Charles opens tourism festival after visit to satellite technology firm

The Prince of Wales has paid a visit to Ross-on-Wye in Herefordshire to officially launch a festival promoting the town’s role as the “birthplace” of British tourism.

Charles was given a taste of locally-brewed ale and lit a torch to celebrate the Gilpin 2020 Festival, which will mark the 250th anniversary of artist William Gilpin taking a two-day tour of the Wye Valley in 1770.

Gilpin later published what is regarded by some as the UK’s first package tour guide, charting the picturesque journey from Ross-on-Wye to Chepstow.

During a 70-minute visit, Charles took time to chat to veterans, schoolchildren, members of community groups, and food and drink producers, and was introduced to a local woman dressed as a hedgehog, a centuries-old symbol of Ross-on-Wye.

Royal visit to Herefordshire
The Prince of Wales is greeted by a giant hedgehog, one of the ancient symbols of Ross-on-Wye during a visit to officially launch the Gilpin 2020 Festival (Chris Jackson/PA)

Speaking before Charles lit the torch, which later went out amid laughter from the watching crowd, the chair of the Gilpin Festival committee, Andrew Blake, said: “When he (Gilpin) promoted the picturesque nature of the Wye Valley in his guide book, it inspired many others to visit, making Ross arguably the birthplace of British tourism.”

A range of events are planned throughout next year to mark the anniversary, said Mr Blake, who accompanied Charles on a tour of Ross’s Market House, which dates back to around 1660 and was visited by The Queen in 1957.

Among stall-holders who chatted with the royal visitor was Paul Williamson, the owner of Gloucestershire-based Hillside Brewery.

Asked what Charles had made of a thimble-sized taster glass of Over The Hill mild, Mr Williamson said: “He said it was nice and it had a good body.

“He seemed to enjoy it, which is fantastic.”

The chair of Ross-on-Wye Tourism Association, Caroline Utting, said the prince’s visit would help to raise the profile of the area of outstanding natural beauty and next year’s festival.

“For the prince to choose it as his theme for the visit is a wonderful gift for us,” she said.

“Tourism is very, very important in the local area.”

Royal visit to Herefordshire
The Prince of Wales greets well-wishers from the balcony of the Market Hall during a visit to Ross-on-Wye to officially launch the Gilpin 2020 Festival, to celebrate the town’s role as the birthplace of British tourism (Chris Jackson/PA)

The 18th century Wye Tour saw wealthy visitors take cruises along the river, dining at specific locations and undertaking walks to specified viewpoints, leading to the publication of around 20 guidebooks by 1850.

Earlier, Charles dropped into global satellite technology firm ETL Systems in Madley, Herefordshire, unveiling a plaque to officially commemorate the visit.

Following the unveiling, Charles gave a speech to members of staff, commenting: “What you all do is remarkable and is of enormous importance to Herefordshire and to the country.

“It is wonderful to see such skilled engineering being applied in this particular field.

“Clearly you are producing very high quality, high standard equipment which is used to great effect by customers in over 180 countries.

“Ladies and gentlemen I hope you go from strength to strength.”

Royal visit to Herefordshire
Charles is greeted by local children (Chris Jackson/PA)

Ian Hilditch, chief executive of ETL Systems, said: “It was a great honour to have HRH visit our facilities.

“Hopefully we were able to show a glimpse of some technology being produced in amongst the apple orchards of Herefordshire, which is a bit different than what is usually seen around here!

“We are extremely proud of our heritage as a rural company achieving global success.

“We have aggressive growth plans over the coming years and we hope that will further help the local economy.”

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