Offa’s Dyke Path

If you’ve already walked the Wales Coast Path in its entirety, then the natural thing to do next is to walk the Offa’s Dyke Path, to complete the circle of Wales.  That was our thinking, and that’s what we did, Chris and I, in the course of 2019.

We walked the 177 miles from south to north, according to convention: the idea is that you’ll have the weather somewhere to your back, though it doesn’t always work like that.  We split the Path into two stages, Chepstow to Knighton (in May) and Knighton to Prestatyn (September).  More rugged types, of course, do the whole thing in one go.

You notice a few differences from walking the Coast Path.  First, it’s quite linear – Offa usually took the direct route.  There’s no bending back on long peninsulas, ending up near where you began.  Second, there are no river estuaries to negotiate.  True, rivers set different challenges: most flow from west to east, cutting steep valleys across your route and forcing serial ascents and descents.  Third, Offa’s Dyke Path is seriously hilly.  There are no mountains, but the multiple hills you meet in a single day can add up to the equivalent of a mountain (the most strenuous stretch is the one immediately north of Knighton).  And finally, whereas the Coast Path passes through innumerable towns and villages, with very few ‘uninhabited’ stretches, you can walk for a whole day on the Offa’s Dyke Path without seeing a village, a shop or a pub.  The best advice we can give to intending Dykewalkers is: carry enough water with you!

You meet Offa right at the beginning.  In fact, it’s quite a shock to find yourself walking along a good stretch of Dyke on Day One, just north of Sedbury Cliffs.  The Dyke disappears for a long section in the southern half, and you lose it again as you move on to the Clwydian Hills in the north.  Sometimes the Path strides on high along the top of the rampart.  More often it keeps to the side, to avoid erosion. But you’re always aware of this massive, inscrutable survival from the Dark Ages, walking at your side.

Some Dyke travellers carry a tent and the full survival gear.  But we’re softies, and we stayed in B&Bs, and occasionally pubs, overnight, with our luggage ferried by taxi from place to place, thanks to the excellent Celtic Trails.  As usual we were joined for parts of the journey by a few ‘guestwalkers’ who enlivened our walking and our conversation.  Navigation was a bit easier than on the Coast Path, thanks to the abundant National Trail signposting, and when we went wrong it was because of our own ineptitude.

As off-peak travellers we saw few other serious Dykewalkers.  Occasionally we’d come across the ones we did see more than once, as we overtook or were overtaken.  However, it was difficult to gauge how many were on the Path with us, since most of us were moving south to north at roughly the same pace.  Usually you felt you were on your own, in the deepest green depths of the Marches, and often in areas, like Radnorshire, you were almost completely unfamiliar with.  ‘Border Country’, to use Raymond Williams’s phrase, is a new land to many, and there’s no better way to explore it than on foot.

Offa’s Dyke Path day by day

Day 1: Chepstow to Sedbury Cliffs and back
9 May 2019

Day 2: Chepstow to Bigsweir
10 May 2019

Day 3: Bigsweir to Hendre
11 May 2019

Day 4: Hendre to Llangattock Lingoed
12 May 2019

Day 5: Llangattock Lingoed to Longtown
13 May 2019

Day 6: Longtown to Hay-on-Wye
14 May 2019

Day 7: Hay-on-Wye to Kington
15 May 2019

Day 8: Kington to Knighton
16 May 2019

Day 9: Knighton to Cwm
4 September 2019

Day 10: Cwm to Buttington
5 September 2019

Day 11: Buttington to Trefonen
6 September 2019

Day 12: Trefonen to Castell Dinas Brân
7 September 2019

Day 13: Castell Dinas Brân to Clwyd Gate
8 September 2019

Day 14: Clwyd Gate to Bodfari
9 September 2019

Day 15: Bodfari to Prestatyn
10 September 2019