There’s nothing nicer than taking a leisurely walk to relax. But if you’d like to plan a walking route that’s a bit more adventurous, Offa’s Dyke Path is one of the most spectacular long distance walks in Wales that offers 177 miles of exercise, wildlife, and historic scenery.
Opened in 1971, the trail attracts long distance walkers from all corners of the globe. It’s a well maintained path that follows the border separating England and Wales. It begins in the north at Prestatyn in Denbighshire and ends in the Severn Estuary at Sedbury in the south. The footpath closely follows the remains of a dyke constructed in the eighth century by King Offa.
Named after King Offa of Mercia, the dyke is thought to have originally been constructed to define the border of Mercia and the land of Powys, the neighboring Welsh kingdom. It was 65 feet wide and eight feet high when it was built. Having been dug by hand, it was an impressive accomplishment for King Offa.
This begs the question, what’s a dyke? Society can define “dyke” as a disparaging term for a person’s sexuality. However, the original term referred to a manmade earthworks constructed to divert water. A dyke’s primary purpose is to serve as a wall, or large ditch, and divert water thereby reducing flooding of an area. Similar to a dam, it prevents a body of water from covering an area of land, but it’s much easier to construct.
Historians believe that King Offa ordered its construction as a defense mechanism against the Welsh. Attacking forces would have to make it through deep waters in full armor, climb over the embankment, and then fight the army. It would be an almost impossible task.
Offa was the king of medieval Mercia who ruled from 757 to 796 AD of the eighth century. But, other than being king, who was Offa? And why is he special? He was one of seven kings on the isle of Britain. He was a force to be reckoned with and is said to have often terrified the neighboring kings. He fought to unify the kingdoms and was recognized as the Overall King of all the other lords in Britain.
Charlemagne, King of the Franks, signed the first trade agreement between England and France with Offa. King Offa also made trade agreements with Rome and began to import and export goods mainly via London. For this, he was acclaimed as the Master of London.
Due to a lack of substantial King Offa facts, there isn’t any extensive information available regarding his reign. His claim to historical fame is largely due to the lasting remains of a well-preserved dyke that still marks the landscape from a long ago land dispute.
The dyke originally began in the north near Llanfynydd, less than five miles from the coast. It wound through hills, lower ground, and rivers making its way south to Rushock Hill in Herefordshire and stopping less than fifty miles from the Bristol Channel. Historians believe that this 64 mile section is the heart of Offa’s construction with the remaining 113 miles consisting of other dykes. But the credit of the entire 177 mile trail is given to King Offa.
Go the Distance
To cover the entire footpath of Offa’s Dyke, let’s ask the question, 177 miles is how many hours? According to the National Trails, the average walker would require 14 days to complete the trek in its entirety. That averages out to about 12 hours of walking per day. Comfortable shoes are highly recommended.
Lucky for you there are lots of places to stay overnight, stores to replenish your supplies, and beautiful historical and natural sights to see along the way. Walkers often choose short sections of Offa’s Dyke Path to traverse rather than tackle the entire length of it.
It passes through various types of terrain. Hills, flat land, and switchbacks are common. While it’s maintained, it can get a bit exerting at times. Appropriate clothing, shoes, and lots of water are necessities that will help make your long distance walk in Wales much more enjoyable. And don’t forget the camera. There are some amazing natural and manmade creations that you don’t want to miss.
Offa’s Dyke Path is managed by the Natural Resource Wales and Natural England organizations. The National Trail Officer, located in Llandrindod, is in charge of the everyday tasks of the trail. Working in conjunction with the Officer are eight local authorities plus one National Park Authority officers you may encounter along the route.
Even if you plan a walking route that’s shorter than the entire length of Offa’s Dyke Path, some preparation would serve you well. Practice walking longer distances over time to help build strength and stamina. If you have a highly sedentary lifestyle, you may want to plan a walking route that’s short and easy. Slowly challenge yourself until long distance walking is not a problem.
Wear comfortable hiking shoes or sneakers with non-skid soles. It’s a mistake to buy a new pair of shoes before attempting a long distance walk. That’s the last place you should try to break in your footwear.
On an open trail like this, the sun can be harsh. Bring a hat and sunscreen. Wear clothes that can breathe and move with you. A full-sized back pack will help carry extra bottles of water, sunscreen, and extra clothes if you plan on staying overnight. Plus it will keep your car keys and wallet safe.
It’s always good practice to bring a small first-aid kit as well.
Photographer and Wildlife Lover’s Delight
Photos! Photos! Photos! Get the camera and extra batteries ready. The lush countryside, the vibrant colors of the flowers, the medieval ruins, castles, and animals in their natural habitat are all waiting to have their picture taken.
Butterflies, birds, rabbits, deer, and more go about their daily lives as you pass by. On clear days, you can see up to 30 miles away. Perfect for a wide lens photo.
The natural beauty that surrounds Offa’s Dyke Path is so astounding, it has been designated Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). There are other long distance walks in Wales, but Offa’s Dyke Path may be the most beautiful there is.
If you plan a walking route that includes overnights, make reservations ahead of time. There are hotels and bed-and-breakfast accommodations located along the entire route. The Offa’s Dyke Association has an organized listing of pricing and accommodations for walkers throughout the region.
There are also packages available if you plan a walking route that will cover the entire 177 miles. For a single price, you can book a room at a different hotel each night of your journey. You’ll walk approximately 11 – 16 miles a day. Then relax at the hotel with a hot meal and clean shower each night.
Camping is also allowed along the trail. Bring your own equipment, and enjoy.
Historical Points of Interest Along the Route
Visitors love taking long distance walks in Wales. While the Welsh marshlands are a beautiful sight to behold, there are other attractions to be seen and experienced along Offa’s Dyke Path. Lying close by is the ruins of the Llanthony Priory located at the foot of the Black Mountains in the isolated area of Vale of Ewyas.
The Devil’s Pulpit provides spectacular views over Tintern Abbey in Monmouthshire. Local folklore says the devil preached from this pulpit-like narrow pillar of limestone to tempt the monks living below.
Take a rest and stop by the well-preserved medieval White Castle. It’s open to the public March through October. A great Norman castle built by William Fitz Osbern, it was quite the attraction in the thirteenth century.
The Monnow Bridge in Monmouthshire is the last remaining medieval bridge in Britain that has its gate tower still standing on the actual bridge. Monmouth, while vastly sheep country and orchards, is also known as the birthplace of Henry V.
Walking 177 miles is quite a feat. Why not take a break and cool off? The Pontcysyllte Aqueduct World Heritage Site in Wrexham is the longest and highest in Britain. Notably named the “stream in the sky”, it offers visitors the option of walking across it or enjoying a leisurely boat ride. Cross the 1,007 foot long structure as you gaze at the River Dee churning below.
The trail also passes Chepstow Castle which is the oldest surviving Roman fortification in the area. Pick up a book at one of the many bookshops in Hay-on-Wye, then read it in the quiet shadows of one of the Norman castle ruins. These border castles offer a glimpse into history that not many people get to experience.
If you arrange your walk in late may the world famous Hay on Wye Literary Festival runs for a full week and is well worth visiting. Famous authors and other celebrities appear at this fantastic venue every year. Hay on Wye is known as the town of books in the UK and its qaint book shops are atreat to the eye at any time of the year.
Be aware that accommodation in and around Hay on Wye can be booked up a year or more in advance during the festival week which is generally late may into early June running over the last weekend in May (Bank Holiday weekend).
Walkers are welcome to stop by the church in New Church for a cup of tea. Climb Hergest Ridge to get an unforgettable 360 degree view of Pen y Fan to the south, the Malverns to the east, and the Shropshire hills to the north. Arthur Conan Doyle found his inspiration to write the Hounds of Baskervilles here at Hergest Ridge.
Travel up to Furrow and Hawthorn Hill to get a magnificent view of where Owain Glyndwr fought the English at the Battle of Pilleth. The burial site of the fallen soldiers is marked with a large clump of trees clearly visible from your vantage point high on the hill.
Being one of the best long distance walks in Wales, you’ll find your way without much fuss. How easy is it to navigate the route? It’s very well marked with highly visible signs smartly positioned by the National Trails. Each sign has an acorn symbol and is strategically positioned at regular intervals along the path.
The acorn is the National Trails symbol that marks the route. With the acorn are arrows. A yellow arrow means the path is strictly for walkers. A blue arrow means walkers, horses, and cyclists are allowed. The plum arrow means walkers, horses, cyclists and carriage drivers are allowed, but the landowner must give express permission for other motorized vehicles to use the path. The red arrow indicates a byway, meaning everyone – walkers, horseriders, cyclists, carriage drivers, and motor vehicles are allowed.
Know Before You Go
Visitors are welcome including children and dogs as long as they kept under control. To plan a walking route, a map is recommended. Maps and guide books are available at the National Trails Shop that details the entire route. Some guides have trail descriptions so you’ll know exactly what to expect.
Having a map is useless if you don’t know how to read one. Do a little research on maps and the information they contain. Terrain, mileage, rivers, and more are all in the confines of a map for a reason. Make sure you know how to read and understand that information in order to avoid getting lost.
Plan a Walking Route – Long Distance Walks in Wales in Sections?
You don’t have to walk the entire path. If you’re in any proximity of Offa’s Dyke Path, just park the car and start walking. Loop a few miles, and enjoy the scenery. Because the trail is open, visitors can start and stop at any section of the trail they choose.
Know how much physical exertion you can handle before going. Being in good physical shape is important in order to handle the strain of walking many miles per day. This is especially true if you’re carrying a large hiking pack.
If you do decide to tackle the whole path in one go or a large section you are well advised to do some serious training. This is a marathon walk in its entirety and marathon training is required.
Build up to it by taking frequent short walks and ramp them up to give you the stamina required to tackle this iconic trek. Don’t forget to train with a backpack akin to the actual weight you will be carrying and make sure you have the best footwear you can afford.
Get a map and plan the route that you can handle. If you are bringing children, choose a section of the route that isn’t too strenuous. For the go-getters, decide how far to go each day, where to camp at night, or what hotel to stay in. Plan on the specific sites you want to see and factor that into your walking route. It is advisable to research all possible places of refuge on the way so that if the weather turns you can quickly find a safe dry haven anywhere on the route.
Offa’s Dyke Path is a beautiful piece of the world that can mesmerize its visitors. Take advantage of its gifts and do some preparation beforehand. That way you can enjoy everything this long distance walk in Wales has to offer.