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Eight Counties, Unlimited Scenery: Roaming the Ancient Offa’s Dyke Path

You have navigated the Coast to Coast across England, made it through the West Highland Way in the Scottish Highlands, and now, you are looking for a different challenge in a unique location in the UK. Or perhaps you’ve had a lifelong yearning to explore the stunning Welsh countryside. Maybe it’s time to visit the land of Offa.

Offa’s Dyke Path runs for 177 miles following the border between Wales and England, passing through historic towns and beautiful and diverse landscapes.

From the riverside meadows of the Wye and Severn valleys to the serene rolling hills of Shropshire and the dramatic uplands of the Black Mountains and the Clwydian Range, the scenery is incredible and ever-changing.

 
 
 
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This National Trail begins in Sedbury Cliffs near Chepstow, in the very south of Wales, and follows the border north towards Prestatyn. The path is well-waymarked and constantly winds in and out of both countries.

With plenty of sightseeing options along the way, it is an ideal trail to combine a nature escape and a journey through the historical heritage of this area.

 
 
 
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So, who was Offa?

King Offa ruled the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Mercia in the 8th century and commissioned a large project to improve defensive ditches along the border with the Welsh kingdom of Powys.

The Dyke - a deep hand-dug bank and ditch - traversed low ground, hills and rivers, and today roughly marks the current border between England and Wales. Offa’s Dyke Path largely follows the Dyke allowing for great views of this natural monument.

 
 
 
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The Trail

From Sedbury Cliffs near Chepstow, the trail begins its course along the Severn estuary. This section offers some wonderful viewpoints to Chepstow Castle - the oldest surviving post-Roman fortification in Britain - the winding River Wye, and later to the stunning Tintern Abbey.

It is worth spending an additional night in Chepstow, which in medieval times became the largest and most important port in Wales. The Norman-built castle is certainly worth a visit, as well as the 12th-century Cistercian abbey of Tintern - one of the greatest monastic ruins of Wales, which is but a short bus ride away.

 
 
 
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The trail then traverses through the peaceful farmlands of Monmouthshire. There is more opportunity to visit incredible castles in this section, such as the spectacular White Castle, a 12th-century Norman stronghold. This area, while beautiful, is remote, and our walking packages include an overnight stay in the nearby historic town of Abergavenny, known as the ‘Gateway to Wales’. Abergavenny is a vibrant town, set between the seven hills near the border with England, and has a strong local market culture, which continues to this day.

Offa’s Dyke Path then crosses through some of the most challenging sections of the route, climbing over the spectacular Black Mountains. The views to the Hay Valley from the Hatterrall Ridge are breath-taking.

It is worth mentioning the overnight stop of Llanthony here. You will find quirky accommodation on offer, in the most unique location with the neighbouring ruins of the imposing Llanthony Priory.

 
 
 
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The next highlight is one of the biggest for those walking the trail - the picturesque town of Hay-on-Wye. Lying right on the Welsh side of the Welsh/English border, it is the northernmost point of the Brecon Beacons National Park and is known as a book town.

Book lovers can visit some of the 30 plus bookshops, making it the “Mecca for books”.

 
 
 
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Leaving Hay-on-Wye and the River Wye, the path crosses through the rural area along the Powys and Herefordshire border, offering pastoral and soothing views towards the border market town of Kington.

Continuing towards the next town of Knighton, there is an excellent, though challenging stretch to enjoy, offering wonderful views from the remote hills towards the well-preserved Dyke. Passing through peaceful woodlands, along the River Lugg and across the Dolley Old Bridge, the path climbs Furrow and Hawthorn Hill, before ultimately descending into the medieval town of Knighton - almost at the half-way mark!

 
 
 
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Featuring two Norman castle mounds, half-timbered houses and winding streets, Knighton also hosts The Offa's Dyke Centre. The Offa's Dyke Centre has a free interactive exhibition where you can find out all about the history of the Dyke and the National Trail.

The second half of the trail is generally thought to be the most challenging, with steep ascents and descents along the beautiful Shropshire Hills. However, with great height comes great views! This section is more remote and bypasses most settlements. Nevertheless, it eventually returns to flat ground between the hills, with the path leading to the River Severn, Buttington Bridge and the market town of Welshpool.

 
 
 
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The Trail then follows stretches of the Montgomeryshire Canal and the River Severn before reaching the town of Llanymynech where the border between the two countries is, in fact, the main street! It then continues through varied sections, including more hills, grasslands, and the Dyke.

There will also be an opportunity to visit the impressive 13th-century Chirk Castle before continuing to the pretty town of Llangollen and Llandegla Forest. At the Llangollen Canal, the path and the Dyke part ways.

 
 
 
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However, the views of the Dyke are replaced by the stunning views to be had from the Clwydian Range and peaceful ridges covered in heather. For those who have not yet tired of historic ruins, there are a number of Iron and Bronze-age hill forts to explore, including Foel Fenlli, Moel Arthur and Penycloddiau.

Approaching the endpoint in the north, this section along the Clwydian Range offers magnificent views to the west from the Vale of Clwyd to Snowdonia and to the east, to the English border and beyond. Finally, the trail descends into the town of Prestatyn and the official finishing point by the sea.

 
 
 
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Walking 177 miles along a 1200-year-old Dyke dug by the King of Mercia, passing through countless medieval castles, Iron Age hillforts and charming abbey ruins is certainly an achievement!

With quaint country pubs and stunning views from the dramatic Black Mountains and green rolling hills in the peaceful Wye Valley, what is not to like about Offa’s Dyke Path?

Katia Fernandez Mayo
P.S. Absolute Escapes offer self-guided walking holidays, which cover the route between 6 and 15 days, including carefully-selected accommodation, baggage transfers and guidebook/map. Check out our Offa’s Dyke Path page for more information, or send us an enquiry.

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