The Boats

Boats were the preferred method of travel for the Wye Tour and vessels were specially constructed for the growing tourist trade. They were light and could be used with or without a sail. They were equipped with a canopy, padded seats and a table to sit at, so that tourists could paint, draw or write as they took in the scenery.

In this short film, Gorsley Goffs Primary School considers the boats that were built for the 18th Century Wye Tour and the tourist boat industry on the Wye today.

Tour Boat by Pocock (Norwich Museum)
Charles Heath 1793

From the 1770s boats were available to take visitors down the Wye throughout the summer months. Boats were hired from inns in Ross and Monmouth. The boat owner provided food and wine to be enjoyed on the trip which generally took two days going downstream. There was a crew of three (one to steer and two to row), but boats frequently had to be hauled over shallows and rapids by gangs of ‘bow hauliers’. Stops would be made at the well known sites so that tourists could explore or walk to viewpoints high above the river. The period 1770 to 1830 was the heyday of the Tour, which became over-commercialised and much less leisurely in the later nineteenth century.

“My ‘light bark’ was not much unlike a gondola, when its tarpauling cover was spread over the framework; but being favoured by a randomly bright morning, I prefered sitting under the skeleton and enjoying the charming scenes around me. A table in the centre of the part alloted to passengers, and cushioned seats around, made this small floating parlour a most commodious conveyance.”

Thomas Roscoe, Wanderings and Excursions in South Wales, c1830s
Tour Boat at Wilton Castle – John Warwick Smith
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