The Offa's Dyke Path - A Walk through History
2 minute read
The Offa’s Dyke Path is one of fifteen designated National Trails of England & Wales. Together with the Hadrian’s Wall Path, it is the only National Trail to follow a man-made feature. Built by Offa, King of Mercia in 757 to 796 AD, the Dyke formed the boundary between his territories in England and Wales, running 182 miles from Prestatyn in the north to Sedbury, near Chepstow in the south.
What is Offa's Dyke?
Basically, it is mostly a ditch and rampart arrangement, the ditch is on the Welsh-facing side and the rampart gives a clear view into Wales from along its length. It would appear that the "English" - or rather Angles, Saxons, Jutes and assorted Vikings that then lived in what is now England - were as much afraid or fed up by Welsh marauders as the Romans were 700 years earlier. Maybe Offa took some inspiration from Hadrian's Wall which would have then still have been moderately intact. As originally constructed, Offa's Dyke must have been about 27 metres wide and 8 metres from the ditch bottom to the bank top. Men from the border country along the Mercian (English) side all had to contribute: they could send food to the workers, or they could build parts of the Dyke.
Why was Offa so important?
Offa was the King of Mercia but also wielded a tremendous amount of power over a kingdom that effectively made him an early English monarch. His domain included the Trent - Mersey River line in the north and south to the Thames. Kent and East Anglia were also included, and although Wales, Wessex and Cornwall were all ruled by different kings, Offa strategically created a series of alliances with the Kings of Wessex and Northumbria by marrying his daughters off to them. He had diplomatic and trading links with Charlemagne, the powerful King based in Francia, and communicated with the Pope. He is famous for having established the penny as the standard monetary unit in England, with the same silver content as coins in circulation in Francia, thereby assisting both national and international trading.
So why was Offa's Dyke built?
It was probably a dispute with the Princes of Powys in Wales that prompted Offa to begin building what was to be more a geo political structure than one for defence. For, unlike Emperor Hadrian's effort up north, there is little evidence of fortifications along the Dyke. Even then it was likely seen as a temporary feature - the regional history only suggests that the Dyke was only important for a while and then abandoned.
Walking Offa's Dyke Path
Today much of the Dyke can be traced along the 80 miles from the Wye valley to Wrexham. In places it still retains most of its original impressive dimensions while in other parts it has fallen foul of 1200 years of farming activity and can only be detected by archaeological work. Furthermore, there are two stretches of earthwork at each end of this length which are not now considered to be the work of Offa’s time. The best parts of the Dyke can be seen between Sedbury Cliffs and Redbrook, near Monmouth and around Knighton. However, the walk has many more delights than this!
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