Offa’s Dyke Day 4 Friday 17 June Pandy to Hay on Wye

Pandy to Hay on Wye 17 miles

This was going to be a long day so I made an early start. As well as the distance, there was about 2200 feet of ascent and descent involving crossing the Black Mountains.  There was no sign of Offa’s Dyke today but the highlight was the ridge over Hatterall Hill. The path started opposite the B and B. I crossed the river Honddu and then the railway line and started climbing up to Hatterall Hill.  Next to the path was an 11th Century Motte of a Norman castle, now covered with trees.

The first mile or so was along a quiet lane which eventually became a track by an iron age fort.

Hill fort south end of Hatterall Hill ridge

There was a good view back to Skirrid Fawr.  Red Kite are fairly common here and one flew overhead as I passed the fort. The path climbed steadily but easily up Hatterall Hill and after an hour or so I was at the first of three trig point.  The English Welsh border runs along the top of the broad ridge and there were great views into both countries.

Hatterall Hill ridge

The Black mountains and the Brecon Beacons are home to the Welsh Pony breed of pony.  They used to be used as pit ponies but most of the horses on the moor are feral. I saw several small herds over the course of the day.

The ridge is about 10 miles long and provides great views to the East and West as well along the length of the ridge.  After a while the ruined Llanthony Priory could be seen in the Vale of Ewyas on the Welsh side of the ridge.  This was an Augustinian priory from the 12th century until the dissolution of the monasteries in the mid 16th century. 

Llanthony Priory in the Vale of Ewyas

I crossed two more minor hills, with trig points along the top.  There are several prehistoric cairns and burial mounds along the path.  Across the Ewyas valley someone had cut bizarre shapes in the heather

Towards the end of the ridge I reached the highest point of both the ridge and Offa’s Dyke path.  It is a featureless mound, with no cairn or trig point to mark its significance. 

Approaching the summit of Hatterall Hill

The ridge is a broad plateau at this point so the views were not good either. In fact, it was difficult to determine when the path actually stopped climbing and began to descend. The path descended and the hills to the north came into view.  The route splits for a while.  One branch descends along the east side of the hill but I continued along the ridge to Hay Bluff, with its trig point adorned with dragons. Here the views were superb, especially along the northern escarpment of the Brecon Beacons. Apparently you can see the Malvern and Shorpshire hills from here but today they were hidden by the heat haze.

Trig point on Hay Bluff

There was now a steep descent down to the Gospel Pass car park. The pass is probably named after a group of crusaders who came here in the 12th century but there is a myth that St Paul preached here. It also claims to be the highest road pass in Wales.

I walked along the side of the road for a few hundred yards.Hay on Wye came into view.  I descended across common land to enter woodland. By now I had drunk all my water and was quite thirsty.  As I passed Cadwgan farm I saw a sign inviting me to refill my water bottles for which I was very grateful.  Suitably refreshed I continued my descent across farmland into Hay-on-Wye and the Old Black Inn.

Approaching Hay on Wye

Offa’s Dyke Path – Day 3 Thursday 16 June

Monmouth to Pandy 18 miles

Today was spent in Wales.  Monmouth is a major market own situated adjacent to the Monmow and Wye rivers..  It has a ruined Norman castle that I did not have time to visit.  Henry V was born in Monmouth castle, and the square in front of the Shire Hall is named Agincourt square after Henry’s famous victory over the French. It was iniatially a Royalist stronghold in the Civil war but was captures and sacked by the parliamentarians.

Henry V statue outside the Shire Hall

I left Monmouth by crossing the Monmow river, which is a tributary of the Wye, over Monmow bridge.  This is the last fortified bridge left in Britain.  It was originally built to protect the river crossing from the continual skirmishes between the English and Welsh in the Middle Ages. However, in the Civil War the Parliamentarians simply crossed the river upstream and took the town.  In addition to being a defensive barrier, it was used as a toll bridge.

Monmow Bridge gatehouse

I walked down a road that passed through a housing estate and after about half a mile this became a path running along the edges of small fields bordered by hedges or trees.  These are much more attractive to walk along compared to the enormous fields that are now present in a lot of arable farms. The scenery consisted of rolling, low hills many of which were tree capped. 

looking towards King’s Wood

The path then climbed steeply up through King’s wood, named after Edward III.  I passed a boundary stone dating from 1857.  At the top of the hill there was a small clearing but tops of trees obscured any view. The path descended and about half way down the hill I came out of the trees to enter farmland.  After a short walk along a road through the hamlet of Hendre I re-entered farmland. I passed the site of Grace Dieu Abbey. This was often attacked by Welsh raiders and was finally dissolved by Henry VIII. No buildings remain but water channels, called least, and ponds used to supply the abbey with water are still visible. The 17th century Parc Grace Dieu farm could be seen across the valley. 

There was a wooden seat placed, almost randomly, in a field so I stopped for a rest and a hitchhiker settled on my rucksack.

The path continued through fields to the hamlet of Llanfihangel Ystern Llewern.  I continued through fields and a cider orchard, an important crop around here, to reach a road which dropped down to the village of Llantilio Crosseny. I caught my first sight of the Black Mountains. The Cicerone guide suggests walking through the village which was pretty. It was very hot by now but the village pub shut years ago.  I rejoined the main path by joining a road by the site of Hen Gwrt (the Old Court).  There is no house now but the moat is still present, although it was stagnant and clogged with weeds.

I then walked through fields to cross another low hill.  I reached the Hog’s Head pub.  This primarily opens for functions but, as I arrived, the owner drove up.  “Do you want a drink?” he asked.  He had been to Abergavenny to get provisions. He now opens during the day when he is around to cater for walkers, so if you are passing you may be lucky. A cold pint of beer later, I was feeling refreshed and got back on the road.  The road climbed a long hill to arrive at the White Castle.

The castle was originally built after the Norman invasion of Wales when it was probably an earthwork.  It was modified and fortified by subsequent Lords and formed part of the “three Castles” guarding the Monnow valley.  It was renamed the White Castle after white plaster rendering was applied to its exterior. It commands extensive views over the surrounding countryside

The Path had been diverted because of a collapsed footbridge so I missed the dubious pleasure of Caggle Street, wich is said to mean “the road of sheep’s dung.” I therefore cannot comment on the accuracy of the name, although sheep farming is common practice here. The path now undulated up and down through fields and along farm tracks. I passed Cwn farm where there was an 18th century cider house that is sometimes opened to the public, but not today.

After another short, steep climb I arrived at the village of LLangattock Lingoed.  I resisted the temptation of the Hunters Moon Inn but did take time to inspect the remnants of  medieval wall paintings in the village church.

I joined a path going around the back of the village and was soon climbing again into the Fullbrook valley.  From the top of the hill, there were good views back along the valley and I had a good view of Skirrid Fawr and the Sugarloaf.

Sugarloaf mountain

There was now an easy descent to the village of Pandy.  I was staying in the Lancaster Arms guest house.  This used to be one of two village pubs but the owners, Sandra and Keith (and Bob the dog), who were excellent and entertaining hosts, run it as a small B and B, mainly for walkers doing the ODP.  Peter and Sue, who I have met several times along the path were also staying there. They have a rest day in Hye on Wye so I will not see them after tomorrow.  After a nice dinner the six of us sat chatting and drinking beer.  An excellent evening!

Offa’s Dyke path – Day 2 Wednesday 15 June

Chepstow to Monmouth 17-22miles

The Cicerone guide estimates this to be about 17 miles but the walkmeter app on my phone measured it as 22 miles.  I left Chepstow by returning to the bridge, crossing back into England and climbing back up the concrete path, continuing up the hill past where I had joined it from Tutshill (about a mile). There was a good view across the river to the castle and it was obvious how difficult it would be for would be invaders to take the castle from this side.  Towards the top of the hill I turned into a field and passed the base of an old windmill, now partially restored to contain a garden seat.

The OS maps indicate this was an old lookout tower, but there is no evidence that this was so. I walked along the top of a large quarry and then along a lane that passed some large houses on the outskirts of Woodcroft.

The path re-entered woodland to arrive at the viewpoint called Wintour’s Leap.  This is said to be the spot where the Royalist Sir John Wintour escaped the Parliamentarians by galloping over the cliffs. As the cliffs are high and sheer it is difficult to believe that he could achieve this and live (an information board says that the cliffs were not as steep in the 1600s). It is now a popular rock-climbing spot.

River Wye from Wintour’s Leap

The path continued through fields and along lanes until it entered the attractive Worgan woods where it joined some low remnants of the dyke.  Like most of the woodland on the walk, the wood consisted mainly of deciduous trees so there was plenty of undergrowth and the greenery and the birdsong made pleasant walking.  However, views across the Wye valley were few and far between.

Eventually I arrived at the Devil’s Pulpit with excellent views over the ruins of Tintern Abbey.  This was a 13th Century Cistercian abbey that was a victim of Henry VIII reformation.  There is a myth that Satan preached from the rock to tempt the monks to forsake Christianity. 

Tintern Abbey from the Devil’s Pulpit

Just below the path, in the trees, there was a tree that appeared to grow out of the rock.  I decided to have a rest and a few minutes later two ladies called down to me.  “Are you holding a pagan ritual” they asked?  Reassured I wasn’t they joined me. According to their walking guide the tree was a site for pagan ceremonies.  I can reassure the reader that no rituals took place, and after a rest we went our separate ways.

The path continued through the woods called Passage Grove, alongside an impressive section of the dyke.  In a lot of the woodland on the walk the dyke appears at risk of being undermined by burrowing badgers.  In some places you walk along the top of the dyke so presumably there is a risk from walkers as well.

Offa’s Dyke in Passage Grove

I emerged from the wood at Madgett Hill where there were good views up the valley. The route now splits with one way crossing hills through farmland but I chose the low level route to follow the Wye.  I descended to pass through the village of Brockweir. This used to be an important centre of trade.  Large boats could navigate up the Wye as far as here where the cargo would be transferred to or from barges which were hauled up river by teams of men called bow hauliers.   There was a boatbuilding industry here as well.  Now it is a very quiet village.

Brockweir Village

I now followed the Wye for about 2 miles as far as Bigsweir Bridge, where the alternative routes merged. I followed a lane uphill for about a quarter of a mile.  There was now a long walk through woodland, accompanied by sections of the Dyke. Occasionally there were views across the forest of Dean but mostly I was surrounded by trees.  Never mind, woodland walking is peaceful and there would be plenty of opportunities for expansive views later in the walk.

Eventually the path emerged from the trees and descended steeply to the quiet village of Lower Redwood. This was been an important centre for iron, copper and tin mining from Roman times until the mid 20th century.  Tin mining was the main industry here from the mid 18th Century and the tin plate was reputed to be the thinnest and finest you could get. The tin was mined here until 1961. It was originally transported away by barges downriver.  The slag from the mines was recycled to produce black bricks that can be seen in the walls of buildings along the Wye valley.

It was hot and I was quite tired by now, so I was please to be able to buy an icecream and an energy drink from the village shop, so many have shut over the last 20 years or so.  I now made my first route finding mistake.  Someone has put up acorn signs (the acorn is a waymark on all English and Welsh National Trails; it is a thistle in Scotland) directing would be buyers into a residential estate.  I followed this without checking the map (schoolboy error!) and had got a quarter of a mile uphill before I recognised my mistake. I was soon back on track, leaving Lower Redbrook and re-entering Wales by a steep country lane which then became a farm track running between fields.  I walked along the edge of Harper’s Grove before heading into trees as I approached the Kymin.

The Kymin is a hill now owned by the National Trust.  As well as offering excellent views over the Wye valley there are two buildings of historical note.  One is the Naval Temple, which was built in 1800 “to perpetuate the names of those noble admirals who distinguished themselves by their glorious victories for England….”  At that time it was Georgian fashion to travel up the Wye and the Kymin was visited by Admiral Nelson in 1802.  His victory at the Battle of the Nile is commemorated on the monument and there is evidence he breakfasted at the Round House on the hill which was built in 1794 for members of the Kymin club and notables who lived in Monmouth to dine or picnic there and admire the views.

The Naval Temple. Brittania “…is triumphant over the fallen flags of France, Holland and Spain…”
Detail from the Naval temple depicting the Battle of the Nile
The Round House, Kymin
Looking towards Monmouth from the Kymin

I now descended through woodland into Monmouth and the Punch House Inn.

Offa’s Dyke Path – Day 1 Sedbury Cliffs to Chepstow

Tuesday 24 June 2.5 miles.

The journey from Manchester to Chepstow is only about three and a half hours, so I decided to travel down on the morning, have lunch in Chepstow and look round the castle.  There is nowhere to stay in Sedbury so I could get a bus to the start of the walk and return to Chepstow via Offa’s Dyke Path (ODP).

Chepstow is a small, attractive Welsh town, lying close to the English border and bounded on its east side by the river Wye. There were a lot of independent shops and I found a nice deli to sit outside and enjoy a hummus and salad sandwich and watch the world go by.  There were brass plaques on the pavement outside many of the shops detailing their past ownership and use. At intervals there were aphorisms or lines of poetry engraved in brass on the pavement.  I passed Oliver Cromwell house, with the date May 11 1642 outside.  The date is when the castle fell to the Parliamentarians and it is claimed Cromwell slept in the house.  After lunch I walked to the castle, which lies on top a cliff on the west bank of the Wye and dominates the town. 

Looking towards the Middle and Upper Baileys of Chepstow Castle

Construction of the castle was started in 1067 by the Normans in their bid to subjugate Wales.  It was held by various favourites of the reigning king and extended over the next 300 years.  It was a royalist stronghold during the Civil War, but after the war was allowed to fall into ruin.  The old keep doors have been dated to the late 12th Century and are on display at the castle. 

It was considered impregnable as it had natural defences of the high Wye cliffs around its east side and was built on solid rock so it could not be undermined.

I caught the bus to Buttington Tump and walked down through fields to the river estuary.  There was a good view of the original Severn Crossing (now the M48) as well as the footings of the pier used for a ferry crossing before the bridge was built.  I took a short walk along the estuary edge, beneath the Sedbury cliffs, to look for fossils on the beach.  There were a lot of fossillised shells but I was unable to find any ammonites or other fossils.

It was now time to start the walk proper.  I climbed up through woodland to the top of the cliffs to find the stone marking the official start of the ODP. 

Immediately, I was walking alongside the Dyke. 

Tree covered Dyke near Sedbury

I followed this through fields to Sedbury, which is really a suburb of Chepstow, lying on the eastern (English) side of the Wye.  I wondered whether the bridge was patrolled to stop the burghers of Chepstow crossing to Sedbury during the latter stages of lockdown, when the English rules were relaxed before the Welsh.

The path now passed alongside houses before crossing the main road near the bridge.  It then passed alongside the houses of Tutshill before entering woodland.  There were tanatalising views of the castle across the river through the trees.  I then descended steeply down a tarmacked path to join the B4228 to cross the old bridge back into Wales and Chepstow.

Chepstow Castle sitting on the cliffs above the River Wye

Offa’s Dyke path Introduction

The Offa’s Dyke long distance path is 177 miles long and runs from Sedbury Cliffs on the Severn estuary to Prestatyn on the Irish sea. Offa was King of Mercia from 757-796 AD. Little is known about the Dyke. The first reference to it in contemporary literature was not until about 100 years after its construction when the biographer Asser described ” a wall being built from sea to sea.” It is not even clear whether the complete wall was built, about 80 miles of it are still visible today, ranging from a 3 metre high earth bank and ditch to a low mound.

It is also not certain why it was built. At the time, there were continual battles with the Welsh on the other side of the border so it was originally thought its purpose was as a defensive barrier. Offa was a very powerful and rich king and some historians now believe that he built it to mark the western boundary of his land rather than as a barrier to Welsh incursions. There are a lot of articles on the Web if you want to investigate this further.

The path does not religiously follow the Dyke as it takes in the high ground of the Black Mountains and turns north west, away from the Dyke, near Llangollan to cross the Clywdian Mountains.

The route crosses and recrosses the Welsh border. Much of the walk is in the Welsh Marches, the area of Wales conquered by the Norman Kings where they built defensive castles such as at Chepstow. The more north-easterly portion of Wales remained under Welsh control and was know as Welsh Wales.

I used the Cicerone book by Mike Dunn as my guide, it comes complete with strip maps so, as a bit of a Luddite regarding electronic maps, I did not need to buy paper ones. Most of the stages were based on the Guide, although I needed to detour at several points to find accommodation. Sadly, several of the pubs mentioned in the guide have closed so you do need to check with up to date sources as to where refreshment and accommodation is available en route. I think all of the shops mentioned in the guide are still open but village shops are very much under threat as well.

My usual rules applied, once started I had to walk the entire route. If I did use public transport (which I didn’t) I had to return to the same point. Although the highest point on the walk is only about 550 metres there are a lot of ascents and descents, some of which are quite steep, so you do need to be fit. Waymarking is excellent, but some of the walking is over moorland so you do need a map and compass and the ability to use them in case visibility is poor.

Where I have made notes of historical interest, these derive from the following:

Mike Dunn’s Cicerone guide

Jon Gower: The History of Wales

Various Information boards seen en route

Various historical web sites about individual places. I have tried to avoid Wikipedia unless I can corroborate the quote from another official site.

I walked the Path in June 2022. At present, I am hoping to revamp the website so I made notes as I went along but the blogs have been typed in July 2022.