The River Wye at Sellack Church
As a Wyeside parish the river is a very significant feature for the church and the village – and certainly the oldest one.
Anciently known as the Vaga, the Wye was a major trading route long before other forms of transport and communication were available. It was also for centuries a natural barrier between the Celtic Welsh and the English, augmented by the enormous dyke, built between 778–796 by King Offa to protect his kingdom of Mercia.
Much later, in the 18th and 19th centuries, the river, by now quite industrialised in parts, was very busy with boat traffic and much favoured for leisure trips.
In 1745, Dr. John Egerton, Rector of Ross, used to entertain his friends by taking them down the Wye by boat. Commercially-minded boatmen quickly saw the possibilities and a Wye Tour from Hereford to Chepstow took three days and from Ross to Chepstow two days. Boats with six rowers carried ample food and drink. The passengers fished, made instructional visits and stopped frequently for meals! Sellack and our neighbouring villages on both sides of the river must have been much-visited.
Not all was peace and jollity, however, at Kings Caple (a daughter church to Sellack) as it was not always easy for the vicar, who lived in Sellack, to reach the other village. Originally a ford, and then later a ferry, the crossing could be difficult.
The boathouse, the residence of the ferryman (the family name was Harris) is still on the Kings Caple side and the lady living there now is a descendant. Certain boatmen could be very awkward (and often were), refusing to take the vicar across (one cleric is reported to have frequently crossed the river on stilts!). This continued strife caused much local outcry and resulted in a public petition for a bridge to be built. This was finally done due in main to the energies of the Rev. Augustin Ley (1887–1908) and largely at his expense! A fine suspension bridge. Under the bridge is a stone built into the buttress which is inscribed – ‘To the Honor of God and the lasting union of these parishes’.
The area by the bridge is now known as Sellack Boat, but that name only dates from after the bridge.
The Wye floods frequently and before the Rhayader Dams were built upstream even more so. In 1995 Sellack and Kings Caple celebrated the centenary of this footbridge. The open air ‘Bridge Service’ on the banks of the river continues to this day in July. There is an account (written at the time) of that weekend’s activities at the end of the History Page entitled More Recent History.