Offa’s Dyke Path, a 177-mile National Trail that runs for much of the border between Wales and England, connects many spiritual sites.
If you’re interested in making a walking pilgrimage of sacred sites in Wales—or are simply in the mood for a splendid walk—consider Offa’s Dyke Path. Its 177 miles can be completed in approximately two weeks, with the main walking season lasting from Easter to October.
Steeped in history, Offa’s Dyke Path winds through varied and beautiful countryside that includes many spiritual sites. Here you can walk in the footsteps of Romans, Vikings, saints, clerics, peasants and royalty.
For 40 miles the path runs on or parallel to the border earthwork known as Offa’s Dyke. King Offa was the Anglo-Saxon king of Mercia from 757 to 796 C.E., a time when Mercia had achieved dominance over the rival kingdoms of Northumbria, East Anglia, Kent and Wessex. Two successive kings, Offa and Coenwulf, claimed influence over what they called the “western provinces” of Britain (i.e., Wales).
Offa’s Dyke was built to create a border between Mercia and the Welsh kingdoms to the west and to show the dominance of Mercia. Customs tolls at the dyke added to its value. (You might think of Offa’s Dyke as Wales’ version of Hadrian’s Wall in Scotland, which was built at the northern edge of the Roman frontier.)
The dyke, which created the first border between England and Wales, was begun around 785 and likely took several years to build. An estimated 1,000 workers labored to complete it, creating a barrier that often has a ditch on the Welsh side and a rampart on the English side. Nearly 90 feet wide, at its tallest it reaches 20 feet from the bottom of the ditch to the top of the bank. Especially given the limited technology of the period, the dyke was a tremendous engineering feat.
In addition to castles, Iron Age hill forts, and the many bookstores in Hay-on-Wye, Offa’s Dyke Path will take you to a diverse array of sacred sites. They include the Abbeys of Tintern, Grace Dieu and Valle Crucis, as well as Llanthony Priory, St. Asaph Cathedral, and many small churches.
In the south, the path begins at Sedbury on the Severn Estuary and extends to Prestatyn on the North Wales coast. The trail criss-crosses back and forth between Wales and England nearly thirty times. It’s one of sixteen National Trails in England and Wales.
Offa’s Dyke Association, the friends group that supports the trail, operates the Offa’s Dyke Visitor Centre in Knighton. The center has information about the path, King Offa, and the Welsh Marches (a term for the border land between Wales and England). It also has a tea room, small reference library, and book and souvenir shop. One of the most scenic sections of the trail starts at the visitor center and heads south for 13.5 miles to Kington.
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Lori Erickson is one of America’s top travel writers specializing in spiritual journeys. She’s the author of books that include Holy Rover, Near the Exit, The Soul of the Family Tree, and Every Step Is Home. Her website Spiritual Travels features holy sites around the world.Share This!