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Offa's Dyke
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Visiting Offa's Dyke


Offa's Dyke is not only one of Britain's most significant ancient monuments, it is also one of the most rewarding to visit thanks to the re-invention of the earthwork as the line of the Offa's Dyke Path. The path makes Offa's Dyke a wonderfully accessible ancient monument and means that people can freely visit and appreciate long stretches of this very important part of our national heritage to an extent that has never before been possible. Indeed, the popularity of the National Trail has meant that Offa's Dyke - albeit in the guise of the path - has become more widely known and celebrated than perhaps it has been for over a 1000 years.

National Trail sign post Left: Signpost for Offa's Dyke Path

The 270 kilometre long path, which is one of 13 National Trails in England and Wales, was formally opened in 1971. Exploiting the often dramatic location of the Dyke, and crossing no less impressive landscapes - such as the Brecon Beacons and the Clwydian Hills - when off the earthwork, the path runs through the Marches from Prestatyn in the north to Sedbury Cliffs in the south. The spectacular route affords fine views of beautiful countryside which variously has National Park, Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and Environmentally Sensitive Area status.

An ideal way to preface a trip to the Dyke is to visit the Offa's Dyke Centre in Knighton, run by the Offa's Dyke Association (a volunteer based charity existing to promote the path and Dyke). The Centre houses Offa's Dyke interpretative displays and other visitor facilities, and can also supply National Trail guidebooks, relevant maps, local accomodation lists and other information for the would be walker and Mercian archaeologist. Their web site can be found at www.offasdyke.demon.co.uk.

Walkers on Offa's Dyke Right: Walkers on Offa's Dyke at Pen Offa, Powys

When visiting the Dyke via the National Trail, it is important to remember that only the path is a line of public access. The Dyke is entirely on private land and any exploration of the earthwork beyond the path should not be undertaken without the permission of the landowner. Remember too that parking is limited or non existent near most of the Dyke, and excursions need to be planned with this in mind. A good way of looking at the earthwork is to do a circular walk with the line of the Dyke as part of the route. Not only does this avoid covering the same ground twice, it also offers the potential to interestingly contrast close up study of the Dyke with more distant views of the monument in its wider landscape.

Some stretches of Dyke to visit

It would be wrong to 'recommend' some stretches of the monument above others - wherever it is found the Dyke surprises and intrigues by the different details of its appearance and local relationship to the surrounding terrain, and in that complexity is buried both its mystery and historical importance. However, for the visitor with limited time, it is worth pointing out some 'good bits':

The Wye Valley, Gloucestershire
North of Chepstow, Offa's Dyke occupies a dramatic position hugging the eastern scarp of the Wye Valley. A well preserved and readily accessible section is adjacent to Devil's Pulpit above Tintern Abbey. The Dyke hereabouts is recognisable as a well defined bank which, given the steep fall of the valley side below the monument, is usually associated with a quarry hollow to the east rather than the western ditch found elsewhere. The Dyke is generally in woodland, and breaks in the trees give picturesque views of the surrounding Wye Valley Area Of Outstanding Natural Beauty .

The Radnorshire Hills, Powys
Within the old county of Radnorshire, the Dyke takes a meandering course through a landscape of sweeping hills and valleys. The area is characterised by the dispersed hamlets and pastoral farming typical of the Welsh Marches, and is designated as an Environmentally Sensitive Area. Fine stretches of the Dyke survive at Burfa, Discoed and, perhaps most dramatically, on Hawthorn Hill south of Knighton. The Hawthorn Hill stretch in particular gives panoramic views into the Welsh hills, and the windswept remoteness of the place somehow emphasises the extraordinary constructional achievement represented by Offa's great earthwork.

Offa's Dyke
Right: Offa's Dyke 'switchback' across the Clun, Shropshire

The Clun area, Shropshire
Climbing northwards from Knighton, the Dyke takes a sinuous 'switchback' course over the rolling Clun countryside, ascending to 420 metres at Llanfair Hill, before dropping to the lowlands beyond the Kerry Ridgeway. This is probably the best continuously well preserved stretch of the monument, and the path affords spectacular views of the earthwork as it snakes over a pastoral landscape now designated as an Environmentally Sensitive Area. Particularly massive sections of earthwork, often with the ditch emphasised by a counterscarp bank on its western edge, can be seen around Llanfair Hill, on the slopes of Hergan Hill and either side of the Kerry Ridgeway.

East of Montgomery, Powys and Shropshire
North of Mellington, the Dyke abandons the high ground and strikes out across the lowland plain east of Montgomery with a straight and deliberate course. In a landscape shaped by centuries of arable agriculture, the preservation of the Dyke changes abruptly from field to field, ranging from the impressive bank and ditch visible at County Boundary Bridge immediately south of the Shrewsbury-Montgomery road, to sections where only a part of the eroded bank or infilled ditch can be traced, or other places where nothing but a hedgeline remains. Yet this is still an impressive and interesting length of the monument, where it is possible not only to appreciate the single minded boldness of the Mercian Dyke architects, but also to read in the variable survival of the earthwork much of the story of the landscape since the Dyke's construction.

Vicinity of the Ceiriog Valley, Powys and Shropshire
From Chirk Castle, the Dyke descends into the beautiful Ceiriog valley marked by a fine section of surviving bank and ditch, and then proceeds up the southern side of the valley and on towards Selattyn Hill as a similarly massive earthwork which serves as the English/Welsh border. Perhaps the size of the earthwork indicates a strategically important valley crossing, but for whatever the reason the Dyke hereabouts is as substantially constructed (and as well preserved today) as anywhere on its route. The Chirk Castle length is accessible as a permissive alternative National Trail route in the summer only, but a good walk is to be had at any time following the path along the majestic stretch of Dyke south of the river.


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