Offa's Dyke Path: A Walk Through History
An account of the trail in
Wales and England, starting in Chepstow on the Severn Estuary
and ending in Prestatyn on the Irish Sea.
Click to enlarge map
A coin from offa's reign
Day-by-Day Route Description and
| Day 1 | Day
| Day 3
| Day 4 |
| Day 5
| Day 6 |
| Day 7
| Day 8 |
| Day 9
| Day 10 |
| Day 11
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The online Offa's Dyke Accommodation and Services
Guide, including information on B&Bs, camping sites and
more. Great for planning.
The address for the Offa's Dyke Association is :
Offa's Dyke Association
Phone (from the U.S.) : 011 44 1547 528753
The Offa's Dyke Path Association carries many useful publications,
Offa's Dyke South: Chepstow to Knighton
Offa's Dyke North: Knighton to Prestatyn
Both of these are authored by Ernie and Kathy Kay and Mark Richards
and contain detailed route descriptions and strip maps. You probably
do not need more detailed maps than these, though some hikers
also carry the various government Ordnance maps in the 1:50,000
A Guide to Offa's Dyke Path
An alternative guide to the path. It's pocket-sized, has hand-drawn
maps and better historical information about the country and
the various sites along the path than the two above. This one
is written by Christopher John Wright.
Where to Stay (How to get there, and other useful information)
This guide, published annually by the association, lists B&Bs
and other accommodations along the route and is a tremendous
help in booking ahead for reservations. Don't go without it.
It can be obtained at the association's online site.
Send me E-Mail
MForty head of sheep trotted
up the country lane toward us, closely followed by a Welsh farmer
and his black-and-white border collie.
MThe farmer waved and
M"Move over to the
right, please," he shouted. "I want them to go down
the other road." I'd been standing at this three-way intersection
for several minutes, talking with a telephone lineman. The farmer
was herding the animals to fresh grazing down the path I'd traveled.
We moved as quickly as we could to block the other way, managing
to help shepherd all but one of the sheep down the intended way.
MBut one of the ewes managed
to get behind us and was headed at a full run in the wrong direction
as the other animals, the farmer and his dog passed.
M"Back, Tom, back,"
the farmer shouted. The border collie responded instantly, looking
for the missing sheep, then heading up the road after it. He
soon had the ewe pointed toward us, but it ran back where the
flock had come from instead of rejoining the others. The farmer
ran back and corraled the wayward animal with the help of his
dog, then picked it up with one arm under its front legs, hopped
onto a Honda all-terrain vehicle parked near the barn and came
whizzing past us on his way back to the flock.
he shouted as he passed. "And they wonder why we eat
MI hadn't expected
to find Welsh farmers using ATVs, or sporting an earring as this
young one did, but I was learning that today's Wales is just
such a mixture of the ancient and contemporary.
A Welsh farmer carries a wayward sheep back
toward the flock as his dog follows alongside.
MI was on the second day
of an 11-day walk from Chepstow on the Severn Estuary to Prestatyn
on the Irish Sea on a trail called Offa's Dyke Path. The 177-mile
route roughly follows the border between England and Wales, in
fact crossing it nine times on the journey from south to north.
On its way, it passes some of the most spectacular scenery that
either country has to offer. The walled towns and remains of
fortifications along the path ooze historymostly one of
warring between the Welsh and English kings that lasted through
the 16th century and continues on a political and cultural front
MThe path follows an eighth
century earthwork built under King Offa, who ruled the English
kingdom of Mercia for 39 years between 757 and 796. The dyke
was intended to define the boundary of the western limit of his
lands. While the footpath extends from the bottom to the top
of Wales, the actual dyke is included only in the southern and
central portions, from near Chepstow to the River Dee above Chirk
Castle. A nearly unbroken section of the dyke is followed for
more than 80 miles.
MSince the dyke was intended
as a defensible border, it follows the high ground wherever possible.
In some places, rivers or other natural features were used to
delineate boundary instead.
MOffa brought all the
southern English kingdoms under his power. He made his influence
felt with Charlemagne and the pope, and he obtained an archbishop
for his own kingdom at Lichfield. His coinage, the finest since
Roman times, and a few surviving letters and charters of his
reign indicate a competent administration. The dyke probably
dates from the period of supremacy and peace that Offa achieved
in the latter part of his reign after the last great Welsh attack
in 784. When Offa died in 796 in his last battle against the
Welsh, it is believed he was trying to establish the final link
of the dyke to the Irish Sea in the north. After his death, the
kingdom gradually declined until it was crushed by the invasions
of the Vikings.
MSince this border area
between England and Wales has played a crucial role in the history
of both countries, the path is lined with castles and abbeys,
some dating to just after the Norman Invasion of 1066. It was
an area ruled for many years by the Marcher Lords, appointed
by English kings to keep order and exploit the resources of the
MThe path passes through
or near many cities, towns and villages and offers side trips
to visit historic sites. There are farms where camping is permitted
for a fee along the path, but "open camping" is discouraged
since most of the land is privately owned, with rights-of-way
having been established with landowners by the government to
permit walkers to cross the property.
MThere are many bed and
breakfast establishments, so it's easy with a little planning
to spend every night under roof. Most bed and breakfast owners
will transfer luggage to the next destination, 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.
MAfter one of the most
strenuous days of walking, I found my way to the only pub within
a couple of miles of the 17th century farmhouse where I'd booked
a room. It was a small country pub, a single room about 12 feet
square, with a couple of tables and a small bar. The grandmotherly
owner greeted me as I came in, but began to apologize when I
asked her if she could prepare an evening meal.
M"I can only do a
sandwich," she said. I hadn't eaten since 8 a.m, so a sandwich
sounded pretty good, I told her. Before I could ask what kind
of sandwich, she disappeared into her kitchen, leaving me with
a pint of lager and the evening newspaper. Twenty minutes later,
she emerged carrying a large wicker tray.
MIts contents: two pieces
of bread, two slabs of cold roast beef, horseradish sauce, sweet
pepper relish, lettuce, tomato, cucumber, cold cooked new potatoes,
carrots, pickled onions, two chunks of cheddar cheese and a hard-boiled
egg. It may have been the best meal I've ever eaten. When I was
ready to leave, I asked her for the bill. "That'll be 3
pounds 80," she said. That's about $6, including the lager.
MBed and breakfasts range
from private homes renting a single room to more elaborate country
and farm houses where it's their primary business. In towns,
some are centuries-old pubs and hotels. Many have ensuite bath,
though it costs a bit more than the £25 ($40) average per-person
charge. The Offa's Dyke Association publishes a booklet each
year with complete information on all the B&Bs along the
path. Or use the excellent Offa's Dyke Accommodation and Services Guide.
Booking a day in advance is usually safe, though several local
festivals may cause problems if they coincide with your trip.
MThe path crosses scores
of hills and valleys, and two high ridges. The first is the Hatterall
Ridge, which extends from near Pandy to Hay-on-Wye, a 12-mile
stretch of open moors covered by heather, gorse and bracken and
inhabited by sheep. The second is the Clwydian Range, which extends
from near Llandegla nearly to Prestatyn. From the high points
in this range, walkers can see 50 miles in every direction on
a clear day. The path also crosses through some beautiful high
country above Llangollen and around World's End, where cliffs
above are a nesting site to kestrels, whose sharp cries can be
MNearly all of the path
is through open ground, though there are some short stretches
that follow country lanes. These are normally lined with hedges
and are too narrow to permit two cars to pass, so some caution
is needed when walking on them.
MDetailed maps and guides
are available through the Offa's Dyke Association. The guides
include historical and other information about sites along the
path. Most walkers take between 12 and 20 days to complete the
trip. I trained with a backpack two to three times a week for
five weeks before leaving, walking a relatively flat route of
about 8 miles. During the trip, I was walking 15-24 miles per
day over hilly terrain. I would have enjoyed it more if I'd done
10-12 miles per day and allowed more time to complete the walk.
While I averaged 3.5 mph on my training walks, I found the best
I could manage on the trip was about 2 mph, including rest time
through the day.
MA typical day began with
breakfast at 8 a.m., on the trail at 8:30, then walk until anywhere
from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Then I'd stop at a B&B, take a shower
and go find a pub or restaurant for an evening meal. Some B&Bs
in remote areas will serve evening meals on request. Many will
also pack a lunch. Evening meals at B&Bs cost around £6
($10), and packed lunches are about half that. Some B&Bs
also will do laundry or have laundry facilities, and there are
coin laundries in the bigger towns.
MWalkers need to carry
quite a lot of cash. Figure on spending £50 ($85) a day
per person if you are staying in B&Bs and eating in restaurants.
Bigger towns have banks with automatic teller machines, and I
found this the best and easiest way to get cash, using my checking
debit card. If you carry traveler's checks, get American Express
in pounds sterling, not in dollars as I did. Only banks will
cash the checks in dollars. In many remote places on the route,
there is no way to get money, but most B&B owners would cash
a traveler's check in pounds sterling if it was a small enough
MI flew Virgin Atlantic
from Newark to Heathrow. The six-hour flight left about 9 p.m.
and, with the five-hour time difference, arrived in London at
about 8 a.m. From there, it was easy to go to the central bus
station at Heathrow and find a bus to Chepstow. After a two-hour
wait and two-hour bus ride, I arrived at Chepstow at about 2
MI found a B&B, left
my pack there and walked the 3 miles down to Sedbury Cliffs,
south of Chepstow, where the Offa's Dyke Path officially begins.
If you want to be really traditional, you walk down to the water,
dip your feet in and pick up a small stone. This you carry along
on the trip, so you can toss it into the Irish Sea at the end.
This short walk allows the next day's trip to begin in Chepstow
and shortens distance to Monmouth to a more managable 15 miles.
MI spent the rest of the
afternoon walking around the town, then had an evening meal at
a restaurant and went back to the B&B to go to bed. It had
been more than 30 hours since I'd slept, and I figured toughing
it out this way would get me adjusted more quickly to the time
MIt worked. I arose the
next morning feeling more or less normal, had a good "full
English breakfast" and set out for my first day's hike.
The English breakfast consists of a poached egg, two sausages,
bacon, mushrooms, cooked tomato, beans, toast, orange juice,
and coffee or tea. I found myself "enjoying" it all
day long, and on subsequent mornings moderated the meal to exclude
the sausage, ham and beans.
Day-By-Day Route Description and
Last updated 11/21/2005