Offa's Dyke in Wales

Offas Dyke border of Wales & England
Offa's Dyke runs from Prestatyn to Chepstow Built around 1200 years ago, you can still follow its line today

 

Offa's Dyke, what is it?

It is a great earth bank that runs most of the way along or near the border of England and Wales, from  the North Wales coast to near Chepstow on the River Wye in the south. At 176 miles long it is  8 miles  longer than Hadrian's Wall but, unlike Hadrian's Wall, it is an earth not a stone construction, and it was never garrisoned. Its purpose was to mark rather than defend the frontier.

In his classic "Wild Wales",George Borrow observes that once "it was customary for the English to cut off the ears of every Welshman who was found to the east of the dyke, and for the Welsh to hang every Englishman whom they found to the west of it".  Whether apocryphal or not, it shows that it was a symbol of Welsh-English division ever since its creation.

In the dark ages that existed in Britain between the demise of the Roman Empire around 400AD and the arrival of the Normans in 1066, the country was divided into a number of independent kingdoms.

One of these kingdoms was Mercia, which covered the area of England that is today known as the Midlands
the English Midlands. Between 757 and 796 its king was called Offa, who was the most powerful and successful of all the Mercian kings. He extended  his kingdom to stretch from the Humber to the Channel, and it became the largest and most powerful in Britain at that time

No records exist as to why King Offa built his dyke, but it is fairly self evident that it was constructed to protect his kingdom from raids by the Welsh. This barrier was a way of marking his frontier and protecting his kingdom. He did this by using a mixture of natural barriers where possible, where the natural barrier did not exist , he constructed his earthwork

His Dyke is an earth bank, with a ditch on the Welsh side, and an earth bank up to 20 feet high on the English side. It was constructed by hand, and would therefore have required tremendous human resources digging with picks and spades. The Dyke is not quite continuous and it would seem that rivers, forests or mountains acted as a boundary instead in those parts. This meant that of the 176 miles from north to south, about 80 miles of actual wall were constructed

Today you can still see the bank, in places to a height 10 feet and, with its ditch, is up to 65 feet wide. There are about 60 miles of it still visable on the ground

Offa's Dyke Footpath?

It  is a long distance footpath stretching about 176 miles, stretching from Sedbury Cliffs (nr Chepstow) to Prestatyn.It roughly follows the line of the barrier. The path  follows about 60 miles of it that is still visible in the southern portion, from near Chepstow to the River Dee above Chirk Castle.

176 miles of walking at 2 mph means that there is 90 hours of walking to cover the path. Accommodation appears to be reasonably easily obtainable on a "book a day ahead" basis. And walkers diaries on the Internet show that they take around 12 days to do the entire length

The Path was opened in 1971 by Lord Hunt of  Everest fame. The path takes you through or along parts of the Black Mountains, the Clwydian Hills, the  Rivers Wye and Severn. You will see farms, ruined castles and abbeys, and interesting small towns and villages along the way

The path crosses today's border between England & Wales 9 times in its 176 mile journey. Because Offa wanted a line that could be defended if necessary, it follows high ground and there are commanding views into the mountains and valleys of Wales.

If you want to be really traditional you  pick up a small stone from the sea at the start of the walk and toss it into the River Wye at the end .

Many bed and breakfast owners will transfer luggage to the next destination (but do not expect it of right !), so it's possible to do the walk carrying just a light rucksack with the day's necessities. Most villages and towns have at least one pub, so it's easy also to find an evening meal.

The Association

The serious walker will want to contact the Association. This is a registered charity, which acts in all sorts of areas in things concerned with the wall

"It is a link between walkers, historians and conservationists and those who live and work locally. It encourages action by the official bodies responsible for establishing and improving the Path, protecting the Dyke and other features of historic or
natural interest, conserving the natural beauty of the border area, and providing public information services."

Offa's Dyke Association  run the  Centre, in Knighton, which  has an exhibition, souvenirs  and sometimes special talks. The Association sells a wide range of guides and  maps

To contact them

Offa's Dyke Association
West Street
Knighton
GB-Powys LD7 1EN
(tel: 01547 528753)


The Walk in brief

What can you expect on a twelve day hike?

Prestatyn - Marian Mill -  Rhuallt - Bodfari 13 miles a stiff climb and some good views to get you started
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Bodfari - Bwlch Pen Barras -Bwlch Pen Barras - Clwyd Gate -Llandegla 17 miles A hard day's walk in the Clwydian Hills, lots of peaks and excellent views
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Llandegla - World's End -
Dinas Bran Turn - Pont-Cysyllte
12 miles open moorland at the top,  forests and are good views towards Dinas Bran Castle on its small isolated hill.
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Pont-Cysyllte - Castle Mill -Carreg y Big - Owestry Racecourse - Trefonen 13 miles along the canal towpath with views towards the aqueduct, built by Telford between 1795 and 1805. Past a 14th century Castle.
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Trefonen - Llanymynech - Derwas Bridge - Pool Quay - Buttington 15 miles
some ups and downs and the summit of Moelydd (934 ft). Then a fairly level stretch along the Shropshire Union canal
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Buttington -Hope - Beacon Ring - Leighton Woods - Brompton
12.5 miles from the 1400 feet of Beacon Ring Hill fort (Iron Age?) ,
down to Buttington Bridge which is very close to Welshpool and  Powis Castle.
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Brompton  - Cwm - Churchtown -  Lower Spoad - Selley Cross - Knighton 15 miles This is supposed to be the toughest part of the walk with lots of ups and downs.  It includes "The Switchback",more climbs and descents to Churchtown, down to the river Clun, up Panpunton Hill
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Knighton - Dolley Green - Ditchyeld - Rushock - Kington 13.5 miles The view are really good, from the fairly steep  Bradnor Hill and Rushock Hill. We again meet the dyke and have a good view in all directions.
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Kington - Gladestry - Newchurch - Hay-on-Wye 14.5 miles A walk along Hergest Ridge with views over to the Radnorshire Hills. A climb up through the tiny village of Gladestry with its pub, past half timbered buildings. Cross the Wye into Hay is an interesting town built almost entire today on selling second hand books!
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Hay-on-Wye - Hay Bluff - Hatterrall Ridge - Pandy
17.5 miles There is a steep 700 ft ascent from Hay on Wye. This section is along the Hatteral Ridge.  Hay Bluff at about 2000 ft high it has marvellous views over the Wye valley.The path at the top is wide , the ridge is over 10 miles long . This is a long walk along the ridge and can be difficult in bad weather, especially mist.

There is a gradual descent from the highest point of 2300 feet to 1000 feet, the views are good you can even see down into the valley towards the 12th century Llanthony Priory.

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Pandy - Monmouth
17.0 miles see the remains of 12th century White Castle,  the path goes right along the walls. stop at the Hostry Inn at Llantilio-Crossenny. pass under the 13th century gatehouse on the river Monnow into Monmouth. Monmouth  has the ruins of the castle where Henry V was born.
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Monmouth - Kymin -Redbrook - Bigsweir - St Briavel's Common -Brockweir - Tintern Woods - Chepstow - Sedbury Cliff
17.5 miles The Kymin is an 800 ft Hill with a Naval Temple, built in 1800 to celebrate the second anniversary of the battle of the Nile). Excellent views of the Monmouth and onward to the Black Mountains. The path  climbs high above the Wye passing Tintern Abbey in the valley below. The route arrives at the cliffs overlooking the Severn
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Offas Dyke in Wales