In the eighth century, the rolling hills and fertile river valleys of what’s now eastern Wales formed a hotly contested boundary area between the Anglican kingdom of Mercia (on the east) and the Celtic kingdom of Powys (west). To win the border war, Mercia’s King Offa purportedly built a defensible rampart—Offa’s Dyke—to keep the Welsh barbarians out. Even after 12 centuries, remnants of the earthen wall sit eight feet high and up to 60 feet wide. And the Dyke still largely defines the boundary between England and Wales. This 177-mile National Trail traces the ancient earthworks, starting at the Sedbury Cliffs in the south and ending at Prestatyn in the north.
The route is a Welsh highlights tour, with historic ruins like the serene 10th-century Tintern Abbey, the heather-and-views uplands of the Shropshire Hills, and the fairy-tale valley of the River Wye. Do the whole thing in two weeks, which allows time for a layover in Hay-on-Wye, a riverside village renowned for its used-book shops full of character and rare, out-of-print editions. For a 46-mile sampler, start in Pandy and hike north to Knighton. You’ll cross the Black Mountains (not to be confused with The Black Mountain, page 16), descend into Hay-on-Wye, and skirt the best-preserved sections of Offa’s Dyke on the way to Knighton (Tref-y-Clawdd, or “town on the dyke,” in Welsh). Camp or stay in B&Bs.