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It is a great earth bank that runs most of the way along or near the border of England and Wales, from the North Wales coast to near Chepstow on the River Wye in the south. At 176 miles long it is 8 miles longer than Hadrian's Wall but, unlike Hadrian's Wall, it is an earth not a stone construction, and it was never garrisoned. Its purpose was to mark rather than defend the frontier.

In his classic "Wild Wales",George Borrow observes that once "it was customary for the English to cut off the ears of every Welshman who was found to the east of the dyke, and for the Welsh to hang every Englishman whom they found to the west of it". Whether apocryphal or not, it shows that it was a symbol of Welsh-English division ever since its creation.

In the dark ages that existed in Britain between the demise of the Roman Empire around 400AD and the arrival of the Normans in 1066, the country was divided into a number of independent kingdoms.

One of these kingdoms was Mercia, which covered the area of England that is today known as the Midlands the English Midlands. Between 757 and 796 its king was called Offa, who was the most powerful and successful of all the Mercian kings. He extended his kingdom to stretch from the Humber to the Channel, and it became the largest and most powerful in Britain at that time.

No records exist as to why King Offa built his dyke, but it is fairly self evident that it was constructed to protect his kingdom from raids by the Welsh. This barrier was a way of marking his frontier and protecting his kingdom. He did this by using a mixture of natural barriers where possible, where the natural barrier did not exist , he constructed his earthwork.

His Dyke is an earth bank, with a ditch on the Welsh side, and an earth bank up to 20 feet high on the English side. It was constructed by hand, and would therefore have required tremendous human resources digging with picks and spades. The Dyke is not quite continuous and it would seem that rivers, forests or mountains acted as a boundary instead in those parts. This meant that of the 176 miles from north to south, about 80 miles of actual wall were constructed.

Today you can still see the bank, in places to a height 10 feet and, with its ditch, is up to 65 feet wide. There are about 60 miles of it still visable on the ground.

Offa's Dyke Footpath?

It is a long distance footpath stretching about 176 miles, stretching from Sedbury Cliffs (nr Chepstow) to Prestatyn.It roughly follows the line of the barrier. The path follows about 60 miles of it that is still visible in the southern portion, from near Chepstow to the River Dee above Chirk Castle.

176 miles of walking at 2 mph means that there is 90 hours of walking to cover the path. Accommodation appears to be reasonably easily obtainable on a "book a day ahead" basis. And walkers diaries on the Internet show that they take around 12 days to do the entire length.

The Path was opened in 1971 by Lord Hunt of Everest fame. The path takes you through or along parts of the Black Mountains, the Clwydian Hills, the Rivers Wye and Severn. You will see farms, ruined castles and abbeys, and interesting small towns and villages along the way.

The path crosses today's border between England & Wales 9 times in its 176 mile journey. Because Offa wanted a line that could be defended if necessary, it follows high ground and there are commanding views into the mountains and valleys of Wales.

If you want to be really traditional you pick up a small stone from the sea at the start of the walk and toss it into the River Wye at the end .

www.wales-calling.com