There are some 3173 miles of officially designated cross country walks in the UK, of which Offa's Dyke is one. The Dyke is regarded as one of the most important remaining earthworks of its kind in northwestern Europe. Those inclined to be more adventurous can attempt to walk the complete coastline of Britain, Wales and Scotland, though it may well prove a lifetime venture!
OFFA'S DYKE WALK
OFFA'S DYKE was supposedly constructed by Offa (A.D. 75796) as a defensive boundary line between the English settlers and the dispossessed Welsh of Gwynedd, Powys and Gwent. Today it makes a spectacular cross-country walk.
It's start can be located just on the eastern edge of the Welsh border town of Chepstow, about a 30 minute walk from the town centre itself. To adequately locate and follow the walk for its 176-mile length up to its end near Prestatyn in North Wales, good large scale Ordnance survey maps and a compass are essential. The actual start is tricky to find, but is signed on land. After crossing through a few fields behind the houses of Chepstow, the walk leads into a delightful wood on the side of a long climb. A target of between 10 to 15 miles a day is reasonable.
There are several ways to tackle the walk, be it by section or in full. You can camp on route, or you can look to spend the night in bed and breakfast. Almost all of the route can be split from b&b to b&b locations. If you intend camping out, you will invariably have to find your own campsite - there are hardly any established sites particularly close to the route at any location. And go equipped - if you are not sure what you will need, check the camping hints page by clicking the Basecamp link to the left, or click here.
Take a pictoral walk along Offa's Dyke
There are many delightful spots to pitch your tent, and many within a short walk from a nearby pub! But be careful and if visiting a pub, make sure you can find your way back to your tent. There was one occasion I pitched in a clearing in a small wood across and enclosing a stream at the base of a valley. Outside of the wood, the valley slope ended at a line of trees and bushes and broken wire fence marking the edge of a field. The way to the pub where I intended spending the evening with my companion lay down a path beyond and alongside the trees and bushes, part of the Offa's Dyke walk itself. I'd carefully marked the spot where we'd climbed over on the way to the woods. Offa's Dyke Walk continued past the woods and up the steep slopes of Hatterill Hill, close to the village of Pandy.
By the time I'd completed setting up camp it was dark. We emerged from the wood and I located the trees I'd marked at the top of the slope. There was no familiar gap, there was a fence but there was no path beyond. Puzzled, we walked the length of the slope, possibly one quarter of a mile, but still found no gap or path. Thinking we were going crazy we retraced our steps to the tent and found that there were two streams in the wood, with equal approaches. And there were two almost identical slopes on either side of the wood, with similar lines of trees at the top of each slope. We eventually located the pub but wasted about two hours in finding it.
Beyond Hatterill Hill, the walker is faced with roughly a 14-mile hike along a peaked ridge running unbroken through the Black Mountains from Hatterill Hill to Hay Bluff, ending just a few miles from the romantic, booksellers town of Hay-on-Wye.
The options are to camp out on or beneath the relatively exposed ridge, but the sites are not great and neither is the weather too predictable. If staying up on the ridge, be sure your gear is up to the task and that your larder is too.
For those looking for something a little different, look for the Llanthony Priory, visible in the valley to the left about one third of the way along the ridge. There are fields behind the priory where you can pitch, and also along the nearby road to the right. The priory has a pleasant cellar bar open to the public, and there is also a pub a short distance along the road. It is a fair climb down from the ridge - at least one hour, and an even longer climb back up by an alternative route, which leaves you missing a three-quarter-mile section of the ridge walk. Further along the valley to the left or west of the ridge is one of the few 'official' camp sites anywhere close to the route of the walk.
The section of the walk central to this tale runs between Knighton and Welshpool, though to discover the exact location you'll need to faithfully walk the route.
We hadn't come close to anything that day except remote farms and as the evening drew in, we pitched the tent in the shelter of the lee of a small wood beside a narrow, fast flowing stream a short distance from the line of Offa's Dyke Walk. The next morning as we again set off after breakfast to get back to the main path, we found we had camped close to an isolated farm. On first glance it looked occupied and still in use, but there were no animals visible. Some items of farm machinery could be seen.
Puzzled by the air of stillness, we approached the farm. Close to the closed entrance gate, the ground became wet and muddy with tyre and hoof marks. Within the main yard, the outhouses and pig pens were all empty. Several calls of 'hello' brought no response except silence and the startled fluttering of pigeons.
All the windows to the main building were intact, though smeared and grimy. Peering through, the interior looked occupied. The front door was ajar, but took considerable effort to push open against rusted hinges. Inside a strange sight greeted us.
It was as if we had stepped into an on-land version of the fabled Mary Celeste. Clothes hung on hooks, boots stood by the door, cups and plates were on the table with a newspaper - everything looked as if someone was about somewhere, but for the dust and age. The newspaper was dated in the 1970s - it was now the mid-1990s. We explored the downstairs, found a workshop, a kitchen with old cans of food and various bottles and jars, then ventured upstairs.
In one bedroom we found a small wall cupboard set high and into the wall and inside were ledger and farm record books dating back to the 1700s and old, old photographs, plus equally old newspaper clippings. All that was missing was the visible presence of ghosts.
Another, damaged stairway led into an attic and we carefully took a look. Among a general array of paraphenalia, we found a very old, cast iron hand operated butter churn in very good condition and undoubtably a museum piece.
We stayed for some time at the deserted farm, fascinated at what we were seeing and wondering how it had survived empty for so long. Perhaps people passing assumed it to be in use. I carefully packed a few of the documents and photographs into my rucksack, intending to learn more of the mystery. However, another person later unkindly disposed of these items together with other material, leaving me without even the name of the farm and its owners, as was written on the documents.
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