Offa's Dyke, Wales & England
A walk along the border - 310 km, 16 days
THE OFFA'S DYKE WALK is one of the most historic walks in Britain. This walk takes you along the ancient Anglo-Welsh border. The track begins in Chepstow, passes through scenery of beauty and variety, ranging from the woodlands of the Wye gorge to the windswept ridges of the Black Mountains and from the rolling hills and secluded valleys of mid-Wales to the heather-clad Clwydian Hills. Along the way it visits a succession of historic border towns and attractive villages including Monmouth, Hay-on-Wye, Knighton and Montgomery.
DAVID HUNTER has written a Cicerone guidebook ‘The Offa’s Dyke Path’, a useful illustrated booklet, with line-drawings, detailed maps and route directions.
THE OFFA'S DYKE PATH ROUTE is 310 km long and for those contemplating this trail for their walking holiday in Britain, a certain amount of planning is required. Although the path is well marked, the British weather is unpredictable and needs to be catered for.
HISTORY: It is generally accepted that much of the earthwork can be attributed to Offa, King of Mercia from 757 to 796. Its structure is not that of a mutual boundary between the Mercians on the one side and the people of Powys on the other. The earthwork was dug with the displaced soil piled into a bank on the Mercian (eastern) side. Where the earthwork encounters hills, it passes to the west of them, constantly providing an open view from Mercia into Wales. The dyke may have been constructed as a defensive earthwork, as well as a political statement of power and intent. Today, the England-Wales border still mostly follows the dyke through the Welsh Marches. It has a cultural significance, symbolising the separation between the two, similar to the symbolism of Hadrian's Wall between England and Scotland in the Scottish Marches.
GENERAL INFORMATION ABOUT THE WALK: Offa’s Dyke Route: Starting from historic Chepstow, the 310 km trail wends its way northwards and ends at Prestatyn, a coastal holiday town. The route crosses high wild moorland, attractive, wide river valleys and ancient woodlands. It passes through historic towns and remote hamlets. On the way you see hill forts, castles, abbeys and surviving remains of pre-historic settlements, and get the chance to walk on the Dyke.
SOME HIGHLIGHTS: Chepstow Castle and Montgomery castles show the original Norman occupation of the Marches. The Kymin and the Naval temple just near Monmouth. The wonderful village of Hay-on-Wye, the centre of second hand books. We visit the Montgomery Canal, Monmouth, the home of Henry V and Edward Rolls, and Llanthony Abbey, hidden away in the Honddu Valley.
WALKING ROUTE PLANNER: The number of days required depends on how fit and how quickly or leisurely you want your walking holiday to be. Work out the average number of kilometres you are prepared to do in a day, taking into account the landscape and the town or village in which you will end your day. It's also nice to plan on arriving a little earlier in a village if there are interesting attractions you may like to visit, such as in Haye-on-Wye or Llangollen. We did the walk in 17 days, however it's also possible to do it in about 12 days.
LUGGAGE TRANSFER: This efficient service is readily available and can be organized through a number of tour operators on the ‘self-guided’ itineraries.
YOUR OFFA'S DYKE PATH ACCOMMODATION: This is usually in B&Bs or inns and should be booked in advance.
FOOD: Mostly good quality traditional English and Welsh food is served up at B&Bs and village inns and there are wide choices in their menu. Most B&B owners can cater for vegetarians or people with other food preferences if given sufficient notice.
WHEN TO GO: The northern Spring or Autumn seasons are recommended as accommodation is easier to obtain and the tourist numbers are lower.
WALKING GEAR: Good walking boots and socks are critical. Your shoes should have been broken in. Also important is what rain gear to take. Make sure it’s made from a breathable material.
ITINERARY for Offa's Dyke Path - 310 km
The following is an outline of the 16-day walk itinerary that we chose. We decided on this itinerary because of the reasonable distances and the available accommodation.
- Where to Start: Chepstow, Wales, UK.
- How to get there: Trains or buses from Victoria Station London, taxi to accommodation.
Walking itinerary: 16 days
- Day 1. Chepstow - Bigsweir Bridge (18km). Today we follow the Wye River. Wintour’s Leap – 200 feet above the river where a Royalist leader was said to have jumped from to avoid capture by Cromwell’s men. Further on (down far below) is Tintern Abbey, a little off the trail.
- Day 2. Monmouth (12km). Some climbing today towards the Naval Temple – a celebration of British naval might and a memorial to several British admirals, including Nelson who visited the site in 1802. The Kymin – a hill with The Roundhouse, a two storied castellated tower. Then across the Monnow Bridge, once a watchtower and jail.
- Day 3. Llangattock (19km). Open fields and more climbing to Llanfihangel Ysture Llywern – with its ancient church of St Michael. Llantilio Crossenny – try a pot of tea at the Hostry Inn (built in 1459). Visit the White Castle – The early Marcher Lords constructed it between 1067-1069.
- Day 4. Llanthony (18km). We walk to Pandy and then up Hatterrall Ridge, part of the Black Mountain.Take care if the weather is bad. From here we make our way down to the ancient village of Llanthony.
- Day 5. Hay-on-Wye (18km). Walk up to Capel Y Ffin (chapel on the border) and then along Hay Bluff - a wide expanse of turf which van be very windy. Down into Hay-on-Wye, the world's largest village devoted to 2nd hand books.
- Day 6. Gladestry (15km). Over the Clyro Bridge – great viewpoint. Then through the green Welsh countryside to Newchurch with its St Mary’s Church. Up and over Disgwylfa Hill – a double humped hill.
- Day 7. Discoed (21km). Walk up Hergest Ridge on open moorland turf. Kington with St Mary’s Church and the Chocolate Box Cafe. Kington golf course, the highest in Britain. Rushock Hill an opportunity to walk on another section of the Dyke. At Lugg Valley, a wonderful panorama spreads out before you.
- Day 8. Knighton (9km). We walk across Dolley Old Bridge away from Discoed. Up Hawthorn Hill with marvellous views of the Malverns in the south-east and the Brecon Beacons in the south-west. Past a marble obelisk – a memorial to Sir Richard Green Price, the man who had brought the railway to Radnorshire. Then we follow the dyke down into Knighton.
- Day 9. Churchstoke (near Montgomery) (9km). We sight Kinsley Wood with the coronation ‘ER’ plantation. Trees with slightly different coloured foliage had been planted in 1953 for the coronation of the new Queen Elizabeth.
- Day 10. Buttington (17km). We make our way to Montgomery, visit the Church of St. Nicholas and the Robber Grave, and the impressive Montgomery castle ruins. Then to Buttington and the beginning of the Shropshire Union canal.
- Day 11. Four Crosses (near Llanynynech) (10km). Shropshire Union canal – a quiet towpath, a pleasant change from the past few days of ascents and descents. Site of Strata Marcella Abbey – founded by the Cistercians in 1170, is just across the Severn about ¼ of a kilometer away. We walk along the canal to Pool Quay – an 1820’s lock-keeper’s cottage by the locks, now neglected.
- Day 12. Pentre Chirk (16km). After a short climb we arrive at Llanymynech. The long bar inside the White Swan Inn displays a marker showing the frontier, allowing the enthusiastic drinker to have a pint in England after finishing one in Wales. Past Trefonen, old Viking hamlet. Then through Candy Wood, another forested area with many pine trees. We walk down to Craignant, a village at the bottom of a steep valley. Then up to Chirk Castle - Wild wolves roamed the Powys Hills up to the 17th century and the last was a lonely survivor who prowled the dry moat.
- Day 13. Llangollen (11km). This morning we walk along Llangollen Canal, one of Wales’ great canals. And cross the Pont Cysyllte Aqueduct – the walkway seems a challenge, great views. Further on is the Panorama Walk – great views of the Dee Valley. Up hills (again) to Castell Dinas Bran – ruins of the old fort of Bran, legendary Welsh warrior, and down to Llangollen.
- Day 14. Llandegla (16km). Our first stop is Vale Crucis Abbey and a visit to the Pillar of Eliseg a memorial to an old battle. As usual, more hills and valleys to cross. Then to the Manor House – a good example of sympathetic restoration. Then to World’s End and later Llandegla Forest before arriving at the village of Llandegla.
- Day 15. Bodfari (16km). Lots of hills today. First up to Moel Fammau and the Jubilee Tower, built for King George III’s Jubilee celebrations. Then we skirt around Moel Arthur, no need to climb every hill! Then along to Penyclddiau Fort. From here 5 km and 1,300 feet of descent needed to be covered before reaching Bodfari.
- Day 16. Prestatyn (18km) - your destination! First up is the village of Rhuallt with the Smithy Arms Inn. Then past Brynllithrig Hall, a magnificent mansion. Further along in the hills we come to Marian Cwm, a landscape full of Marian names. Then a final climb (in the rain) up to the Clwydian Hills and the Prestatyn cliffs. From here we begin the slow descent along the widening track to the flatland of Prestatyn.
- How to get back from Prestatyn: Train to Chester then London.
There is a lot to see on this 310 km journey along the ancient border between Wales and England, so remember to bring your camera. This is an exhilarating walk on which you will cross 700 odd stiles. Also the hills and valleys are so green because it rains – a lot. Take wet weather gear. History and hospitality add the icing to this walk. The path is usually walked from Chepstow to Prestatyn.