Bernard Goward  

I spent six days late summer hiking along the historic National Trail, known as Offa’s Dyke. It was glorious. 

This trail runs 177 miles(285 km), wandering back and forth along the border between Wales and England. I hiked half the trail starting in the south at Chepstow and finishing at Knighton, averaging around 20 km/day.

In the 8th Century, King Offa of Murcia built a defensive earthworks barrier to keep the pesky Welsh from invading his kingdom from the west. Today, Offa’s Dyke follows this earthworks route, still evident after more than a thousand years. 

Trails through the English pastoral landscape take the shortest path between two points, even if that be diagonal across the middle of a crop! Unlike in Ontario, where hikers assiduously walk along the edge of fields to avoid damaging plants. 

Offa’s Dyke is a beautiful, scenic trail through the iconic sheep-farming countryside, characterized by hills, kissing gates, valley vistas, and castle ruins. In the south part, the Wye and Severn Rivers are the trail’s companion. Quaint villages and classic pubs assure the visitor of a unique taste of British life. One of the highlights was the 15-kilometre hike along Hatterall Ridge at an elevation of over 2,000 ft. Free-ranging sheep and ponies populate the Ridge where seemingly only heather and gorse grew in abundance. Another highlight was viewing Tintern Abbey from Devil’s Pulpit, the dramatic limestone rock feature atop the limestone cliff of the Wye gorge. Local legend has it that the devil, standing on the protrusion, preached to the cloistered monks’ hundreds of feet below, tempting them to forsake their monastic vows.   

The Contours Walking Holidays competently organized my hike, arranging my accommodations and luggage transfer.  I hiked solo but invariably fell in with others. I had the delightful pleasure of being joined on the last two days by fellow Avon Trail hiker, Bruce Graham. The conversation was lively, and the evening pub company most welcome. 

If I kept a bucket list, this adventure surely would have been at the top. Carolyn accompanied me as my coach and cheering section. She quite enjoyed the peculiarities of local taxi drivers. While transferring our luggage, every driver regaled her with the local lore and scenic highlights.  Before hiking the Dyke, Carolyn and I enjoyed a day ride on the historic Severn Valley Heritage Steam Train with Bruce Graham as a train driver! Following the hike, en route to France, we toured the Canadian World War I Memorial at Vimy Ridge before carrying on for a two-week visit with our daughter and her family in Bordeaux. Wonderful! As they say, “It’s good to go away and good to get home.”

Bernard at English-Wales Border
Bernard and Bruce on Offa’s Dyke