UK's Offa's Dyke Path National Trail Joins IAT

In February 2013, the UK's Offa's Dyke Path National Trail joined the IAT, bringing with it Britain's longest ancient monument while creating a 1,047 mile (1,675 km) IAT Wales loop with the Wales Coast Path. The 177 mile (285 km) long, 1200 year old linear bank and ditch passes through no less than eight different counties and crosses the England/Wales border 20 times. It explores the tranquil Marches (as the border region is known) and passes through Brecon Beacons National Park on the spectacular Hatterall Ridge. In addition, it links no less than three Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty – the Wye Valley, the Shropshire Hills and the Clwydian Hills.

Brecon Beacons National Park

The Path was opened in the summer of 1971, linking Sedbury Cliffs near Chepstow on the banks of the Severn estuary with the coastal town of Prestatyn on the shores of the Irish Sea. It is named after, and often follows, the spectacular Dyke which King Offa ordered to be constructed in the 8th century, probably to divide his Kingdom of Mercia from rival kingdoms in what is now Wales.

Although people have been rumoured to complete the Path in four days, more typically two weeks are about right for the whole journey. Of course many people choose to complete only short sections in day trips or to complete the whole Path over many weeks, months or years! There are regular places to stay, eat, and drink along the way, and public transport is available to key points.

The Dyke itself consists of an earthen bank which can be up to 25 feet high, associated with a ditch to the west, and often occupies what seems like a deliberately imposing position in the landscape, typically presenting fine and commanding views into Wales. It is not known exactly what the Dyke looked like when first built, but archaeological excavation suggests the western side of the bank was revetted with turf to create a near vertical face, and it is possible that some kind of palisade or wall also existed on top of the earthwork.

Offa's Dyke is the most dramatic built structure to survive from Anglo-Saxon times, and as such is an important reminder of a key phase in British history which has left relatively few substantial visible remains. Indeed, not only was the Dyke without equal in its own era, no constructional undertaking of similar landscape scale was to be built in Britain for another 1000 years until the great canal schemes of the 18th century.

Intact section of Offa's Dyke

The "Offa" of Offa’s Dyke was King of the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Mercia from 757-796. Mercia, centred on what is today the English Midlands, was one of a number of independent kingdoms which had emerged in the mid/later first millennium AD from the gradual extension of Anglo-Saxon political control over much of former Roman Britain.

King Offa on horseback

Offa established, through military campaigns and political alliance, Mercian control over much of what we now call England and indeed saw fit to describe himself as "Rex Anglorum" ("King of the English"). Although very little direct historical documentation relating to Offa has survived, we can still glimpse a powerful leader and astute politician who was treated as an equal by Charlemagne, the greatest European ruler of the age.

When Offa's Dyke was completed in 796, it delineated the western boundary of the Kingdom of Mercia. Today the Offa's Dyke Path National Trail follows much of that boundary - and the modern border between England and Wales - on its 177 mile (285 km) north/south journey from the Irish Sea to the Bristol Channel. The landscape is mostly rural and includes mountains, hill pasture, river valleys, and lowland fields. 31% is within three Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, 9% is within Brecon Beacons National Park, and two-thirds is within Wales.

Designated areas along the Offa's Dyke Path National Trail

In addition to the Dyke, highlights include Chepstow Castle,

the Wye Valley,

Tintern Abbey,

the village of Monmouth,

Hay-on-Wye (Town of Books),

Pont-Cysyllte Aqueduct,

and Moel Famau and Jubilee Tower.

To walk the 177 mile (285 km) Offa's Dyke Path National Trail is to explore both spectacular landscapes and the history of the Anglo-Welsh border. To learn more, visit their website .... and take a long walk along a narrow dyke!