Exploring this ancient monument...
Running from the Severn Estuary to the Bay of Liverpool, Offa’s Dyke National Trail runs straight up the heart of the country. It is sometimes in England and sometimes in Wales, passing through three Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) and one National Park. You would almost think when looking at the route that King Offa, the builder of the dyke, picked the most beautiful bits of countryside to route it through.
The dyke was an earthwork fortification used either as a defensive structure or just as a border, and much of it remains clear on the landscape, despite being built in the 8th century and had all the rigours of the British weather and British farmers thrown at it. The National Trail makes seeing the dyke, and the landscape it passes through, very easy for walkers, though knowing where to go if you don’t have the time to go the whole 177 miles can certainly be tricky.
Starting in the south, the trail heads up the Wye Valley, a wooded paradise where circular walks can be taken to the nearby Forest of Dean. The river is worth the visit though, and the only difficult choice is whether to admire the ancient woodland or watch for riverside wildlife as you walk.
The route leaves the Wye and heads north-west to run along the crest of the eastern edge of the Black Mountains, an expanse of high moor with narrow valleys on the edge of the Brecon Beacons. It then drops down into mid-Wales and crosses into England again to enter the Shropshire Hills.
If there’s a region to go to more than any other on this route it may well be the Shropshire Hills, where high moorland, wooded valleys and little villages dot the landscape. If this seems a bit cliché, it probably because that cliché was originally intended to be about Shropshire. The dyke trail here is just one of countless walks for all abilities, and those keen for a longer outing can head up to the Long Mynd and see the spectacular views into Wales and England.
Heading north, the trail then enters an endless succession of beautiful small hills, frequently near castles, as this region was the heart of the conflict between the English kings and the Welsh princes. There are however plenty of market towns, showing that trade was just as important to the history of the region as conflict. The final stretch runs along the Clwydian hills, a line that runs conveniently south-north and ends at the sea.
If this all seems like too much choice, then it probably is. If in doubt where to start, head for the Shropshire hills, where as well as the dyke itself you can get off the beaten track and explore the area. And if the bad weather sets in, there’s always a castle to visit or a village to retreat to, and reflect how much the England-Wales border has changed over the last 1200 years!
In 2016 we will be exploring Offa’s Dyke over two weekends one in June and then our 2016 Halloween Party will explore the Dyke
Book your June walking weekend exploring Offa’s Dyke here…
Join our Halloween celebrations and walking weekend along Offa’s Dyke here..
Author: Alex Kendall
Alex is a freelance mountain leader and writer who works all over the UK and abroad. He currently lives in Cardiff where he likes running, planning winter mountaineering trips, and orienteering. His favourite place is Snowdonia, and he is trying to write a book.
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