Camping Inspiration: Walking Offa's Dyke
Offa’s Dyke National Trail is Wales’ Coast-to-Coast footpath, running from the seaside town of Prestatyn on the north coast to Sedbury Cliffs near Chepstow, above the Severn Estuary in the south. It follows a north-to-south line but can be enjoyed in either direction, and you can expect some really tough going however you choose to do it.
It is a popular walk and undertaken by a large amount of walkers each year but should not be underestimated. You will need to be reasonably fit and used to long days of rough walking, often exceeding 18 miles/29 km. It is best undertaken between May and mid-September when there is enough daylight to cover the longer sections encountered - and the weather is usually kinder then too!
The route is 177 miles/285 km long and would take most walkers between 12 to 14 days to complete in one go – this includes some really long days across open featureless moorland and exposed mountain tops. There are lots of ups and downs and quite a bit of walking over demanding terrain, but the trail is well marked and the path fairly clear in most places. Nevertheless you should ensure you are proficient with map and compass before setting off as the route finding could be difficult if the mist and rain come in and block out visibility.
Offa’s Dyke is a stunning walk that follows parts of the line of an ancient earthworks and some of the border between Wales and England and passes through the Clwydian Hills and Dee Valley, the Shropshire Hills, the Black Mountain section of the Brecon Beacons National Park and the Wye Valley. This gives you a great deal of quality walking for your money and, although a lot of the route is over higher ground, there are gentler sections through lovely Welsh Valleys too. The walk often involves lengthy detours at day’s end to find food and accommodation and a lot of people like to backpack it carrying camping gear to allow for a bit more flexibility. Another approach is to use a baggage service to ferry clothes and other gear between pubs and guest houses as you move along.
Of course you can just choose to base yourself in one area and walk sections of the path near to the camping site you have pitched on. Ever increasing in popularity is the practice of walking consecutive sections of National Trails at weekends over a Saturday and Sunday and returning back to your start at the end. It’s best to employ two cars if you do this, one at the start and one at the end, to resolve any problems with getting back to where you began. A National Trail done in this way takes longer obviously than simply starting at the beginning and finishing at the end but it’s still an enjoyable way to do it and lots of people complete many long distance footpaths in this way.
Offa’s Dyke is really a walk through history as the original Dyke, which was an awesome earthwork, was built to mark the border of Wales with England - but whether it was constructed as an agreed boundary, as a defensive structure or for some other use has been lost in the mists of time.
When it was originally excavated it has been estimated that it was around 88ft/27 metres wide and 26ft/8 metres from the ditch bottom to the top of the adjoining banks. It was an impressive ditch and rampart earthwork with the ditch on the Welsh facing side.
The dyke seems to have been carefully built to present an open view into Wales along its length. Only about a third of today’s Offa’s Dyke National Trail follows the original dyke line (which hardly every coincides with the current Welsh/English border) – but sections are still visible if a bit overgrown in places!
So who was Offa? Well, he was effectively one of the first Kings of England but was classed as the King of Mercia from 757 to 796 AD. His lands were extensive covering an area from the Trent and Mersey rivers in the north to the Thames Valley in the south. The region also included land from the Welsh border to the Fenland of Eastern England. At the very height of his power he also ruled over Kent, East Anglia and Lincoln. He nurtured alliances with the ancient kingdoms of Northumbria and Wessex and kept international lines of communication open, particularly with the Papacy of Rome. Offa’s Dyke National Trail officially opened in the summer of 1971, well over 1,000 years after the original dyke was excavated.
National Trail Guide Offa’s Dyke by Tony Gowers
Offa’s Dyke Path by Mike Dunn
Offa’s Dyke Path (Trailblazer Series) by Keith Carter and Henry Stedman
Offa’s Dyke (Tempus History and Guide) by David Hill
MAPS AND NAVIGATION
Offa’s Dyke National Trail is a demanding outing and crosses much remote and high moorland and mountain terrain so be sure you are well equipped and carry a map and compass and know how to use them. There are quite a few Ordnance Survey Explorer maps that cover the route and Harvey’s Maps do a useful two part 1:40,000 north and south map covering the line of the route.
Walking Offa’s Dyke Paths – 1:25,000 map booklet
A – Z Adventure Series Offa’s Dyke Adventure Atlas
NANT MILL TOURING CARAVAN AND TENTING PARK
Gronant Road, Prestatyn, Denbighshire, North Wales, LL19 9LY
Nant Mill is a long standing and friendly family-run site located on the side of the A548 Flint to Rhyl road about half a mile from the beach. It is very close to the official northern starting point of Offa’s Dyke National Trail (at Prestatyn seafront) and makes a great base to explore this section from.
The site covers several fields which are slightly sloping. The pitches are predominately grass with electric hook-ups which are mostly used for the caravans but can be booked for camping too as long as you let the owners know if you need one. The site is well landscaped with closely cut grass and a neat layout. On arrival you report to the farmhouse which is at the top of the field to the right of the toilet block and here your pitch will be allocated.
The toilet block is located centrally near the top of the field too. The toilets are key coded and are neat and clean and more than adequate for the site. There is a disabled facility, washing up area and a small laundrette. To the rear of the toilets there is small children’s play area and there is lots of room on the site for kids to run around. This is a real family site and there is nice mill pond at the top of the fields and the town of Prestatyn is five minutes’ walk away. A stroll to the beach takes about 15 minutes and some field paths can be used to avoid the busier sections of the road. One thing to bear in mind is that you will need to book to come here in peak season as the site soon fills up and you won’t get on otherwise.
The flatter camping pitches are near the bottom of the field but you may get some road noise if you pitch there.
FOXHOLES CASTLE CAMPING SITE
Foxholes, Montgomery Road, Bishops Castle, Shropshire SY9 5HA
Foxholes is set in an elevated position above the town of Bishops Castle and has an almost 360 degree panorama from the camping fields taking in much of Shropshire, The hills of the Long Mynd and the distant Cambrian Mountains. The site is a great base for exploring the Shropshire Hills AONB section of Offa’s Dyke National Trail and the parts leading to The Offa’s Dyke Centre at Knighton. As an additional bonus The Shropshire Way Long Distance Footpath runs through the site itself.
Foxholes Castle Camping Site takes tents, campervans and caravans on a mixture of three well-kept grass fields. The site is accessed up a rising driveway and check-in is at the owner’s house. The first field after the farmhouse is a sloping tree lined one on your right and this is used mostly by touring vans. To the side of the house and behind it you will find two other fields that cater mostly for tents. The lower of these is quite sheltered and long and narrow-ish with some bush screening. The upper field is more exposed but has the best views of all. Some of the areas on this top field are a bit sloping but you should have no problems finding a flat section as there is a lot of space.
There is a fourth field which can be used as an overflow area if needed. There is a decent toilet and shower block between the upper and lower fields. These are kept clean and tidy. There is also a useful common room here too with comfy chairs and a fridge/freezer. The site actively encourages re-cycling and there are plenty of re-cycling points.
The site does not have any electric hook-ups
THE RISING SUN INN CAMPING AND CARAVAN SITE
Old Hereford Road, Pandy, Abergavenney, Monmouthshire NP7 8DL
Located on the A465 a little south of where Offa’s Dyke National Trail crosses it, the Rising Sun Inn is a nice traditional country pub near Abergavenny and very useful for exploring the mid Wales section of Offa’s Dyke Long Distance Footpath and the Black Mountains region. Being on the main road network the campsite makes a good base for accessing several different and diverse parts of the way and is great and relaxing for coming back to at day’s end.
The pub is easily accessed off the main road network and the adults-only campsite is located to the rear and is reached by passing through the carpark for the pub and then through a gate opening onto the field. The pitches are a mixture of grass and hard standing and of the 40 available there are 24 with electric hook-ups.
The camping areas are nice and flat and the grass is well cut with low fencing separating a lot of the pitches. A good access track runs around the field itself. The site has fences, bushes and trees around the edge giving good screening. At the bottom of the site (near the pub) you will find the toilets and showers in a low building that is key coded. There is a washing up area in here too. The toilet facilities are kept nice and clean.
The Rising Sun Inn does decent food and is only a moment’s walk across the car park from the campsite. The campsite is open from March to October and is always kept spotlessly clean and tidy.
There can be a little road noise from the nearby A465 but generally only at busier times.
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