Offas Dyke path from Chepstow to Prestatyn

Part of the Offas Dyke path

One of my most enjoyable life adventures was walking the 283km Offas Dyke path from Chepstow to Prestatyn in March-April 2014.

Wikipedia explains that Offas Dyke (Clawdd Offa in Welsh) is a large linear earthwork that roughly follows the current border between England and Wales. The structure is named after Offa, the Anglo-Saxon king of Mercia from 757 until 796, who is traditionally believed to have ordered its construction.

Although its precise original purpose is debated, it marked the border between Anglian Mercia and the Welsh kingdom of Powys.

I started the journey at Chepstow on 24 March 2014 and walked to Monmouth on the first day. I then detoured and spent a day exploring Whitchurch in Herefordshire, where my great-great grandparents James Evans and Sarah Hardwick were married on 25 July 1849. It was a lovely moment to visit the church where Sarah was baptised and the couple wed.

The trail passes Tintern Abbey, which I visited before starting the walk. The abbey was founded in 1131 and fell into ruin after the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 16th century.

Offas Dyke castles

I saw some amazing castles, including Chepstow, White Castle and Castell Dinas Bran. The latter is unique because it was built by the the native Welsh princes of Powys. The others were Norman structures to defend their territory from marauding Welsh.

I passed the site of the Battle of Crogen, where the Welsh enjoyed a rare victory against the English invaders in 1165.

St Tecla’s Well is on the trail, where a 4th century Welsh princess gained a reputation for curing epilepsy and scrofula. Those hoping for a cure had to bathe in the well after sunset, walk around the well nine times carrying a rooster while reciting the Lord’s Prayer, walk around the church nine times again reciting the Lord’s Prayer before entering the church and sleeping for the night under the altar clutching the rooster and using the bible as a pillow.

In the morning they stuck pins into the unfortunate rooster before tossing them into the well and placing the birds beak into their mouth for transfer of the disease to the bird. The rooster was then left in the church. If it died one could expect to be cured.

The hike was a physically challenging experience, traversing about 20-30km per day. The weather was cold at the beginning and I encountered snow in the Black Mountains, but there was little rain and the daytime temperatures in early April climbed to around 12-15 degrees on most days, which was perfect.

The tour company took my suitcase ahead to the next accommodation, which was a mix of private homes (B&B) and pubs. Dinner and breakfast were included as part of the package.

Overall it was a marvellous experience and I hope to undertake similar walks in future.

Offas Dyke walking itinerary 2014 by Michael Gorey on Scribd

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