Original Photo by Phil Parsons – CC-BY-SA 3.0
As far as walks go, the Offa’s Dyke walk has an incredible tale to tell. It follows Offa’s Dyke, the longest of Britain’s archaeological monuments, and crosses the border of England and Wales more than 10 times, but it’s not for the faint-hearted. If you follow the whole trail it will take you over an incredible 176 miles (283 kilometres), on a journey through some of the United Kingdom’s most beautiful countryside, including 3 designated Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
The story of Offa’s Dyke starts back in the 8th century and the Saxon King Offa of Mercia (now known as England’s Midlands). Troubled by Welsh marauders constantly disregarding the borders of his land Mercia and their native Wales, the king decided to deﬁne his territory by building a huge earthwork border on the western side of Mercia.
Today the raised embankment, which once drew a line between Mercia and Wales can be followed for its full surviving 80 miles (129 kilometres) taking you on a countryside hike over mountainous terrain, down deep ravines, through patchwork ﬁelds and market towns, and past ruined Norman castles, medieval abbeys, oak woods and refreshing babbling brooks.
The full route links Sedbury Cliffs in Gloucestershire, to Prestatyn on the north Wales coast. You’ll pass through areas as diverse as The Clwydian Hills, the Shropshire Hills and the Wye Valley, as well as the lush Clun Forest, the infamous Brecon Beacons mountain range, the Vale of Clwd and the Black Mountains, which are actually much less mysterious than they sound.
The path crisscrosses the English-Welsh border, allowing you multiple opportunities to view the Offa’s Dyke from both the west and east, though don’t expect to be walking high up on the Dyke at all times as much of it has disappeared
over the years, but at times the drop from the higher areas can be as much as 30 foot!
Getting started on the walk means getting to the Midlands, the easiest route there is to start in London to catch a train or coach to Sedbury Cliffs via Chepstow. From there you can head to the mud ﬂats of the River Severn before joining the Wye Valley and looking over the beautifully rustic views of Chepstow and the ruins of the Chepstow Norman Castle.
As you ascend higher look out for Tintern Abbey and the settlements below, before descending towards the 19th century industrial village of Redbrook. Before going onward, take a peak at the little town of Monmouth in Wales, for its quaint Welsh charm, and its colourful houses and regal architecture such as that found at Monmouth Castle and
Goodrich Castle. Afterwards a day’s trek to Llangattokck Lingoed will take you through glorious hilly terrain and pretty woodland.
Next you should journey to Hatterall Ridge and into the misty Black Mountains, then into the Brecon Beacons National Park. It’s close to here that you’ll need to employ a little extra stamina to reach the highest point of the walk at Red Darren to conquer some 703 metres (2306 feet) of mountain.
The rest of the walk will take you across the River Wye and into the Radnorshire Hills before eventually dropping into the little parish town of Kington and onward to Knighton, the only town actually on the route.
The route between Kington and Knighton will keep you in constant company with Offa’s Dyke, and the dyke becomes much more evident. On clear days you’ll enjoy some of the most magniﬁcent panoramic views of the whole walk, complete with breathtaking views out over the Brecon Beacons and the Malverns.
As the sun begins to set and the mountains become but shades of grey in the distance, you’ll begin your descent to the quaint market town of Knighton which is worth a night or two in itself, if only to explore the lovely collection of 17th century shops and inns.
If you decide to attempt the whole length of the dyke, the last stretch takes you past Llangollen, with its spectacular Pontcysyllte aqueduct and through the Clwydian Hills, where a scattering of Iron Age hill forts provides a sense of the rich history in the area. Once you reach Prestatyn you will be treated to spectacular views over the Irish sea, out to Anglesey and on a clear day you will be able to see Snowdonia in the distance.