Unused holiday and limited time to use it forced a quick decision to walk the Offa’s Dyke Path. The appeal was threefold: walking a National Trail in one solo backpacking journey; the ODP has a certain purity of line stretching south to north along the Welsh-English border and from coast to coast; and because the logistics were straightforward – train from Matlock to the start at Chepstow, walk to the finish at Prestatyn and train back home to Matlock. Dare I admit that this was the first opportunity to take advantage of my senior railcard?
I had two slight doubts about my attempt. Firstly, the weather forecast was not encouraging and secondly, I questioned my level of fitness. Yes, I have recently done a few fell races and walks but was this enough training for several long days carrying a heavy sack? I had set myself a challenging schedule – walking 177 miles in 7 days carrying all my camping gear.
Unbelievably I have never seen Offa’s Dyke before and yet it is the longest ancient monument in Britain. This 8th century ditch and earthern bank is an astonishing construction and the National Trail follows it where it still exists. The gaps are linked by other prominent landscape features, particularly the Black Mountains, Shropshire Hills and Clwydian Hills. In the lowland sections it follows the Wye and Severn rivers and the Montgomery and Llangollen canals.
Here are some of my personal highlights:
- The Devil’s Pulpit viewpoint in the Wye Valley overlooking Tintern Abbey.
- The 12th century White Castle just a few miles from where I used to live near Raglan.
- Finding a sheltered spot to camp on the descent from Hay Bluff, having been battered by the wind and rain across the Black Mountains.
- Hergest Ridge near Kington – made famous by Mike Oldfield’s follow-up album to Tubular Bells.
- Camping in the grounds of Mellington Hall – mine was the only tent in an area of manicured grass designated for campers.
- Walking the scenic path under the Eglwyseg limestone escarpment on the way to World’s End.
- The wonderful Dinorben Arms, a recently refurbished pub in Bodfari, after a long section without food and water.
- Reaching the finish on the Prestatyn beachfront early on the final morning in good time to catch the train home.
Of course, there were a few downsides to my journey:
- It rained on six out of seven days – it was farcical the number of times I removed and put on my waterproofs in an attempt to keep dry or not overheat.
- Apparently, there are 744 gates and stiles to be negotiated. This got rather tedious especially as there are many more stiles than gates in the northern section, just when I was getting very tired towards the end.
- Occasional overgrown paths of nettles, thistles, gorse bushes and brambles (not surprising considering the time of year) waiting to sting and spike me.
For the record:
- Distance: 177 miles
- Ascent: approx. 28,000' / 8,500m (source: nationaltrail.co.uk)
- Time taken: 6 days, 20 hrs, 40 mins. (averaging about 25½ miles and 4,000' per day)
- Much of the kit I used was the same as when I did the Pennine Way last year (see outside.co.uk/articles/wrong-way-pennine-way/). However, I tried an alternative stove to my favoured MSR Pocket Rocket which has served me well for many years. I feel a little disloyal to report that the SOTO WindMaster boiling time was significantly quicker and the attached igniter was a bonus.
- I used Leki Micro Trail Pro walking poles throughout the walk – easy to put together and then collapse, lightweight but solid (no chance of them giving way under pressure), with a comfortable ‘glove’ and simple release trigger. (NB you must get the size right because they are non-adjustable).
- At the Women in Adventure Film Night in the Café a few weeks ago I won at auction a Haglöfs waterproof top. During the walk it was fully tested out and as you would expect from Haglöfs it performed admirably in some severe weather.
- I used the 2016 Cicerone guidebook for information and planning but carried the A-Z Adventure Series map-book on the journey. If you decide to tackle a similar trip, I recommend that to do your homework before going. Some sections are distinctly lacking in facilities, and beware - pubs and convenience stores that existed in 2016 may not necessarily still be open in 2019.
A fine, classic walk combining a sense of history with a variety of walking terrains and many spectacular viewpoints. In general, the signposting is excellent and most of the footpaths and gates are well maintained. The highest point is Hatterrall Ridge (2,307') on the Black Mountains but there is considerable ascent and descent throughout the walk. A 7-day schedule meant that I usually started at about 6.30 am and camped sometime after 7.00 pm. A 12-day schedule would probably be more sensible…