Tuesday, August 14, 2012
Ross on Wye is a favourite town of mine, boasting as it does two important characteristics of a town as far as I am concerned: a supply of interesting buildings and a good secondhand bookshop. I've been buying books at Ross Old Books for years and there are also occasional bargains to be had in the market. The town is beautifully set on a rise above the Wye and from the 1770s this beauty was famous due to writers such as William Gilpin, who celebrated the scenery of the Wye as a charitable example of the Picturesque. By the 1830s many visited the town as a base for boat trips on the river and the large white ornately bargeboarded Royal Hotel was built to accommodate the tourists.
The round tower in my picture looks like something from the age of chivalry, but was actually built in the 1830s as part of the setting for this hotel. Flanked by walls incorporating a blocked pointed arch, it looks from a distance like part of some medieval fortifications: town walls, perhaps, to protect the inhabitants of Ross from the marauding Welsh. But when you get near the tower, you can see that the battlements on top are tiny – they're meant simply to afford the building the right chivalric-looking silhouette. The windows, though authentically pointed, are too large for a fortified tower. So this is a tower meant to look good from a distance, as visitors drew close to the town from the valley, and as a kind of marker to lead people to the hotel, which is the other side of the greenery on the right-hand side of my photograph. A beacon for the approaching traveller, in the 1830s, and in 2012, whether that traveller is in search of scenery or books.