Hiking Offa’s Dyke Path in the UK

By Samantha Sartain
This item appears on page 27 of the May 2013 issue.

It was my friend Claire’s idea. From her home in Australia, she planned the details of our June 12-30, 2012, hiking vacation along Offa’s Dyke Path for us and four of our friends. 

Named for the King of Mercia (who reigned AD 757-796 and caused the dykes to be built), Offa’s Dyke Path lies along the border of Wales and England. We walked 150 miles of it, north to south, from Prestatyn to Chepstow, in 19 days.

Samantha Sartain on the walls of Chester, England. Photos: Sartain

Our custom arrangements were made by Byways Breaks (27 Harthill Ave., Liverpool, L18 6HY, U.K.; phone +44 [0] 151 722 8050). We each paid about $1,350, which included 19 nights’ lodging in B&Bs, transport of one pack each (less than 30 pounds) to each night’s lodging, and a big breakfast every morning. Byways did an excellent job and I would go with them again.

Here are a few excerpts from my extensive journal.

We arrived at our launch point, Prestatyn, a couple of days beforehand. I wanted to visit Chester, England, about 18 miles away. My military family had lived in nearby Burtonwood in 1954, and I just wanted to walk the Chester walls as my Dad and I used to do. Claire wanted to spend some time in Snowdonia.

On our first hike day, it was a short uphill climb from Prestatyn, then we meandered through fields and lots of low, treeless hills and wheat fields and along some narrow, paved lanes. Throughout the hike, we followed trail signposts that each had an acorn logo on it. It was hard at times to find the next acorn.

Day two, the 12 miles from Selattyn to Llanymynech, was the worst day of all — six hours uphill, then about an hour downhill. The next day we got a ride to see a 12th-century Cistercian Abbey, then continued our walk. 

One day we enjoyed a ride on the Montgomery Canal on a boat pulled by Gypsy Vanner horses (aka Irish cobs). These gentle giants have lots of long hair covering their legs from their knees to over their hooves. 

En route we saw a really big Roman aqueduct, Chirk Castle and the oldest pub in Wales, The Skirrid Inn (est. AD 1100) Sometimes we stopped at a pub for a beer or a bite.  

At one point, we walked along a towpath by the canal instead of following Offa’s acorns. There were beautiful swans there with new chicks. One male was so protective of his brood that he chased us for 20 minutes! 

Acorn signs like this mark Offa’s Dyke Path.

We did a short detour in Welshpool and had lunch at a Morrisons Supermarket. Often, Claire would visit a town’s library and take a few minutes to email family. 

One morning Claire asked me, “What hurts?” I said, “EVERYTHING!” A couple days later we got a ride with our B&B host to the village of Ludlow, England, which had a small sporting goods store. I was lucky to find another pair of boots that could fit over all the bumps, blisters and Band-Aids on my feet. I left two pairs of boots that I had brought for charity; due to my blisters, I could no longer wear them. We continued walking. 

Unfortunately, a few days later I got a shin splint, which I taped up with duct tape; the result was almost as hard as a plaster cast. That worked for the next 50 miles. I was also taking OxyContin on occasion, and I kept going.

An interesting stop mid hike was the village of Hay-on-Wye. This place is small but has about 30 bookstores! My favorite was the Mystery Bookstore. When I told the owner how much I enjoyed her shop, she asked me if I would be interested in buying it. (“Umm, no.”)

At Llanthony Priory we were able to spend the night in the old Augustinian abbey, right there amid the ruins. We could look out our window and see lots of grazing horses, cows and sheep. 

Tintern Abbey, Wales. Photo: Sartain

Every day, there was beautiful scenery and interesting places to visit. A weather note — we did encounter rain, from drizzles to full-blown downpours, but for most of the hike it was cool and only a bit rainy.

We walked along a lot of ridges and met people coming from the other way walking their dogs; both dogs and people were really friendly. 

We sloshed through a lot of fields and climbed over many stiles, ankle deep in mud in some places, which slowed us down a bit. There were always curious cows and horses that came over to check us out. Claire was afraid of them, as they were so big; I ran interference, as they didn’t scare me.

When we arrived at the next-to-last stop, Old Hendrick’s farm near Monmonth, we asked the owner if she had a hose outside so we could wash off all the mud. She helped us do that, then hung our gear on the clothesline and put our boots in the furnace room. 

This was one of the few places I actually signed up for dinner at our accommodation. She was a superb cook! Of course, we had chicken; they were raising them right there for market.

At our final B&B, in Chepstow, an email awaited me from my daughter, who advised that I should “go somewhere” rather than come home, as my home city was the nexus of some serious wildfires. The landlady at the B&B helped us pull up some trips on the Internet from Explore!, and the six of us ended up hiking for eight days in Albania. That was great — a little harder than Offa’s Dyke, but we did it!


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