picturesque interest in the area in the late eighteenth/early nineteenth centuries led to Beaulieu Woods, in the south of the area, being included in the designed landscape of the Kymin Park. Following on from the construction of the Roundhouse in 1794 by the Monmouth Picnic Club (Register of Parks and Gardens), the surrounding area was developed to maximise appreciation for the landscape and views from the hill. This involved the creation of a circular footpath through Beaulieu Wood with viewing points and platforms from which the scenery could be appreciated (Cadw 1994).
Authorised by an Act of 1865, the Ross and Monmouth Railway Company constructed the Pontypool, Monmouth and Ross section of railway during the 1860s. It was opened to passengers in 1873, although was not heavily used, and was taken over by GWR in 1905. Passenger services on this section of the line stopped in 1959, and the section was closed, although freight services continued to run on the remaining section further east, between Ross-on-Wye and Lydbrook Junction, until 1965, when this section also closed (http://www.ross-on-wye.com). The building of the railway further influenced the development of the area in other ways, in addition to running through the character area; it necessitated the construction of several quarries which lie along the line of the railway, and can be seen on First Edition OS maps (1882).
Historic Landscape Characteristics
Highmeadow Woods is characterised primarily by ancient woodland, the majority of which is replanted, although there are some areas where it remains semi-natural. It consists mainly of deciduous trees, with some stands of evergreens. This area contains two SSSIs, Fiddlers Elbow and part of the Upper Wye Gorge SSSI. The former is also a National Nature Reserve (NNR), while the latter includes the Lady Park Wood NNR. The areas of Beaulieu Wood to the south, and Priory Grove to the west, are now in the care of the Woodland Trust.
There is significant evidence for woodland management in the form of charcoal burning (PRNs 07770g, 07771g, 07773g, 07775g, 07777g, 07786g, 07787g, 07790g, 07791g, and 07793g - 07801g) in a concentration on the west-facing slopes of the hill directly above the river.
Industrial archaeology is mainly represented by extractive sites; two quarries (PRNs 07788g, 07792g) probably date to the 1860s when the railway was constructed, and Hadnock Road was realigned. There is a further quarry labelled as 'old' on First Edition OS maps (1882) possibly of a similar date, also alongside the line of the railway.
A Hollow Way (PRN 07779g) defines the west boundary of the area at the border with the adjoining fieldscape, (HLCA 020). This is depicted on First and Second Edition OS maps (1881, 1901) as a Roman Road, and is known locally as the Royal Road, thought to be one of the main exits from the Royal Forest of Dean. Although its origin is unknown, its depth, up to three to four metres in places, suggests considerable age.
Other communication features include the Ross and Monmouth branch of the Great Western Railway (PRN 03266.0g), which ran along the north edge of the area parallel with the bank of the river; the line of the railway can still be followed as a path. Additionally, there are two tracks running parallel depicted on First and Second Edition OS maps (1881, 1901) Lady Grove Ride (PRN 07778g) and Priory Grove Ride (07769g), neither is sunken or metalled. There is a further ride in the area (PRN 07776g) which is not depicted on the early OS maps. Other communication links include woodland walks, tracks and paths and public rights of way. Some of these have historic associations with the picturesque movement; a picturesque walk (PRN 08966g) runs through the woodland from the Kymin Naval Temple in the adjoining area (HLCA031) to the viewing platform (PRN 08967g) from where there are panoramic views across the Wye Valley.