Our last day! I should explain that we knew we didn’t have time to walk the entire trail, which is 177 miles. The part we chose, Sedbury Cliffs to Knighton, is the south part and slightly less than half the total at 80 miles on the official path. Knighton is the acknowledged (not-quite) midpoint stop, probably because it has train and bus connections as well as the Offa’s Dyke Centre.
When we planned the trip we talked about doing parts of the south section but not necessarily all of it. We’d make sure we had shorter sections at the beginning and then get from one stop to another by walking or some other route depending on how we felt. But I guess once we started we got hooked, never mind the rain and the mud, because it’s the only way we wanted to proceed. If you had told me that I would stop in Hay-on-Wye and fail to visit a single bookshop I would have never believed you. But walking 9-15 miles a day, carrying a 20-lb. backpack over hilly terrain, is time-consuming and taxing, and we were pretty beat by the time we got in. Plus, most bookshops we encountered didn’t stay open very late. Even the one in Tintern was closed when we reached there at 3:30pm, which was about the earliest we stopped on any day.
Today’s stage, Kington to Knighton, is described as one of the best sections of the path, in part because it contains so many examples of what the full walk offers. And not least because after 50 miles we finally rejoin the Dyke itself. We set off from Kington and were immediately walking uphill to a golf course. That was unexpected. We managed not to get hit by any golf balls and made our way to fields above the town, where we had lovely views:
And soon we were reunited with Offa’s Dyke.
We hadn’t met many other walkers over the week we’d been on the path. There was a German couple whom we met occasionally, starting at Llangattock and continuing through the rest of our stages (they were doing the whole path), but mostly we’d pass each other or say hello in the evening in town. In Kington we shared the inn with two British men, one of whom whom now lives in Canada, and we saw them off and on this last day. And we met a solitary walker, a man in his 70s, who was coming from the north. But it’s a bit early for peak season, but I get the feeling that even when the path is at its busiest it’s nothing like the Coast-to-Coast, let alone the Hadrian’s Wall walk. Still, there were enough people to make us feel both part of a group while also giving us the solitude that had made the path so attractive.
Walking on the Dyke turned out to be surprisingly tricky. In the first couple of days, when we walked alongside it for much of the time, we were always aware of its mass height, but now we were actually balancing on the top. The badgers (and possibly other animals) have been making homes within it, and it can be narrow and uneven. But there’s something about walking on a hundreds-year-old form that is unlike anything else. Yes, it’s man-made, but it has become so much a part of the landscape that it feels like part of the natural earth. Unlike the Iron Age stone circle, which we admired but weren’t part of, this felt like something that integrated us into its existence. Humans, sheep, birds, plants, and all kinds of natural life had shared space on the Dyke since the 8thC.
The path was indeed a lovely way to end our journey. We walked uphill, downhill, across different types of fields and pasture, and saw the requisite number of sheep and cows.
And we came into Knighton via, of all things, a second golf course! This one had sheep mingling with the golfers, so it was clearly a multi-use facility; a links course in every way.
Although we thought we would have a chance to visit the Offa’s Dyke Centre, they had changed their hours and now closed at 5:30, so we missed them. We checked into our lodging, which had been operating as a coaching inn since the 14thC, according to its website. I’m pleased to say the mattress and bathroom were of much more recent vintage. The dining room served excellent food, and after baked sardines for a starter it was TheH’s turn to have a Hereford steak while I went for the Cauliflower Cheese.
We felt an immense sense of accomplishment. TheH has done a lot of backcountry trips and mountain climbing, but I’ve never done anything like this, and neither of us had backpacked in forever, so leaving the next morning from Knighton’s little railway station was bittersweet.
We were ready for a break, but now we want to find more of these kinds of activities. Britain is full of marvelous walks, of course, and we still have the second half of Offa’s Dyke before us, but we’re also exploring possibilities in the USA, and one of the best-known is even in Missouri.
Thanks for coming on the journey with us.