Walking Offa's Dyke - Chepstow to Llanvetherine.

Thursday 28th May

We left home in the late morning to drive down to Chepstow. The rucksack had been packed and unpacked four times to get it down to fourteen pounds, with water but without lunch! With steely determination I had reduced my clothes to three pairs of knickers, three pairs of socks, one set of clothes to walk in every day and another set to change into. With the waterproofs, sunglasses, suncream, camera, map books, first aid kit and toiletries, the pack filled up with startling speed. Toiletries had been a real struggle with a tiny toothpaste, an all purpose gel for washing body, hair and clothes and a single tiny tube of moisturiser.

"Bet you have some mascara in there though," Ian said. Well of course I did, the aim was to reduce the pack to the bare necessities.

Rendezvous with our friends went smoothly. That is me on the right and my friend and erstwhile colleague, Erica, on the left. We whipped out from central Chepstow to Sedbury cliffs to the official beginning of the walk, a tiny taster of what is to come.

We had a great meal with my lovely brother and niece that night and before settling down to eat my brother came up with us to the site of the end of the next day's walk so that we could leave Ian's car ready for him to drive home.

As we drove up the Wye valley my brother said "How long will this bit take you then?"

"About eight hours."

"It will take us about thirty five minutes tonight. Do you think this is telling you something? If God had meant us to walk he wouldn't have given us cars."

Not a natural walker, my brother.

Friday 29th May

13.5 miles, start 9.15, finish 5.05, cals used (per Erica's nifty machine) 1212.

An easy start today with Ian walking with us so we were not entirely dependent on our own navigational skills and the trusty book (Offa's Dyke Path South, National Trail Guide). As we were also intending to stay that night with some friends of Chris and Erica, we had no need to carry our full packs so we tripped along with lunch, water and a mini-pack of suncream and first aid kit.

The first real day takes you along the Wye valley, much of it high above the river through ancient woodland, walking right next to the earthwork which is the Dyke. This far south we were just too late for bluebells but the woods were still a glorious mixture of broad leaved trees, full of bird song and welcome shade on a hot, hot day. This is Tintern Abbey seen down and far away through the trees.

We had been given a great lunch from our very fine B and B, Park Cottage , and an equally fine breakfast. Food looms very large in this tale and so we ended the day with an icecream at Redbrook, just short of Monmouth. The day had been hot and the walk quite hard, and when I inspected my feet I found a large blister on my left heel. A couple of people had recommended Compede to us, a magic sort of plaster which becomes a second skin over the blistered area. I just hoped it would work.

Saturday 30th May

15 miles, start 9.05, finish 5.35, cals used 1309.

We felt adventurous, as Erica's husband Chris dropped us and drove away. We were fuelled with a big breakfast and a fine meal from the night before. We had had our easing ourselves in day and now we were carrying our full packs and attempting to navigate without male assistance. The Offa's Dyke Path is a National Trail which means it is marked along its length by acorns and "spot the acorn" was the way to go. Again it was hot which meant sunhats and sunglasses and suncream, in my case not enough.

We climbed up away from the river, feeling the packs heavy on our backs. Soon we could see Monmouth spread out in the sun. We were walking to a pattern recommended by Ian and used by long distance trekkers: walk for fifty minutes and rest for ten. It feels strange the first couple of days you do it, especially in the morning when you find yourself stopping well before you feel any urge to rest, but it sets up a gentle rhythm which ensures that you pause, drink, look around you and move at a pace which you can sustain all day.

Monmouth is a pretty little town, with Monmouth School dominating one end, and a general air of prosperity. We stopped for a drink in a cafe and consulted the map book again. We were making for an isolated medieval church, Llanvihangel-Ystern-Llewern, the church of St Michael of the Fiery Meteor. It was a lovely old churchyard, baking in the sun.

I took some pictures while Erica wandered off to look for the next acorn. She came back at speed.

"There are two blokes and a woman sitting on the path on the other side of the wall with no clothes on."

Now this little church is in the middle of nowhere. A silver mercedes van was parked by the side of the lane, presumably the bearer of nudists. We retraced our steps to the church gate and walked slowly up the road, theatrically consulting the map book and wondering loudly where the path resumed.

"Perhaps we should go along to the crossroads up there," in ringing tones.

A male head popped up over the wall.

"Are you looking for the Offa's Dyke? It is just through this gate here."

"Thank you." We exchange a look. Let us hope they have their clothes on. Through the gate we find the three people perched on the side of the path, the woman in her underwear, the men in tiny briefs, all the deep mahogany brown of the true sunworshipper.

"Hope we didn't bother you," they say.

"Not all all, what a beautiful day," we trill. If there were prizes for Englishness we would be in the running.

The day ends near White Castle. We have walked hills and through farmland rich with flowers.

We are shattered.

This will take forever at this rate - I promise to hurry up.


  1. I didn't drop off, this made great reading, far from boring Elizabeth and lovely photos. Loved the view of Tintern and also the flowers. I learned a lot too about what is needed to do these long walks. Can't wait for the next instalment.

  2. Thank you so much Cait. I was really surprised to find that I had only covered a couple of days. There is so much in my head that I don't want to lose but if I keep writing at this pace it will take as long to write as it did to walk! Glad you liked it though. It really is a fantastic walk. Beautiful country we live in. Can do without nudists myself though.

  3. Please take your time. I need the details and the photographs. Tintern (must go there) looks beautiful.

  4. Oh no, don't hurry up, I'm loving it! Especially the nudists, mascara, beautiful views and we get to see YOU looking lovely! Can't wait for the next installment :-)

  5. This is amazing. I would love to be able to take long hikes again. I will enjoy reading about your experience. Blessings

  6. Don't leave anything out! This is great stuff - you do realize, don't you, that you're doing what so many of us dream of and will probably never do. The pictures are beautiful - that abbey is like something from a fairy tail.

  7. Take as long as you like Elizabeth and plenty of pictures to go with the words please. I Love that picture of the farmland flowers. Such an amazing achievement needs to be recorded thus x

  8. This made excellent reading.( I LOVE this part of the world and have not visited it for a while now.)

    Just love the photos and thought the way you wrote was superb. Had to laugh at the *naked people* near the church yard and I loved the photo of the leaning tomb stones.

    Looking forward to the next part. Love the detail!

  9. What glorious views. I love Tintern Abbey - so atmospheric. I really enjoyed looking at your photographs.

  10. I drove the Monmouth / Tintern Road a few weeks ago when the bluebells were out. Even in the car it was lovely. The view from the paths in the woods above must have been beautiful - so glad you got the sunshine for this bit.

  11. Enjoying every step - please don't rush! Congratulations on a great achievement.

  12. I can't wait. Isn't it amazing who you meet in these "supposedly" isolated places, I bet you've stored some great memories though. write them down quick before you forget. xx

  13. I really admire you for taking the time out to walk so I'm certainly going to lap up your descriptions of it. I bet you found some interesting thoughts filtering through your mind as you walked... and not simply those set off by walkers in their nuddy-pants!

  14. Please don't hurry, I'd like to hear all of it, down to the last little tid bit.

  15. No no, you must show us the views and sights and scents along the way, take as long as you need!

    Agree with Cait, Tintern looks beautiful, and I would have been making notes of places to visit next time around.

    As for the nudists, it seems to becoming a trend - in Switzerland they have recently outlawed them because the trend to walk naked was catching on!

    Look forward to more.

  16. Ah, lovely. I'm off canoeing from Ross to Monmouth later this month, and you've really whetted my appetite (though I'd rather go by water than on foot, I think!)

  17. This is great stuff. I would so much like to do this walk. But I can imagine it all in my head. Love Monmouth and the Black Mountains - full of ancient Neolithic sites since converted to churches - a beautiful atmosphere. And down below the beautiful Wye which always reminds me of Hank the Cinq - and the likeness, look you, between Macedon and Monmouth. Look forward to the next instalment. Hope the blister has healed.

  18. This is wonderful reading - please take your time and be as detailed as you like!!

    Lovely photographs too - that area is so beautiful!

  19. if there were a prize for englishness... oh i loved this post so much!!! i loved to see your picture--and *all* the pictures... and i loved that i too have walked from chepstow along the wye valley walk, though not as far as you went. we hiked to tintern abbey and then it was getting dark and so we went down to the road and hitchhiked back to chepstow.

    how thrilling to read this!

  20. saw no nudists, but it was october.

  21. I know nothing in terms of details related to your part of the world. What a wonderful learning experience, following you along your journey.

    Thanks so much for sharing your adventure.

  22. No need to hurry along, Elizabeth. Loving hearing your day-to-day journey and sharing your fabulous pictures. The Wye valley is beautiful, and Tintern Abbey is lovely.

    Hope you're recovering now - it's a heck of a way, and a real achievement to have actually completed it. Looking forward to the next leg of the journey (and hoping involves more cake. 2121 calories is quite a few slices, I'd guess).

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  25. I didn't drop off, this made great reading, far from boring Elizabeth and lovely photos. Loved the view of Tintern and also the flowers. I learned a lot too about what is needed to do these long walks. Can't wait for the next instalment.

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