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On my recent trip to the Wye Valley, there were a few places that stuck out in my mind and one of those was the Monnow Bridge and Gate in Monmouth, Wales. Locally known as Pont Trefynwy.
I have to admit, I’m a bit of a nerd when it comes to historical architecture and so I was extremely excited to visit this gorgeous ancient gateway that stands over the River Monnow (Afon Mynwy).
As the only fortified river bridge that is still standing in Great Britain with its gate tower (almost) fully intact, it’s a medieval rarity that we don’t often get to see nowadays.
It was first built in 1272 to replace a Norman timber bridge and its Old Red Sandstone structure still looks a beauty today.
Here’s a complete guide for the Monnow Bridge and Gate in Monmouth with the history and how to visit!
What is the Monnow Bridge?
The Monnow Bridge in Wales is a medieval, 13th-century tower bridge that allows a crossing over the River Monnow – which is where the bridge gets its name!
It’s a scheduled monument and Grade I listed which means that it is of significant importance.
Its arched structure is made of Old Red Sandstone and on top of the bridge is a gate house which has three arched tunnels that allow pedestrians to walk through.
There is a large archway in the middle which used to hold a huge wooden gate called a Portcullis and either side of the gatehouse are two narrow tunnels. One of these tunnels has a small door to enter inside the building!
This tiny gatehouse has played many roles for Monmouth over the years. It’s been a goal (jail), a lodge, an ammunitions store and a toll gate, amongst other things.
Although the Monnow Bridge was not originally built to protect the town of Monmouth, it didn’t really have a choice being on the boundary lines of the city.
In fact, this beautiful bridge has stood tall through many chapters of Monmouth’s colourful history and it has many stories to tell you…
Monnow Bridge History
The town of Monmouth has been a significant settlement ever since the Roman Era with its ironwork trade.
But, there was no mention of this footbridge being built until the Norman Invasion after Lord William FitzOsbern built a castle nearby.
It’s believed that a small a timber bridge was then installed at the crossing of the River Wye and the River Monnow in 1070.
A few centuries later, in 1272, the construction of the stone Monnow Bridge is believed to have began. The Monnow Gate which stands on top of the bridge was added around in the 14th century around 35 years after the bridge itself was built.
Amazingly, despite quelling numerous rebellions in Wales – King Edward I was the one who gifted the town a murage grant.
This was a medieval tax which allowed the people of Monmouth to rebuild their town walls and gates. It’s believe that some of the funds were used to build the Monnow Gate!
Although the bridge was originally built as a pedestrian footbridge, it naturally fell into a role as a defence tower and formed part of the town’s fortification walls.
Along with protecting its citizens, the Monnow Bridge acted as a toll gate where coins were collected from those wanting to sell at the weekly markets.
War and Lodgings
Although it narrowly escaped destruction from the Welsh uprising led by Owain Glyndŵr, it has not been completely immune to battles and war.
During the English Civil War, it became a chess piece for the Royalists when they failed to sack the town from Parliamentarian forces.
After it had been battered and bruised in battle, it was eventually refortified and converted into a two storey house!
It was mainly used as a residence for the gatekeeper to stay in but it was also used as a lock up to keep unruly citizens in jail.
By the 19th century, it was abandoned as a residence but it was still used as a defence tower against the Chartists! Most notably, during the Newport Rising.
It also became a meeting point of rival youth gangs in Monmouth, where the Up-Town and Over-Monnow gangs would fight. But, this stopped in 1858 when their “muntling” meetings were banned.
An Artists’ Muse and the Wye Tour
Despite the battles that had been fought over the Monnow, artists and writers started to recognise the beauty in this red gated bridge.
In 1782, William Gilpin mentions the bridge in his Observations on the River Wye and the book’s popularity led to the famous ‘Wye Tour’.
Eventually, artists from around the world started to hear of the Monnow Bridge and it became a popular muse for paintings and sketches.
Notable artists such as Samuel Prout and J. M. W. Turner created artworks of the bridge. A beautiful watercolour painting by Michael Angelo Rooker proudly hangs in the Monmouth Museum today if you want to see it!
Also, you will find a likeness of the bridge made of colourful stained glass inside St Mary’s Priory Church nearby.
Amazing Facts about the Monnow Bridge
- The Monnow Bridge is the only fortified bridge remaining in Great Britain with its gate tower still standing on the bridge
- The bridge is 34.8 metres long (110 ft) and 7.3 metres wide (20 ft)
- The Old Red Sandstone that it’s built out of was quarried only 16 kilometres out of Monmouth in the Anglo-Welsh Basin.
- It’s nearly 800 years old but it has had numerous improvements made over the years!
- Although it’s used to allow cars over the bridge, there were too many road accidents. So, it’s now (almost) completely pedestrianised
- It was added to the list of World Heritage Bridges in 1996. This was by the advisory body of UNESCO.
- The brass plaque on the gate was installed by the 9th Duke of Beaufort. He owned the gatehouse from 1830 – 1900. But, once he sold on his estates, he presented the Monnow Bridge to the Monmouthshire County Council. The brass plaque commemorates this event.
- It used to be a two-storey house with a single room accessed by a wooden staircase . The room is only 10 metres long and 3 metres wide (!!). Not very big for a residential dwelling. There is also a small garderobe which used to be a goal or lock up.
Where is the Monnow Bridge in Wales?
If you wanted to visit the incredible Monnow Bridge, then you only need head to the town of Monmouth in the Wye Valley in South Wales.
This quaint town sits near the border of England and Wales and it’s a perfect stopping point if you were taking the ‘Wye Tour’ or exploring the region on a road trip.
Monmouth is close to the town of Ross-on-Wye and the famous Tintern Abbey.
How to visit, prices & opening times
Once you reach the town of Monmouth, it’s incredible easy to locate the Monnow Bridge as there are signs for it all around the town!
Simply head down the main High Street called the Monnow Street towards the Monnow and Wye River and it’s incredibly easy to spot as it’s so impressive.
As it’s a pedestrian footbridge, its open 24 hours a day and 7 days a week.
The Monnow Bridge is also completely FREE to visit and you can explore all around it to your hearts content.
There are plenty of signs around the area explaining the history of the town, the bridge and significant events that happened here. I spent way longer than I intended to!
Can you go inside the Monnow Bridge?
YES you can! Although there is one downside, you have to request a visit in advance.
The inside of the house is not a permanent attraction. So you can’t just show up and visit, unfortunately.
However, tours are completely free to book and can be requested by contacting the Monmouth Shire Hall.
So, if this was something you were keen to do. I’d try to book in your visit as far in advance as possible.
Explore the banks of the River Monnow!
Once you’re finished exploring the Monnow Bridge, I would highly recommend taking a short walk along the banks of the River Monnow.
There are some benches along the river where you can perch with a coffee. From here, you’ll get a picture-perfect view of the bridge and see the river flowing by. It’s incredibly relaxing.
Or, it’s the perfect spot to eat some Fish ’n’ Chips with a view. You’ll probably be able to smell the chippy near the bridge as you’re walking around – it’s to die for!
Around the area, there are a few historical buildings to explore like the Parish Church of St Thomas the Martyr. Then, you can carry on your historical tour of Monmouth!
Are you looking for more things to do in Monmouth?
If you were worried about the Monnow Bridge being Monmouth’s only notable attraction, don’t be.
Monmouth has an incredible history, full of historical buildings and boasts some amazing tourist attractions as well!
King Henry V was born at Monmouth Castle who led the Battle of Agincourt. The Rolls Family lived here including Charles Rolls – the founder of Rolls-Royce.
You can visit the Monmouth Museum, see the ancient Shire Hall in Agincourt Square, you can see Geoffrey’s window at Monmouth Priory and lots more.
Don’t miss out on this incredible town tucked away in the Wye Valley – you won’t regret it!