Address: Offa's Dyke

Offa’s Dyke Path History

Offa’s Dyke Path was opened in 1971 and was the 4th national trail opened – the Pennine Way being the first.

Lord Hunt opened the Path and he was the man who led the expedition to Mount Everest in 1953 in which Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay became the first people to climb the mountain.
 
The Path was originally the responsibility of the Countryside Commission, but as over 60% of the Path was in Wales, responsibility passed to the Countryside Council for Wales. This happened in 1991.
 
It’s managed and maintained by the Offa’s Dyke Path Management Service who are based in Knighton, and they look after it together with the co-operation of the relevant local authorities.

 

Mercian History

Mercian life revolved around the Dark Ages, a time in British history in which relatively little is known compared to periods before and after.

The Romans, apart from two brief visits under Julius Caesar in 55BC and 54BC, invaded in 43AD and stayed for almost 400 years. They were an incredibly advanced race and on reaching Britain, found a tribal Iron Age population who were mostly illiterate.

The Romans wrote manuscripts and poetry, had a legal system, introduced currency and conducted an administrative system that at times issued receipts in quadruplicate. They’d conquered Greece and most other European lands and had brought together a culture that the British had only seen in small quantities. They also built towns with full infrastructure, had hot water baths and road systems that are still used today. As you can imagine, their historic recording was substantial and today we know full details of their chains of command, their conquered lands, their history and their way of life.

They first arrived in Britain in 55BC under Julius Caesar and landed again the next year, 54BC. Both landings were brief visits lasting little more than a day or so and it wasn’t until almost a hundred years later that they fully invaded. They then stayed for almost 400 years building all manner of structures that can be seen today including Hadrian’s Wall. They left Britain in 410AD.

Whilst the Romans were incredibly powerful as a fighting unit, Britain was at the north-west corner of their Empire and when trouble started in other parts of Europe, troops were often taken from British units to quell the unrest. So at times, certainly in the latter years of their occupation and specifically around 250AD, other people had the occasional attempt to invade also.

Records from the Dark Ages are limited. Much is due to a monk called ‘Bede’ who lived in Northumbria. Bede died in 735AD and his most famous work was ‘A History of the English Church and People’. Other sources of information from that period includes Gildas, Constantius of Lyon, the Kentish Chronicle, the poem Beowulf, English Annals, Welsh Annals, Nennius, the Anglo Saxon Chronicles (890), Henry of Huntingdon, Roger of Wendover, Florence of Worcester, Matthew Paris and William of Malmesbury.

The Romans had a vast kingdom which stretched about 3,000 miles east to west and 2,000 miles north to south. With Britain at the north-west extremity, if the Romans needed additional troops in order to quell unrest, they often took troops from Britain. There were therefore times when they left Britain vulnerable, both to the Britons as well as other invaders.

In 367AD the Britons embarked on the ‘B Conspiracy’ which was a joint invasion by an amalgamation of tribes. These were the Picts from Scotland, the Attacotti from the Western Isles, the Scotti from Ireland, Roman deserters and Saxons and Franks from Europe. The Romans called for additional troops and when they arrived, they subdued the invasion.

Trouble escalated after 410AD when there were no Romans to protect Britain. The Picts lived in what is Scotland today and they were a fighting nation. The problem with the ‘Britons’, who lived in what is today England and Wales was that they’d been subdued by the Romans for centuries and thus had minimal fighting skills or experience. In contrast, the Picts were independent of the Romans and had been such trouble and lived in an area of such inhospitable terrain and weather that the Romans eventually withdrew and built Hadrains Wall, staying south of it. The Britons were thus easy prey for the Picts and requested help from the Romans. When this was ignored, the Britons were left to fend for themselves.

In around 449AD (according to Bede) a British leader made a decision that was to shape British history to an extent that may not have been done before or since. The leader’s name in manuscripts was Vortigern, but many believe that this was his title and that his name was in fact Vitalinus. He took the decision to hire mercenaries from German coastal regions to fight against the Picts and Scots and in return gave them provisions and land to settle in the east of Britain. This worked well, but then the mercenaries realised that such were their own fighting skills, and so poor were those of the British, that they could grab what land they wanted and the Britons could do little about it. They sent word home that the Britons were easy prey and the land was fertile and over the next hundred years or so innumerable ships came over with immigrants. These consisted of the Jutes from Jutland, the aforementioned Angles, the Saxons from Saxony and the Freisians from the Netherlands.

The Jutes landed in Kent and the Saxons settled in the land that comprised the West Saxons (Wessex), East Saxons (Essex) and the South Saxons (Sussex). The Angles largely settled in Northumbria, Mercia and East Anglia. The Britons were thus pushed west and north into what is today Cornwall, Wales, Cumbria and the Scottish border. The invading forces were collectively known as the ‘Anglo-Saxons’ and over time became known as the ‘English’ and again over time the country became known as England (from Angle Land). English regions started to appear (Northumbria, Mercia, East Angles etc) and although they mostly consisted of fellow invaders, they were hardly friendly to each other and over the following 400 years or so, there was almost continual fighting with the Roman way of life and Roman economy virtually disappearing.

The Anglo Saxons in general drove the Britons west into what is today Cornwall, Wales, Cumbria and Scotland, with thousands of others fleeing to north west France (Gaul in those days, with the area being called Brittany) and even fleeing to northern Spain.

The Britons, under Ambrosius, rallied and fought the Anglo-Saxons in the Battle of Badon Hill in 517AD, which is believed to have involved the legendary King Arthur. They were successful and this halted the invaders and produced peace for a few decades, but then the Anglo-Saxons continued their rampaging.

Over the years Mercia was ruled by a number of strong kings with the main ones being Penda, who ruled 626-654, Aethelbald 716-757 and Offa 757-796.

Mercia’s territory centred around the River Trent with Tamworth being their administrative centre and Lichfield their religious centre. They were originally called the ‘Southumbrians’, this in contrast to the Northumbrians who lived north of the River Humber. The Rivers Dee and Severn provided rough boundary lines with Wales and the Thames was the boundary with Wessex in the south. They also had an eastern boundary with the East Angles.

In what is Scotland today, the Picts were in the north, the Scots (from Ireland) more central and the Britons lived in the south, with Strathclyde being a main west coast kingdom. This left what is England today and in it were Northumbria in the north, Mercia in the centre, East Angles in the east, Kent and East Saxons in the south east, South Saxons in the south and West Saxons in the south west – these made up the seven Anglo Saxon kingdoms which were named the ‘Heptarchy’. Whilst Kent and the East Angles were powerful around the year 600, by far the most powerful in the 600’s was Northumbria.

Mercia, being central had a number of borders and their name comes from ‘Mierce’ which was Old English for ‘border people’. It’s thought that the border referred to was the western one with Wales as they didn’t have a northern border with Northumbria when first named.

These Germanic people drove out of Mercia many of the Britons who previously inhabited the area and introduced their own language which was the forerunner of English.

Christianity was spreading fast and the main reason was the arrival of St Augustine and forty monks who landed in Kent in 597 as missionaries. Augustine baptised and spread the gospel, aiming to convert the royal households who would then encourage followers to change their pagan ways. Of the major Anglo Saxon kingdoms, Mercia was the last to adopt Christianity so at the time they were frowned on as heathens by surrounding kingdoms.

Christianity was followed by many Britons prior to the Anglo-Saxon invasion and had a fairly strong following in Wales, Scotland and Ireland and it also existed to an extent in the Anglo-Saxon regions. Christianity became widespread but at certain times, such as when the plague of 664 hit, many of the converted, especially in Essex, reverted back to paganism although they eventually switched back to Christianity. Paganism was outlawed in the 11th century but this showed that it continued in places for around 400 years after most people converted.

Aethelfrith of Bernicia conquered Deira in 604 to unite the kingdoms into the formidable ‘Northumbria’, but met his end when fighting Raedwald’s army near the River Idle. Edwin succeeded Aethelfrith and led a golden era of Northumbrian kings (Edwin 616-33, Oswald 634-42, Oswiu 642-70).

Penda took to the Mercian crown in 626 and he was a war machine. He was successful for 30 years and ravaged kingdoms all around, gaining much land for Mercia. He annexed Hwicce. He joined forces with Cadwallon, king of Gwynedd in fighting Wessex in 628 and then defeated the Northumbrians in October 633 in the Battle of Heathfield in which Edwin was killed.

Penda then defeated the East Angles in the late 630’s and also Oswald’s Northumbrians in 642 in the Battle of Maserfeld in which Oswald died. Penda’s brother Eowa was killed at the battle and Penda had Oswald’s head and arms severed and displayed on the battlefield. Penda took Oswiu’s young son Ecgfrith hostage around this time.
Penda again attacked Northumbria in 654.

The Northumbrians and Mercians were at each other’s throats, but bizarrely at the time, Peada married Oswiu’s daughter, who was then behind a plot that had him killed. Oswiu of Northumbria then took over full control of Mercia. To complicate matters, Oswiu’s son married Penda’s daughter.

Oswiu ceased warfare with Wulfhere and when he died in 670 he famously became the first Northumbrian king not to die in battle.

Over the years, the Anglo Saxon kingdoms of the Heptarchy often controlled other kingdoms, either by overlordship or direct rule and generally it was one of the big three of Northumbria (often in the 600’s), Mercia (often in the 700’s) and Wessex (often in the 800’s) who ruled East Anglia, Kent, Essex and Sussex. The big news at the time was when one of the main three controlled another of the main three.

Wulfhere’s brother Aethelred took over the Mercian crown as Wulfhere’s son Coenred was too young. Aethelred reigned for 29 years and won a number of decisive battles.

In 704, Aethelred abdicated and turned to religion as did his successor Coenred, who was Wulfhere’s son and who ruled for five years. During this time he had control over London and was succeeded by his cousin Coelred who was a grandson of Penda. At this point the great Aethelbald of future years was driven into exile and lived for a while with St Guthlac in East Anglia.

Coelred died at a banquet in 716 and was thought to have been murdered and this is where Aethelbald who was a descendent of Penda took over and he gained control of Wessex and all lands south of the Humber either by occupation or as overlord.

At one time he conferred the title of ‘King of Britain’ on himself. This being the same as the Anglo-Saxon title of ‘Bretwalda’. He controlled London up until 747 and the problem area of Kent and generally had a good relationship with the East Angles with whom he’d spent time in exile and they liked him as he wasn’t related to their hated Penda.
Aethelbald was killed in 757 at Seckington near Tamworth by one of his bodyguards and was buried in Repton, having ruled for 39 years. Beornred replaced him, but only for a few months before being overthrown by Offa.

After the might of Aethelbald, Mercia’s position weakened outside their kingdom. Offa fought the Welsh in Hereford in 760 and took control of Wessex after the Battle of Bessington in 779. He also controlled Kent from 785.

Before this, in 768, Charlemagne became king of the Franks, which is the area of France today. Over the years he became the greatest force in Europe since the Romans and was termed ‘Emperor’ around the turn of the century. Offa controlled Hwicce, Magonsaete, Middle Angles (which was part of Mercia), London and East Saxons.

In 777 Offa again fought the Welsh and in 779 he regained land that had been taken by Wessex under Cynewulf. He fought the Welsh in 783 and took control of Wessex in 784 when Offa’s daughter married Cynewulf’s successor, Beorhtric.

Offa wasn’t merely a warring leader, as Penda had been, or indeed had his two predecessors been, but began to take great interest in the wider picture, in international affairs, culture, learning, trade and religion. He was recognised by Charlemagne as an important European leader and Mercia was recognised as a leading kingdom. In Charlemagne’s court from 782 was a Northumbrian monk called Alcuin who acted as an advisor and with his English background he became an important contact between the two households.

Charlemagne referred to Offa as ‘brother’ in letters and a great friendship and mutual respect developed. There was one notable exception to this relationship and it was in 788 when Charlemagne sent a message to Offa inviting his son’s hand in marriage to Offa’s daughter. This was one of the highest compliments that could be given to Offa and Offa sent back a message saying ‘fine, but only if my son marries your daughter’. Charlemagne erupted and in response closed French ports to English traders for two years. Offa retaliated by closing English ones. But the two kings made up and became great friends again.

Offa pursued his interests in the church and fell out with Jaenberht, the Archbishop of Canterbury who had refused to crown his son, Ecgfrith. In opposition Offa suggested a second Archdiocese in his religious town of Lichfield and in 788, with papal approval, Archbishop Hygeberht took office. Offa’s son Ecgfrith was then sanctified into kingship and ruled as a junior king.

Offa also continued his battles with the Britons of Powys to the west and this is the point that it’s believed that Offa’s Dyke was built. There’s been much conjecture as to who built the dyke and when it was built, but Bishop Asser writing in his Life of King Alfred in 893 stated that ‘There was in Mercia in fairly recent times a certain vigorous king called Offa, who terrified all the neighbouring kings and provinces around him, and who had a great dyke built between Wales and Mercia from sea to sea’. The reference of sea to sea is believed to have been a general term and a rough idea of the direction of the dyke as opposed to an accurate description of the starting and finishing points.

As far as the origin of the Dyke is concerned, Asser’s detail and the fact that he wrote at pretty much the same period suggests that it was indeed Offa who built it, this backed up by other sources. Other dykes are found to the north and south of it, most notably Wat’s Dyke in the north which is sited to the east of the Offa’s Dyke line and which was built before Offa’s Dyke. Wat’s Dyke is believed to have been the separating line between the Decangli (the predecessors of Powys) to the west and the Cornovii to the east, this around Roman times.

Ecgberht of Kent died in 785 and Offa travelled down to claim the territory. With the control of Sussex also he retained control of London.

Around this time the East Angles, of whom Mercia had an overlordship and control, were ruled by young King Aethelberht. He was 15 years old when he was urged to marry Offa’s daughter Alfthrytha. Two of Offa’s daughters had married the kings of Northumbria and Wessex so it seemed a logical move. In 794 Aethelberht travelled to Sutton or Hereford with his entourage, having sent gifts in advance and when he arrived, Offa had him beheaded – not the greatest welcome in the world! This act was thought to have been instigated by Offa’s wife Cynethryth. The upshot was that Offa took control of East Anglia who ceased to be an independent kingdom.

Offa was deeply upset at this foul act and gifted land, built churches and gave money away as a way of inviting foregiveness. Alfthrytha is thought to have become a nun. There are a few theories as to Offa’s actions towards Aethelberht and it’s thought it may have been a defensive action to retain his own crown or ensure the succession of his son Ecgfrith.

During the 780’s, the Vikings landed in Dorset and this was the start of a sustained period of attack that was to have a devastating effect on Britain. Offa reacted to the threat by building bridges, maybe as a way of blocking their longboats travelling inland. The Danes ravaged Lindisfarne in 791.

Offa died in 796 and there was a certain irony in it. He had spent a large part of his reign removing people who were a threat to his crown, this to allow a smooth passage of succession to his son Ecgfrith upon Offa’s death. Poor young Aethelberht may have been removed for this reason. The irony was that Ecgfrith did in fact succeed his father, but ruled for only 141 days, and the shortness of this was reasoned by Alcuin to have been divine retribution.

 

Offa’s Dyke Path Walk

The idea of the Offa’s Dyke walk often starts in a local bar or in light conversation in the office or at a party with things escalating from there. It really is a great challenge and it’s one that can be done in one go or over a few days here and there, possibly spread out over the summer. It’s an adventure that combines an extremely hard physical task with incredible views and even a few ancient monuments thrown in. It’s got history, nature, fresh air, wildlife, wilderness, the opportunity to camp wild and the chance to see towns and villages that you may not get the chance to see otherwise. It’s also a great opportunity to see a lot of British countryside, so often people miss views by travelling down motorways.

The path is 177 miles long, so not for the faint-hearted. It’s a physical challenge that also needs a mild degree of map reading as well as common sense. You can simply follow the signs and arrows but it helps to have an idea of where you’re going and how long or far it is until the next point, so a map or guidebook becomes essential. It’s one of those challenges that’s ideal in a group where you share the tasks and emotions.

The physical side requires not so much high fitness, but walking fitness, and this over full days. It’s a challenge from a number of angles with a number of choices. Do you do it in one go or stages? Accommodation – where do you stay? hotels, B&B’s, campsites, camp wild or caravanette with backup driver? how do your clothes etc follow you?… do you carry them all in a rucksack? do you pay the couriers who drive up and down the route ferrying luggage from morning start to evening destination? do your friends or family drive on ahead and wait? what clothing, footwear, luggage? how long will it take? where are your stops? what time of the year do you go? You could take weeks organising.
What if you get blisters? bee stings? etc what do you take with you?

The following is an account of my trip and if you’re thinking of doing it you can gain some insight, some tips and an idea of the pitfalls.

Planning is important and vital. How much did I do? – virtually none initially. I decided to do it in stages, a couple of days here and there through the summer. Is that best? it’s certainly more of a challenge and more rewarding if you start and finish the whole trip in one go. But you need around a couple of weeks and you may not have the time.
I decided to do three days walking down the route to start off and had done no walking preparation. I bought a 60 litre rucksack the day before I went, packed a spare pair of trainers and a few clothes and essentials and got the train to Chepstow, having booked a hotel in the town before I went. I’d also bought a map of the route. Getting to the hotel at 10.00pm I explained I was doing the walk and asked in what direction Sedbury Cliffs was. They said down the street and just keep going and it’s 5 or 10 minutes. I’d planned to do two stages the next day, first to Monmouth, then Monmouth to Pandy, both about 17 miles. Having the thought in my mind that you can walk 4 miles an hour, the calculator told me that in 9 hours I’d be in Pandy.

This is where planning kicks in, or the lack of it! Walking down the street at 6.00am, I reckoned on being in Pandy at about 4pm with a couple of short stops. I asked directions to Sedbury Cliffs and was told it was quite a long way. I got lost a couple of times, and that early there were few people out to help, I got to the start point after walking 1 hour 35 minutes with a heavy backpack – not great planning and I think the 5 or 10 minutes I was told was by car. But all was fine and off I went. I had the handbook guide and followed the arrows, through the estate, up to the main road, following each arrow, but I somehow picked up the arrows on the north to south route (coming back) and found myself walking back towards the cliffs!

Lesson 1, apply a bit of logic and realise there are two sets of arrows – north and south! They’ve done a marvellous job of signposting 177 miles, but it may have been a good idea to have used arrows of one colour for going north and another colour for the south route. The second lesson came soon after when I missed a sign as I wasn’t really following the map. I assumed I was going back to the river in Chepstow and when realised I wasn’t, it was a tiring walk back up the hill to rejoin the path. I missed the odd arrow later and it really is so important to be vigilant. Time was moving on and I was starting to feel hungry and thirsty. The trouble is the path isn’t a tour of the local communities and you don’t find supermarkets in the middle of forests, and when hunger started, it was getting near midday.

Passing through the forest above Tintern, you just happen to come across the kind of view that you dream about and one that was worth all the effort. The famous old monastery lies there by the river in the valley and a more idyllic setting would be hard to imagine. You then get a choice of route ahead with one path going down to Brocksweir and the riverbank option and the other choice straight ahead. I took the Brocksweir option as I needed something to eat and drink.

I arrived at the pub at one o’clock and gave my feet a wash as they were getting a bit sore, and I realised that I wasn’t going to get to Pandy in three hours and now realised that I was going to spend the night in Monmouth. The terrain was quite hard, the backpack was heavy, I got lost a few times, but where did the time go? Was I only doing about two miles an hour?

Pressing on, my feet were starting to feel it and my leg and hip muscles were getting sore. Carrying the backpack was also asking questions. After about another three hours I got to Redbrook, getting there down a very steep hill that was tough to walk down with sore feet/legs. Luckily the only shop was open and I got some welcome food/drink. Past Redbrook there’s a couple of very steep hills which test you, but eventually you see Monmouth in the distance and you cross the bridge to the town centre. It was now 6.15pm. I’d been walking for about twelve hours and booked into a hotel. My body was sore, especially my feet/hips/legs.

You realise that for all the fitness training that you can do, nothing prepares you for long walks like a series of long walks. It struck me that I could have arranged to do the walk with friends and may have been the fittest in the group, but it would count for nothing if I hadn’t prepared for it with sensible training and footwear.
I spent the night in Monmouth.

Day 2 to Pandy. I left about 5.45am, again too early for breakfast, but I’d learned from the day before and bought plenty of food in Monmouth that evening. I felt a degree of soreness in most places, mostly in my feet, but it wasn’t too bad.

This second day is a lot of field walking and it was an amazingly warm, clear day. I found map reading fun and it was the sort of leg that you could really enjoy with no aches and pains. There are one or two pubs on the route which are a welcome sight and the one I stopped at was the Hunter’s Moon Inn, was about an hour short of Pandy. I arrived at about midday.

Having left there I got to Pandy at about 1.30pm and walked down the hill to the village in a pretty sore state. Footwise, it was like walking on hot metal. I’d made the decision to cut the trip to two days a few hours before and, physically, there was no way I could go on without major damage. It was also convenient that the Abergavenny train station was only a few miles down the road.

I knew before the next leg, I could maximise mileage and enjoyment if I prepared myself better. I did a series of long mountain walks, and these with a heavy rucksack.

At the end of July I did the second leg, Pandy to Knighton. There were lessons learned from the first leg and it would be interesting to see how they affected the walk ahead. Logistically, coming from the north and travelling on my own, I had to plan the best way. I decided to leave my car at Knighton station, with free parking a welcome surprise, and got the train to Abergavenny. From there I got a taxi to Pandy which was four or five miles away and the place where I’d previously left the walk.

The problems of the first leg were blisters, rucksack weight that gave shoulder strain, and extreme hip and leg soreness and it would now be interesting to see if the preparation I’d done would make things easier.

Knowing my walking speed from the first leg, which was more like two miles an hour instead of the theoretical four, I began to think of the possibilities of where I could get to in the Friday to Sunday I had available. I wouldn’t say I’m an exceptionally fast walker, but I think it’s the type of walk that would be hard to do at fast speed. Timewise, I thought that maybe I could get from Pandy to Knighton in about a day and a half, but thinking ahead of this, I had to work out how to get back to the car if I went on past Knighton as it seemed pretty hard to get to the next rail point, which is Chirk, by Sunday afternoon. Even if I got to Chirk, I think I’d then have to be lucky with trains to get back to such a small station as Knighton. Anyway, that was a problem for later.

The only train I could get from Knighton to Abergavenny on Thursday evening was at 21.23, and this got into Abergavenny at 23.20. I could have booked a hotel, but wanted a 6.00am start from Pandy and that was unlikely to happen if I stayed in a hotel. For accommodation, I was carrying a tent so got a taxi to Pandy that night and found a convenient place in the fields to pitch my tent, with the time then around midnight.

The first part of the walk next day was to Hay and at 6.00am I set off. Physically my legs felt stronger, but the most impressive difference was the rucksack. I’d got more weight in it than before, as I now had a tent, but with all the preparation I’d done, it now felt relatively light.

From Pandy you leave the main Abergavenny/Hereford road and head straight up into the mountains. It’s a great place to start a leg or a day because it’s a pretty steep climb for about an hour or so and it’s good to be fresh when you do it. The good thing is that this is altitude gained that you retain for the rest of the journey to Hay which makes the walk wonderful and relatively easy once you’ve gained the elevation. Within an hour you’re pretty much at the highest point and you then walk along a plateau for what must be about seven miles. The walk is idyllic because of the stunning views and it’s easy because it’s pretty much a level walk across the top of the mountain. You then have a long downhill stretch into Hay which is a fairly simple walk. So welcome that initial climb with open arms – it pays dividends!

The path along the top of the mountain is easy to follow and, unless there’s snow, you can’t miss it. You follow this until you reach a point where there’s a steep gradient down of maybe 100ft, almost like dropping down from a ski jump, and if you look about a hundred yards ahead you’ll see the path down below turning right, off the main path. When you get to the bottom of this steep initial drop, look back and to your left you’ll see the ‘Robber’s Stone’.

Over the previous miles when walking over the plateau and mountain top you’ll have probably seen wild ponies, rabbits and game birds as well as a huge number of stone piles or ‘cairns’ over a particular section. About half way along that whole length there’s a circular stone structure with walls of probably three feet high, great for shelter from a side wind if poor weather. This would be a factor of this mountain as it is as exposed as it gets and whilst idyllic in summer, there must be times in winter when you could be walking into a 90 mph wind with rain, sleet etc. You could bail out and head down to your left to Llanthony if so. There are stone path markers showing routes left and right in certain places, but be careful in snow as they may be hidden. The other feature, and surprising for a place so high up, is the amount of water courses and bogginess across the top, and this is what I noticed in summer. In winter it must get seriously muddy and much credit to the authorities as they’ve done a lot of work in paving the worst sections.

Whilst it’s important to mention the pitfalls of winter walking, this was summer and it was amazing – I didn’t want it to stop! When you drop down that aforementioned steep hill, you see in front of you the path continuing directly ahead over the ridge of what is the mountain called Hay Bluff. As mentioned, you turn right off this path after a hundred yards or so and go down along the side of the ridge which gives you incredible valley views behind you to the right.

When dropping down from that right turn after the Robber’s Stone, you’re about four and a half miles from Hay. You’ll see a car park on your left in the distance when coming off the side of the ridge and the path you’re on comes out about three hundred yards to the right of the car park. Turning right at the road, a couple of hundred yards down the road, you turn off left across the common and after going through fields eventually come to Hay, coming into the town about a hundred yards right of a large car park that you can see from a distance. The car park is a great meeting place if being joined by family/friends.

Hay is an incredible town with small, quaint shops whose layout probably hasn’t changed much for hundreds of years. I went into a high street fruit/wine shop and had to climb half a dozen steps to get in and I think many of the other shops were the same. It’s named Hay-on-Wye as the great River Wye runs through it, and the town must have an incredible history. It’s a great place to visit, sore feet or not!

I got to Hay at about 2pm, about eight hours after leaving Pandy and felt hungry and thirsty. The one thing to remember about this long Pandy to Hay route is that there are no shops, pubs or refreshment outlets along the way. You could do some research and may find that a half mile detour could allow you to stop somewhere, but there was nothing on the route, so best to take with you all you’ll need. The other thing about this stretch is that bad weather could easily hit, certainly in winter, and you need a ‘Plan B’ to fall back on at all times eg phones, alternative accommodation, useful numbers, possible pickups, as well as the obvious maps, survival gear and detour routes.

On the subject of maps, or guidebooks, they’re crucial items for most route walkers. Ensure that you don’t drop them or leave them on a bench as it makes things a lot harder as it’s hard to know at what part of the route you’re at without them.

I left Hay at 3.00pm walking out of town, over the bridge and along the river on the way to Kington. The route is almost 15 miles and is the usual mixture of gates, stiles and the odd short bit on minor roads. By 6.30pm I’d reached Newchurch, feeling hungry and thirsty and, with no pub or visible shop, carried on to Gladestry where I was told there was a pub. I arrived at Gladestry at 7.45pm. After food and drink, I cracked on towards Kington. Between Gladestry and Kington is the long Hergest ridge that needs an initial steep walk up, but as with the earlier ridge walk, well worth the effort as it’s a breathtaking moorland or heathland setting, ideal for horse riding, dog walking or simply walking and enjoying nature at its best.

Just after 9.00pm, it started to get dark so I pitched my tent and spent the night there, this by a circle of monkey puzzle trees.

In the morning I left for Kington at 6.00am, not feeling too sore, and got there at 6.50am, enjoying the early morning air and the long walk downhill into the town.

The walk from Kington to Knighton is particularly nice, but for me, not quite as spectacular as the two incredible mountain top walks of the previous day. But when you look at the historical aspect of this section, it’s very special as the walk now rejoins the Dyke. Another great aspect of the route is that you pass through Kington golf course, which is the highest 18 hole golf course in England. Further down the route, you also go past Knighton golf course. There are a few steep climbs along the way that get rewarded with some fantastic valley views and the times when you see and walk along the Dyke are memorable. There’s a particular portion of the Dyke that turns at right angles in spectacular fashion and another couple of stretches that give wonderful views when looking ahead and behind.

One point to note is that after walking down a long stretch of Dyke on the right hand side of fields, you make your way down to a road. Before you reach it, to the right you see a large monument. After you cross this road, you again walk along the Dyke, but this time instead of the even footing of the previous Dyke banking, you now encounter a host of animal made holes, some maybe a foot or more deep, which are mostly covered with flattened grass which makes them a real danger. Twisted or broken ankles could be a real possibility here. Using common sense it’s best to take a lot of time over this section getting your footing right for about a hundred yards, so that you can carry on safely to Knighton. Pointless rushing this bit.

Two hours after leaving Kington I got to Lower Harpon Farm. It was 9.00am. I got to a left hand turn on the edge of a field between Furrow Hill and Hawthorn Hill by midday and it took me an hour and three quarters after that to get to the Offa’s Dyke Visitor Centre in Knighton.

I was now back at my car, but any thoughts of going on were discarded for a number of reasons. Logistically, whilst I had Saturday afternoon and Sunday ahead, I couldn’t have got to the next rail point at Chirk and would possibly have found it very hard to find a bus route back to Knighton. The second reason was the soreness in my body, particularly my feet – they had dealt with almost fifty miles in just over a day and a half and were not used to that mileage. The preparation of climbing mountains, two hours up, two hours down doesn’t prepare you for long distances no matter how much weight is on your back.

The final reason was a reason that is hard to define. It was something like ‘boredom’, or more ‘getting fed up with it’ with maybe two nights in the wilderness being a factor. I need to clarify this as I’d just been out in idyllic countryside in glorious summer conditions with breathtaking views, but opening gates and climbing stiles every fifty yards at times can get a bit samey.

Hobbling around Knighton with sore legs and feet before driving home made me realise that deferring the next section really was a great idea. When getting home in the evening and the following day, I struggled to walk without something hurting, and could only imagine what I’d have been like if I’d carried on walking, which would then have got worse and worse.

To do the next stage, I had to walk over fifty miles to the rail point at Chirk. It strikes me that to prepare properly for mileages like this, you need to do something like three 25 mile walks in training, ideally on consecutive days, which would build you the necessary resilience for feet and body to cope with it. Having said that, if you could do that kind of mileage, you may as well do the route!

The clear message and advice I’d give is that if you’re going to do it all in one go or even in stages, prepare yourself. Lots of super long walks in training are a great idea and will pay dividends a hundred fold. Much depends on your itinerary. You may be happy to do it in two or three weeks as a couple that I passed did. That way you’d only do about 10 miles a day and things like blisters and soreness may not kick in. There is also a courier service along the route which allows your luggage to be ferried from one point to the next so that you could leave it in the morning and it’ll be waiting for you at possibly a hotel or B&B when you arrive.

The way I did it makes it harder to use the service as you don’t know where you’ll spend the night, but whatever, it’s a service well worth looking into, especially if you’re going to do the walk in one go.

A couple of weeks after the second leg of the trip I did the third. I had no great plan of how many legs it would take overall, but having done Chepstow to Knighton in two stages, it became sensible to plan Knighton to Prestatyn in two more, certainly as there was a rail link at Chirk, pretty much the halfway point between the two. This did call for slightly longer stages than the first two though.

From Knighton, going north, you start to see huge lengths of Dyke, miles of it in places and you can only imagine the work that went into it over a thousand years ago. This is a nice change to previous parts of the walk, as much of the southern section is done with no sign of the Dyke. If you’re archaeologically minded, and have done your research, you may know the history behind certain separate parts and if you’ve a keen eye for detail, you may spot the Dyke in all the places it shows. Frankly, walking it in fairly long stages is quite a physical task and after a while it’s easy to be more concerned with finishing the task and coping with a few aches and pains than whether or not the bank you’re looking at or walking on is Dyke or just natural banking.

As with the route from Pandy, the start from Knighton is pretty steep, soon taking you up to the top of Panpunton Hill. From here you walk for a long way at high level, so great views and easy walking on offer. Again, embrace the initial climb, but realise it’s not the only climb on the way to Chirk. This is certainly a tough stretch with many steep inclines and the downhill sections are so steep in places that they are tough also. The route has its compensations though with much wildlife to be seen. The initial stage to Brompton Bridge takes you past Mellington Hall and a wonderful caravan site in the mansion grounds. There are also some great vantage points along the way, as would be expected with such climbs and some of the forest walks are memorable too.

But possibly the two best parts on this stretch are the lengths of Dyke banking that you walk along or near to, and the Montgomery Canal, whose towpath forms part of the route. Look out also for another special view – the sight of Chirk Castle perched on top of the hill as you look across the valley whilst walking down the steep incline towards Chirk Mill.

As mentioned, it was my third leg and needed a degree of planning. I’d planned to leave my car in Chirk, get a train down to Knighton and walk back towards my car at Chirk. As I couldn’t get a convenient train from Chirk down to Knighton, I decided to drive straight down to Knighton, leave my car there and worry about getting the train back to Knighton at the end of the walk.

I got to Knighton by 7pm on an August Thursday evening and knew I had to make it to Chirk by 5pm on the Saturday – or wait 17 hours for the next train – it was certainly a deadline worth making. I had a tent with me to maximise distance covered (pitch it when it goes dark), but the rucksack was quite heavy, which cut down speed to a degree. It was handy having previous schedules to give me an idea of speed and my targets were a trig point just short of Llanfair Hill by Thursday nightfall, Llanymynech by 9.00am on Saturday, Chirk Mill by 4.00pm and Chirk station by 5.00pm. The problem with the schedule is that it seemed quite tight and if you miss a turning on the Dyke route, which you’re bound to do at some point, it costs you time. The sensible way to do the whole route is between hotels, use the luggage courier services that travel along the route and carry a packed lunch and little more. It takes a degree of planning, may be possibly a touch longer, but obviously well worth it.

If sleeping wild and waiting for shops and pubs on route, you have to be careful as you can only carry so much food and drink, certainly with quite a heavy basic rucksack. On the Thursday night I got to Llanfair Hill, which was a point about 20 minutes or so past my target trig point by 9.20pm. I camped and started again at 6.00am, getting to the Blue Bell pub at Brompton crossroads at 10.45, hungry and thirsty. The only problem was that it was shut so I pressed on to Buttington, which was 12 miles away. By 1.50pm I had got to Forden, where there was a pub – this was shut also but luckily there was a petrol station 100 yards further on and I got food and drink there.

I got to Buttington by 5.00pm and walked to the pub at the end of the road… again it was shut, but opened at 5.30, so I waited. When looking at the map later, I saw that there was another pub at Pool Quay, a bit further along the route, so should have probably carried on to save time. For me this evening schedule towards Llanymynech was crucial as I had to get to Llanymynech by 9.00 the following morning. By my reckoning I needed to get near a place called Rhyd-esgyn by nightfall, but I actually made it to Four Crosses which was a little further on. This was a bonus as I had reached The Golden Lion pub and, although all rooms were fully booked, they allowed camping and had showers. A was good to get a nice meal too.

Leaving at 6.00am, it was a three mile walk to Llanymynech where I got food and drink. I walked steadily all morning and got to Chirk Mill at 2.45pm which was a nice comfortable hour inside schedule, and after a surprisingly long walk to Chirk station, made the train back to Knighton.

As with the previous leg, my concerns were sore body and sore feet. I was now getting fairly used to long walks so my legs, hips etc seemed to cope pretty well. I still had to be careful of foot blisters though. They can turn an idyllic walk into a very painful experience.

Coming down into Chirk I met an Australian woman doing the walk north to south. She had started at the north Wales coast, walked part of the way, got the bus to Chirk Castle (missing out a chunk of the walk) and just resuming it, suffered again as she walked past me up the hill. I’d be surprised if she got much further without trying to find transport again. You may be lucky, but this walk can take a heavy toll on your feet and I’m sure many have meticulously planned the trip with schedules, couriers, hotels booked along the way, time off work etc, even vehicle backup and suddenly realised that they can’t do the walk because of injured feet. You need to ensure you can walk very long distances without discomfort, maybe break the journey into lots of shorter walks or even be selective in only doing the best parts of the walk.

My plan now was to do pretty much the same for the final leg, camp near Chirk one evening, even do an hour or so walking, camp, have a full day’s walking the next day and hopefully get near Bodfari and then have a final day’s walk to Prestatyn, hopefully finishing early afternoon.

The stretch from Chirk up to Prestatyn has stunning scenery, mainly along the vast Vale of Clwyd. This is a hugely fertile valley with farming here much prized. You can also see over to the mountains of Snowdonia and pick out Snowdon, the highest peak in Wales and higher than any in England. There are also wonderful views at Llangollen, particularly of the golf course down by the river as you walk along the mountains above.

From the point of view of aesthetics, the Vale of Clwyd, for me, is probably the best view on the whole Offa’s Dyke walk, although the views from the Hatterrall Ridge and the view of Tintern Abbey come close, and for Dyke aficionados there are some wonderful stretches of Dyke in Mid Wales. But in terms of being the most memorable view, it was none of the above, it was when I first viewed the Irish Sea – the end was in sight!

The journey from Chirk to Bodfari is particularly pleasant as there are only a limited number of gates and stiles. The gates are a necessary hazard, but stiles can be quite tiring, certainly with a heavy pack and late in the day. I’ve seen a few people with dogs on the route – and what a great dog walk! – but if you take a dog, be mindful that stiles aren’t often dog friendly.

My personal journey was planned as the last quarter of four sections, each averaging around 45 miles. I reckoned I had time to get a train to Chirk on Saturday morning, taxi to the start point and walk to Prestatyn by Sunday afternoon after camping overnight. I got to the Chirk start point by 9.00am as planned. Within a couple of hours I had gone near or through the villages of Froncynsyllte and Trevor and had bought enough food and drink to get me to the next village of Llandegla, which was about 15 miles from Chirk. I got to Llandegla at 4.00pm and reckoned I needed a good evening leg to get me as near to Bodfari as possible. I planned to get to Bodfari in four hours on Sunday morning – by around 10am – then to Prestatyn by around 4.00pm.

Coming into Llandegla, and finding the village shop shut, I noticed that the annual fair was on so I ate and drank there. My next food stop was planned at the Clwyd Gate motel and restaurant, which the Path goes past, with the next place after that for food and drink presumably being Bodfari, about five or six hours walking ahead. I got to the Clwyd Gate at 7.00pm and found it had closed down, which made things a little awkward. After walking an hour and a half more it got dark and I was ready to camp, but was dehydrated and hungry with no food or drink. I could see Ruthin below and it looked to be about two hours walk away and at that point I had no choice, I had to walk down. My feet were sore, but I reckoned that it was about ten hours until I resumed walking and another four or five hours to Bodfari, meaning that the current dehydration level could turn dangerous if left alone. I got to Ruthin at about 10.30pm, got plenty of food and drink and got a taxi back up to the mountain car park where I’d left the route.

I woke up on Sunday morning to 5.45am gloom and at 6.00am it started raining. The view across the Vale of Clwyd, one of the most stunning imaginable in good weather, was miserable with visibility down to a few hundred yards. I walked for about a quarter of a mile in the rain and came to the conclusion that, to get proper photographs, I’d be better doing this final stretch on a nice day. So back to Ruthin I went and got a bus to the rail link at Rhyl. One other reason was that the first time that you see the sea and your destination it’s pretty special and the nearer you get to the coast, the more exhilarating it becomes. If visibility was poor, you may only see the sea as you approach it from nearby, which would be a disappointment.

Whilst rain can be a normal part of many walks, I was surprised what an effect it had. Sun, warmth, shorts and beautiful views gave ways to waterproofs and poor visibility – frankly, the short Sunday walk I did was a real chore and a lesson that the difference between that and doing it in warm weather was a lot more than I would have thought.

Resuming the walk the next weekend, I left my car in Prestatyn on Friday evening, taking the train to Rhyl and getting the 9.00pm bus to Ruthin. A taxi ride back up to the mountain car park completed the trip and I camped by 10.45pm. I could have parked at the mountain car park at 6.00am the next morning and had the luxury of walking without a rucksack, but I would have had to make my way back at the end of the walk and, as it was, it was a nice thought that my car was waiting for me at the end.

Next morning, looking out of the tent at 6.00am I expected the usual early morning gloom, but was surprised by a great, clear morning and at 6.20am I started off. The views across the Vale of Clwyd were incredible and there wasn’t a soul around. I carried on towards the Jubilee Tower, a local mountain landmark, which was a fair trek and a popular mountain top walk for locals. Looking across the valley you can see the mountains of Snowdonia in the distance and being so high up means that you have an uninterrupted view and you see a wonderful silhouette of the range.

Clwyd Gate was the motel that I’d passed about 90 minutes before the point I’d camped and from there to Bodfari, you pretty well don’t need a guidebook. You could put it away and just follow the natural path, taking notice of the occasional arrow that reassures you. Moving past the Jubilee Tower you notice the towns of Denbigh and St Asaph to the left – and these as clearly outlined as if you were flying above. It’s also a special moment when you see the sea for the first time and a little further on you’re able to make out Rhyl’s white Skytower – and it’s probably the only time I’ve admired wind turbines out at sea!

Whilst I didn’t use the guidebook for a long time there came a time when I felt I was pushing my luck. After following a few signposts, I walked about 300 yards down a road looking for the next one and realised that I could have passed it 250 yards earlier and was simply now walking on looking for a signpost that was never going to show. I soon reverted to the book.

Provisionwise, I had enough food and drink to last all day – lessons had been learned from the previous leg! But it’s always nice to get an ice cold drink and after skirting Bodfari and going past a pub at 10.30am, before it was open, I made my way to Rhuallt. Again, no shop when passing through, so it was on to Prestatyn. There’s a hillside behind Prestatyn, so you climb up towards it, knowing you’re close, but still can’t see the town, then all of a sudden, around a hill or corner and there it is in front of you! You walk along the top of the hillside and it almost teases you because you seem to walk parallel to the sea for quite a while before starting the inevitable decent.

When you do, it’s a marvellous walk because it’s a long, dead straight downhill walk that takes you directly to the marker post by the sea. It takes you through the main street and, only having had the luxury of walking through main shopping streets at Monmouth, Hay and Knighton, it’s marvellous to have a full range of high street shops at your disposal and all the ice cold drinks you want! It was now 3.30pm. The final walk to the sea is a touch longer than you’d think and probably takes another ten minutes. When getting to the end I looked around for the grand marker with associated boards, details, maps, sculpture etc, but all I could see was a simple marker post – just like I’d seen hundreds of times along the path!

This was fairly irrelevant though as I just wanted to walk onto the beach, take my boots and socks off and soak my feet in the sea… what a great feeling! Whilst Sedbury has an extravagant path end marker, it has nothing else, but Prestatyn has a cafe – and what a great facility at the end of the walk this is.

Finishing the walk was a bizarre experience. I had no emotion, no elation, no throwing my boots up in the air. I just walked back to my car normally and drove home in much the same way. This may have been different if I’d done the path in one go and it was now finished. But for me, I think it will be the kind of achievement that I’ll appreciate over time.