A RIVERSIDE town which literally launched the tourism industry 250 years ago will kick off a year of celebrations next month.

Ross-on-Wye was the launching place for organised holidaying, thanks to the Wye Tour, which saw artists, poets and other lovers of natural beauty take boats downriver as far as Chepstow.

And the town will be launchng the Gilpin 2020 festival with a celebration of philanthropy and tourism in its streets on Tuesday, November 5, followed by a procession and beacon lighting at one of the nation’s oldest public pleasure grounds.

The festival marks Rev William Gilpin’s visit to the town in 1770, which he documented in the UK’s first ‘tourist guide’ highlighting the cruises up and down the river.

The Wye Tour proved such a success it effectively created one of the first ‘package holidays’, bringing visitors to the Wye Valley who dined and picnicked at evocative locations, took walks to viewpoints and visited romantic ruins such as Tintern Abbey, making the ‘Wye Tour’ one of the first ‘package’ holidays.

Inspired by the beauty of the Wye Valley, Gilpin promoted the ‘Picturesque’ art movement, leading to many artists visiting to paint, draw, and write about the landscape.

Those who came included Romantic poets Wordsworth and Coleridge, landscape painter JMW Turner, and later Charles Dickens, a frequent visitor to Ross-on-Wye.

Wordsworth eulogised the ‘sylvan Wye! thou wanderer thro’ the woods’ in his poem Lines Written a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey and was inspired by a young girl he saw at Goodrich Castle to pen We Are Seven, while Turner drew and later painted Tintern Abbey, which is set to be referenced in the nation’s new £20 note featuring the artist.

The Gilpin 2020 festival will include a collection of anniversary events and activities from local organisations, including the Wye Valley Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, CREATE Ross, Made in Ross, St Mary’s Church and the Ross on Wye Photographic Society.

The launch event will include presentations from a range of local voluntary and philanthropic organisations, as well as environmental groups.

Organisers say there will be a colourful celebration through Broad Street and entertainment from local groups, demonstrating how a range of issues, from local to international, are being supported by the community.

The ancient Market House will also host a produce market and there will be live music from the town band.

The Wye Valley AONB will also launch its booklet, The Picturesque Wye Tour, which has been written to celebrate the Gilpin 2020 festival.

Ross mayor Cllr Jane Roberts said she made it her mission to promote and encourage the work of the local voluntary sector.

“This event celebrates a town working together, to ensure our environment and culture live on for future generations,” she said.

“I would encourage everyone to wrap up warm and come and meet our local heroes, who strengthen our local community with their philanthropic work.

“Ross-on-Wye is a beautiful place to visit, all year round.”

The November 5 festival launch will culminate in a procession from the town centre to light the beacon at the Prospect, claimed to be the first public pleasure ground in England, which overlooks the launch site of the tour boats.

There will be road closures during the day, on and around Broad Street, to allow for the festivities.

For more information on Gilpin 2020 events, the tour and history, visit www.gilpin2020.org