Offa’s Dyke Path is a long-distance walk that follows along the England-Wales boarder. It started off as a boarder rampart, built by the ancient King Offa (who was the King of Mercia in the 8th Century.) Much more recently, in the 1970s, Offa’s Dyke was made into a walkway. We only had one spare day, so at the suggestion of my mum (thanks mum!!) we decided wander along a section of the walk along the top of the Black Mountains.
The Black Mountain range is the most westerly group of the Brecon Beacons. I am not totally sure if Canadians or people that live near the Alps would call them mountains; They are quite low and very easy to wander up! But whether they count as hill or mountains, they are a fun place to walk! The really cool thing about all the Black Mountains is they have looong ridge walks. This means once you’ve climbed up the first summit, you will stay up high for the entire walk!
Anyway, we explored the section of Offa’s Dyke path from near Hay on Wye to Pandy. If you’d like to do the same, there is a map for it here.
There are no toilets along this route, so we stopped on the way there. There is a really pretty ruin of Llanthony priory, just below the Black Mountains. We stopped there to use the public loos and to take a quick peek.
Offa’s Dyke Path – Hay on Wye to Pandy
Distance: 17 km (from the stone circle near Hay Bluff to a cross road on the edge of Pandy)
Elevation gain: Less than 500m (I think, it might have been more with all the small summits!)
Height of the Black Mountains: The highest summit was near the start of the hike at 703m, We then passed cairns (or trig points) at heights of 637m, 610m, 604m, 552m 531m and 464m.
Facilities: There are good paths, but there isn’t much else! Bring everything you need and use the loo at the priory before you get started!
What to Bring: The 10 essentials.
Hiking boots fail
I should probably mention my biggest fail for this hike! I was really good before this trip. For once, I packed everything in advance and planned to wear my hiking boots on the plane, so save space in my luggage for pretty wedding shoes. But, just before we left, I popped some light shoes on, just to give Monty (our cat) a quick walk outside. Then, I called a taxi, grabbed my bags and left. It was only in the queue for security at the airport that I realized I’d forgotten to change into hiking boots. Oops!
The thing is, I wasn’t going to let my shoe failure stop me from walking. So, I did this walk with very unpractical shoes and winced the whole way when I stood on pebbles or sharp rocks. We were lucky that it was not particularly muddy, but please don’t copy me! This walk would definitely have been easier in proper hiking boots!!
There were a huge number of people on the first summit, Hay Bluff! We stuck to the Offa’s Dyke path, so didn’t go to the end of the bluff, but we had some pretty views anyway! I don’t think King Offa needed to build a rampart on this section of the Welsh boarder as the Black Mountains provide a pretty amazing obstacle.
Black Mountains ridgewalk
Once we’d made it up, the top of the Black Mountains has a really long ridge-walk! You don’t actually have many views to begin with as the ridge is so wide that you can’t really see the edges. We didn’t get rained on, but there is very little protection at the top, so we were blown about a lot by the wind!
It is a really long, lovely walk. We could look over to the long ridge-walks on other Brecon Beacons in the distance. There were also pretty views down to the bright green fields below us.
Steep hills and pretty views
My favourite part of the walk was the section just above the Llanthony priory, just before we reached Hatterrall Hill. This part of the mountain is far narrower, so you can appreciate the steep edges on each side. This area had amazing panoramas in all directions… We saw a couple of other walkers, but mostly we had this whole epic path to ourselves! Wales is amazing!
As we got closer to the final summit, Hatterall Hill, we saw quite a few wild ponies. They were relaxing, munching heather and enjoying the views. This first pony isn’t very good at camouflage.
This view is looking over to another long ridge-walk on top of Brecon Beacons. You can see what I mean about once you have made it to the top of a hill (or mountain) you can have pleasant leisurely walks along the tops!
There were more pretty views on Hatterall Hill. This was the final summit on our walk. We thought we were meeting my parents at the end of the walk, and we were running a little late, so we were just getting ready to run down the hill…when my mum and dad appeared at the top! They had a planned to walk up to the first trig point near Pandy. But they were having so much fun that they just kept going!
We all walked at different speeds, so I kept running to catch up with Marc, or looping back to walk with mum or dad.
There were loads more pretty wild ponies relaxing in the heather right next to Offa’s Dyke path! This was one of the moments when I walked alone (I think I was attempting to catch up with Marc, but got distracted by ponies!)
Obligatory jump shot
The only thing that is slightly less fun about the Black Mountains is that although there are lots of small summits, they are not always very prominent, so it doesn’t always feel like you’ve reached the top of a mountain! This meant that I forgot to take summit jumping photos at the top of each mountain! So, I took one at the trig point before we started heading down.
The last part of the this section of Offa’s Dyke path was a steep-ish descent down to a huge ancient fort. Marc and I had plans to drive over to Gloucestershire for the start of our friend’s wedding celebrations, so we rushed this section a bit. Mum and dad were really good at keeping up with our speed so we could zoom back to the car.
I’d like to come back and explore another time though, as the surrounding Welsh countryside was soooo green and pretty!
One thing I loved about the very last few kilometers, were how many flowers lined the hedges at the edge of the roads. I especially loved seeing patches of violets between other patches of bluebells.
The Lofty Sky
I will finish this post with part of a poem by Edward Thomas that was painted on a barn at the bottom of Hatterrall Hill. It made me smile, so I hope you like it too.
Today I want the sky,
The tops of the high hills,
Above the last man’s house,
His hedges, and his cows,
Where, if I will, I look
Down even on sheep and rook,
And of all things that move
See buzzards only above:—
Past all trees, past furze
And thorn, where naught deters
The desire of the eye
For sky, nothing but sky
You can read the whole poem here.