We have travelled from the Cotswolds to Knighton, in the county of Powys just on the Welsh side of the border with England.
The town is somewhat run down and and lacking in charm, unless you count take-away joints, BUT it is the home of the Offa's Dyke Centre which makes it an important stop on any hiker's itinerary. Never heard of Offa or his dyke? Read on!
Offa was king of Mercia, part of post-Roman Britain, from 757 to 796 - in fact, he and Charlemagne were buddies! BUT, he had an ongoing problem with his neighbours to the west, in Wales.
Offa decided to build a large wall of earth. Its purpose was to keep those dastardly Welsh out of England, in the same way that the Romans built Hadrian's Wall seven centuries earlier, and with considerably more skill, to keep the darn Scots in their place! Here's how much the natives of Wales and Mercia loved each other:
“ [I]t was customary for the English to cut off the ears of every Welshman who was found to the east of the border and for the Welsh to hang every Englishman whom they found to the west of it.”
—George Borrow, Wild Wales (from folklore)
Such friendly people!
So Offa enlisted the help of thousands of peasants to dig a huge ditch and pile the earth up to the east of it. The Dyke was up to 65 feet wide and 8 feet high. It ran the entire length of the border, and archaeologists have been unable to find any evidence of breaks nor clues as to how they dealt with rivers and streams.
Today the earthwork known as Offa's Dyke is protected as a historic monument. Much of its route is followed by the Offa's Dyke Path; a 283 km National Trail that runs between Prestatyn in the north and Chepstow in the south.
However, as we found out on our walk, much of the remains are quite subtle! I had imagined a great wall of grass-covered earth, when in fact 1300 years of erosion by human and 4-legged traffic, generations of farmers digging thousands of fence post holes, and the odd spot of rain that falls here have taken their toll! Stare really hard at this picture and you might see it!
Perhaps this is better, showing one brave local just begging to have his ears cut off while his more cautious friends stay on their own side!
As we left Knighton we crossed the present-day border back into England - thankfully no-one cut off our ears, in fact not a soul witnessed our crossing in the early morning mist!
There followed a long climb into the Shropshire Hills - yet another "Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty".
Here's John taking a break at the top, with Knighton, and Wales, far below.
We set off in a northerly direction, using our new OS Mapfinder app on my iPad, and frequent markers along the way, and enjoyed stunning views as the morning clouds dissolved into afternoon sun.
Cheered along by the locals....
We finally reached the ideal lunch spot about 5km out..
The view was so stunning, the sun so warm and the next descent and ascent so daunting, we never actually went any further!
Once we got over our disappointment in the dyke itself, we loved our day in the Shropshire Hills! We learned from others in the George & Dragon (other much more energetic walkers) that the route has great variety, and lovely scenery throughout, definitely worth further exploration.
Our stay in Knighton has been at a very traditional B&B.
Some B&Bs here are ridiculously expensive, but this one at £50 a night (the same price as our hostel in the Cotswolds) was a bargain! Our hostess, Penny, told us firmly to make ourselves at home, showed us the fridge, the washer and dryer, the comfy sitting room stuffed with antiques, bookcases everywhere crammed with books "help yourself, come and go as you please". We were encouraged to make use of her kitchen to put together our lunches, and even ate our take-away fish and chips there, with the offer of wine as she joined us with her dinner! Our breakfasts included freshly picked blackberries and pretty well anything we wanted in the way of cooked or other breakfast goodies!
Our room was comfy and there were 2 bathrooms to choose from, one with an enormous bathtub.......aaaaah!
This B&B gets 100% from us!
Tomorrow we head further into Wales, in fact right across to the west coast, better brush up on our Welsh!