Offa’s Dyke


offaYou have probably heard about Offa’s Dyke – but do you know who King Offa was and why he had a dyke built? Well – Offa was the King of the Mercians, a warrior tribe from central England, from 747 to 796 AD. He had seized power during a time of great unrest caused by friction between Wales and England in the border region. Offa was determined to quell the unruly Welsh and impose his authority and this he did by building one of the most remarkable structures of its time in Britain. It marked the western border of his kingdom and was to act as a defence against the Welsh.

The dyke was constructed at the end of the eighth century and consisted of a great defensive earthwork, with a ditch on the Welsh side and a high bank on the English side. It ran for 140 miles from the banks of the River Severn in the south to the mouth of the River Dee in the north. Because it was built so long ago there is very little known about who actually did the amazing amount of work and what it really looked like. But we do know that 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.

offasdykeParts of Offa's Dyke can still be seen in many places. The town of Knighton in Radnorshire has stretches of the dyke on both sides of the town, and at Kington in Herefordshire, there is a well-preserved section of this earthwork. The nearest part of the dyke to Wenvoe is around the Chepstow area and between Chepstow and Tintern. It is only about 40 minutes from Wenvoe to Chepstow by car on a good day, and just another 10 minutes to Tintern so it is an easy day out to go and walk along part of the great Offa’s Dyke. If you do so you will find many good pubs and cafes around that area and in the Wye valley.

If you have the time and energy you may wish to walk all of the Offa’s Dyke Path. It is a long-distance footpath following closely the Wales–England border. Opened in 1971, it is one of Britain's National Trails and draws walkers from throughout the world. Some of the 177-mile (285 km) route either follows, or keeps close company with the visible parts of Offa's Dyke. There are many miles where the dyke was not constructed as the geographical features such as rivers and cliffs made it unnecessary.

Traveling south to north, starting by the Severn Estuary at Sedbury, near Chepstow, and finishing at Prestatyn on the north coast, the walk will take an average walker roughly 12 days to complete. Following a man-made border and ancient monuments, rather than natural features, the dyke path crosses a variety of landscapes. The route crosses the Black Mountains, the Shropshire Hills, including the many ups and downs of the 'Switchback', the Eglwyseg Moors north of Llangollen and the Clwydian Range.

It is of course not necessary to walk it in one long hike, but rather one can break it into bite sized chunks by walking three offasor four days at a time. There are plenty of high quality B&Bs to stay at overnight on the way, with a room costing on average £65-80 for two people with breakfast. With a little planning one can take the train from Cardiff to various places on the route, walk for a few days and then take the train home again.

Walking through mid-Wales is particularly pleasant and quiet and it is possible to travel for a whole day without seeing anyone at all. If you do think about doing this walk it is best to go in a dry period so that the ground is not so muddy as to make it hard work. With good waterproof clothing you will not get wet but very muddy boots are heavy and that make it less fun. So make a plan for a long summer hike and remember that walking is very good for body and soul