For a first long-distance path, Offa's Dyke turned out to be an excellent choice. It has a real variety of countryside and good camping facilities at the right intervals. The path is a National Trail following a defensive boundary coast to coast along the Welsh border. The whole Trail is 170 miles, but divides neatly into north and south parts at the visitor and exhibition centre at Knighton . We chose to walk the north part from Knighton northwards to Prestatyn (97 miles).
Being a man-made feature, it crosses a variety of terrain; hills, river plain, scree slopes, boggy moor, forest. The whole length of the dyke hasn't survived the centuries, but it is visible for much of the walk, and in places the ditch and mound is quite dramatic. As the days passed and the countryside changed, the presence of the dyke gave the walk a real sense of continuity and purpose.
We were lucky to have good weather, a tad too hot at times, a few showers, but generally excellent.
This is a great time of the year for walking. Honeysuckle, elderflower, cammomile were still out in flower, wild garlic made its presence felt occasionally, bilberries were ripening and wild strawberries were already ripe.
We chose to back-pack with tent, food, stove, buying meals on the way when possible. That meant heavy packs, which was a hindrance on the hillier sections.
This path is the best waymarked path that I've seen. It would be wrong to even think about attempting a walk relying on waymarkers alone - even on such a well-maintained route, they can be missing, defaced, overgrown or you can simply fail to spot one. I wouldn't go out on a walk now without 1:25,000 OS maps, but fortunately we discovered the National Trail guide, which for the price of one good book contains OS mapping for the whole route.
Day zero - arrived at Knighton with enough time to get to the first campsite at Pampwnton, back to Knighton for a meal and some extremely enjoyable entertainment from superb Elvis impersonator 'Eddie as Elvis'.
Things we learned today: When you want to finish your hot cocoa and go to sleep, an insulated mug is a real pain.
Day one - Pampwnton to Brompton Crossroads. 15m
Our first real day of this walk. This is the toughest section of this walk with regular steep climbs and descents. Fortunately, the mist soon cleared so that we could appreciate the long views over this very unspoiled part of the country.
The distance wouldn't have been such a problem but the heat and the weight of our packs made it tougher. Very relieved to arrive at a great campsite about half a mile away from the Trail.
Things we learned today: The doc-leaf trick really works. Walking south to north is great, because the sun is generally on your back rather than in your face, and the writing on the map is the right way up!
Day two - Brompton Crossroads to Four Crosses. 20m. Walking as if I'd just got off a horse. If yesterday's theme was many sheep and few trees, today was just the opposite. Thankfully this second leg is a flatter walk, much of it alongside the Severn, but the distance and the sun made it a challenge.
The Golden Lion at Four Crosses is highly recommended. Friendly owners, the lowest price we paid for camping, good facilities and informal live music in the pub in the evening.
Things we learned today: the dyke isn't apparent all the time, either because the path doesn't follow it, or because bits of it just aren't there any more. Other things such as river flood defences and dismantled railway lines can look like the dyke.
Day three - Four Crosses to Bronygarth. 16 1/2 miles. Walking as if a horse had just got off me. More rises and falls today and a variety of very picturesque countryside. A nice surprise when yesterday's flat river plain opened up below us as part of an expansive view.
This was a real nice day's walking, and would make a wonderful walk on its own.
Things we learned today: if a campsite is marked on the map, don't believe that it's really there unless you've also seen it in a guide and have phoned them to check. If a forest is marked on the map, bear in mind that trees can be cut down!
Day 4 - Bronygarth to Llandegla with detour to Llangollen - 17 1/2 miles.
The day starts close to Chirk Castle, which we'd spotted the day before. It's a castle that has been continuously inhabited since the thirteenth century. We took the optional path through the National Trust grounds, a permissive route that's only open during the summer.
At Froncysyllte you have to choose whether to follow the official Trail and get a great view of the 120-foot canal aqueduct, or to detour over the top of it. The walk across the top really is an exciting or scary walk depending on your head for heights.
It was a shame to unexpectedly lose the dyke today. The guide simply mentions that this is the last we'll see of the dyke with no further explanation. I think our path leaves the route of the dyke before Offer's Dyke merges with an older earthwork. The remaining part of the National Trail to the coast was simply devised by the pioneers of the Trail.
Today's route should have been 15 miles, but we added 2 1/2 miles by taking a trip into touristy Llangollen for some essential provisions. (Meths for the stove. My evening cocoa / cammomile tea was under threat.) For most part the route is very rural, and even when it does pass through villages, there is often nowhere to even buy water. In Llangollen however, we had no problem finding a camping shop and some good freshly-made cobs.
After Llangollen followed a very long afternoon. After some wonderful views of a ruined castle, we joined first minor road and then precarious path half-way up scree slopes, which to me didn't feel quite as safe as the guide assured us it was. It would have been more exhilarating, but the heat this afternoon was oppressive.
World's End is a very picturesque ford with stepping stones. This made a nice break between the long hot walk along the scree ledge and the long slow climb to follow. A few miles across moor and through forest would have been much more enjoyable were it not for the fatigue.
Things we've learned today: If the sun's on your back, make absolutely sure and double check that you've rubbed on sun-block properly. Wild strawberries are delicious, but you have to pick an awful lot of them to make the same amount as one cultivated strawberry.
Day five - Llandegla to Moel y Plas and half a day's rest. Now within 30 miles of our goal, Prestatyn, but we're both too tired and footsore to face the 17 1/2 miles we'd have to do today in order to make it before we have to set off for home on Saturday. The next two campsites are after 3 1/2 miles and 17 1/2 and so we decide to take the short option and then rest, hoping that we'd then recover enough to face the 14 mile walk across the Clwydians the next day to finish just 12 miles short of Prestatyn.
Moel y Plas is a beautiful location and an excellent campsite. It feels so remote, but is a natural lake used for fishing. The centre there serves wonderful food and the owners and staff went out of their way to look after us.
Things we learned today: how not to make soft and delicious camp-bread.
Day six - Moel y Plas to Bodfari over the Clwydian range. 14m. The last day of walking, and a fantastic day's walking over some great hills. For most of the way, the spectacular views were obscured by low cloud and rain. We were grateful for this in a way, as we'd been worried about doing this hilly section in the oppressive heat we'd experienced over the past few days. I'm not sure whether I'd rather have been dripping with sweat or dripping with rain, but I guess you can't choose.
The weather did mean that we were alone at the Jubilee Tower, which has a car park nearby and is usually teeming with visitors.
The weather had lifted by the time we were within sight of the sea. Even though we wouldn't reach Prestatyn, it was visible from the tops of the hills, which gave us some sense of completion.
The campsite at Bodfari, and the amazing menu at the nearby pub made our last night very comfortable.
Things we learned today: public transport is remarkably reliable.
More photos at http://www.flickr.com/photos/shieladixon/sets/72157620847404897/