Lancaut Nature Reserve, Gloucestershire


Wide bend along the River Wye
Limestone cliffs and steeply-sloping woodland along the valley of the River Wye; home to over 350 plant species. Crossed by a one mile path
Along Lancaut Lane west of the B4228, 2 miles north of Chepstow; NP16 7JB
Photo Tour (21 images)
Lancaut Nature Reserve, one of the foremost wildlife areas in Gloucestershire, contains woodland and tall limestone cliffs around three sides of a tight bend along the valley of the River Wye - towards the lower end of the valley, 2 miles north of Chepstow. The site is named after the nearby settlement of Lancaut, now just a farm and a few houses, but significantly larger in medieval times, and one relic from this era is the ruined St James's Church, scenically situated towards the floor of the valley, next to the northern entrance to the nature reserve. From here, a 0.8 mile path follows the river downstream, initially close to water level then gradually rising, passing some abandoned quarry workings and a few side trails to the base of the cliffs, then exiting the woods on the valley rim.

Because of the generally south-facing aspect of the cliffs, and the varied habitats of riverside, forest, exposed rocks and grassy areas on the rim, the reserve is home to a much greater range of plants than might be expected from a predominantly wooded area, with about 350 species reported, and a good range of birds. The reserve also forms part of a site of special scientific interest, together with the adjacent Ban-y-Gor Woods, just upstream.

Lancaut is also notable for the views, up and down the dramatic, tidal river valley; more spectacular than most nature reserves. The best overall vista is from the valley rim rather than the main path, at a place known as Wintour's Leap, just off the main road north of Chepstow, where the cliffs drop vertically by several hundred feet. Most of the other land along the cliff rim is privately owned, and it is the main path that provides the only access to the reserve interior. Along the path, nearly all of which is through the trees, the plant selection is not so special; the majority of the rarer species are found in less accessible areas, across the cliffs and along the rim.


The south entrance to Lancaut Nature Reserve is just off the southern approach to Woodcroft, the B4228 - along Offa's Dyke Path a short distance to a junction, marked by a Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust notice. The more popular north entrance is via a path from Lancaut Road, starting a quarter of a mile west of the B4228, parking in a layby just before; the path descends through a patch of trees and a meadow to the ruined church, just beyond which is a gate at the edge of the reserve.

The Path

Starting in the north, the path runs right beside the river through a wooded area and rises slightly across the remains of Lancaut Quarry, used for limestone extraction in the 18th and 19th centuries. It then re-enters the woods, staying close to the water's edge for a few more hundred feet before starting a gradual climb, to pass a protruding, steep-sided spur. Around the top are several short side paths to the base of cliffs, used mostly by rock climbers. In at least one place the cliffs rise via a series of ledges and slopes rather than vertical faces, allowing a relatively easy ascent above the trees for fine views over the valley, and perhaps even continuing all the way to the rim. The main path then descends, coming close to the river once more, crosses a corridor of big boulders from an ancient rockfall and climbs again, heading towards the southern entrance to the reserve. Shortly before is the main part of Woodcroft Quarry, now completely overgrown and filled with full-size trees, though as recently as the early 1900s this was still in operation, and for several hundred feet north and south the valley sides had no trees, covered instead by spoil heaps, rock piles and excavations. The northern section of the wood, close to the ruined church, is by far the oldest.