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On Offa at Knighton

A terrific stretch of Offa's Dyke, passing high above the Teme Valley on the Welsh border.

Distance 8 miles (12.9km)

Minimum time 3hrs

Ascent/gradient 1,542ft (470m)

Level of difficulty Hard

Paths Excellent, mostly across short turf, 8 stiles

Landscape Steep hills overlooking the broad Teme Valley

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 201 Knighton & Presteigne

Start/finish SO 287734

Dog friendliness Can run free in Kinsley Wood, but sheep present elsewhere

Parking Informal car parking in Kinsley Wood, accessed by forest road from A488 (or park in Knighton, next to bus station or near Offa's Dyke Centre)

Public toilets In Knighton, off Broad Street, and Offa's Dyke Centre

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1 Adjacent to the car park, at the northern end of Kinsley Wood, is a meadow with a barn in it. Join a bridleway which runs along the left-hand edge of this meadow. After about 200yds (183m), veer slightly away from the field edge and descend through a group of oak trees to Offa's Dyke Path (ODP).

2 Turn right and follow the ODP for about 2½ miles (4km). The path runs just above a steep slope falling away to the west and just below the top of Panpunton Hill, and follows the dyke all the way. After climbing around the head of a combe, it gains the top of Cwm-sanaham Hill (1,328ft/406m), then continues northwards, soon descending very steeply past a house called Brynorgan.

3 Meeting a road, leave the ODP, turning left, then left again at Selley Cross. After ½ mile (800m) or so, just beyond Selley Hall Cottage, join a footpath on the right. Follow the path to the far side of a field, then turn right, heading to the top right corner. Cross a stile, then continue straight across several fields, until you meet a lane at Monaughty Poeth.

4 Turn left for ¾ mile (1.2km) to a junction at Skyborry Green. Turn left again, then immediately right, joining a bridleway that climbs to Bryney farm. Turn right on a footpath, which is waymarked at regular intervals as it contours round the hill, before descending to the road again at Nether Skyborry.

5 Turn left for ½ mile (800m), then right on to the ODP just before Panpwnton farm. The path crosses the railway and the River Teme, then follows the Teme towards Knighton, soon crossing the border and turning right to the Offa's Dyke Centre.

6 Leaving the centre, turn left through Knighton, then left again on Station Road. After passing the station, turn left on Kinsley Road. Join the first path on the right into Kinsley Wood, opposite Kinsley Villa and Gillow. Fork left after a few paces, then embark on a climb so steep it's almost vertical. The gradient eases a little before the path emerges from the trees to continue through scrub and across a forest road. Keep straight on to the top of the ridge, then turn left to walk across the summit. The path descends to a track where you turn right to return to the parking area.

Knighton straddles the border, nine toes in Radnorshire and one in Shropshire. Its Welsh name is Tref-y-clawdd, which translates as town on the dyke, a reference to its position on the great earthwork known as Offa's Dyke. Offa was ruler of the English kingdom of Mercia between ad 757 and 796, and the eponymous dyke is the longest archaeological monument in Britain, an impressive structure consisting mainly of a bank, with a ditch on the Welsh side.

Nobody is certain why Offa ordered its construction. It used to be thought it was an agreed frontier, a way of defining the border or maybe even regulating trade. It's now thought that a period of instability, with constant cross-border raiding, led to Offa's decision to secure his frontier with a defensive boundary. It was formerly believed to have run all the way from Treuddyn (north of Wrexham) to Chepstow, but current thinking is that it may have been shorter than that. Recent work in Gloucestershire has suggested that the earthwork in the lower Wye Valley, previously accepted as part of Offa's Dyke, actually dates from a different period. The Shropshire earthwork is certainly part of Offa's Dyke, however. Most of the best preserved sections are in Shropshire, particularly on remote Llanfair Hill, a little to the north of this walk, which is also the dyke's highest point (1,410ft/430m).

To date, nearly 200 archaeological digs have been carried out on the dyke system. As far as its purpose is concerned, the only thing that has been concluded with any reasonable certainty is that it was built in such a way as to defend Mercia from the raiding Welsh. It was probably not simply an agreed frontier or a boundary marker. But, then again, if it was defensive, why have no traces of fortifications or palisading been discovered? Clearly, there is still much to learn.

Offa's Dyke National Trail, opened in 1971, is a splendid walk that runs for 177 miles (285km) from Prestatyn to Chepstow, following the earthwork for 30 miles (48km). The dyke has survived for 1,300 years, but has never been under such pressure as it is today. It's damaged by agriculture, undermined by rabbits, threatened by development and now eroded by walkers. So please walk alongside it where the route has been realigned to allow this, rather than on top. Encouragingly, a conservation scheme has recently been initiated involving a partnership between the Offa's Dyke Path Management Service (based in Knighton), local farmers and various interested bodies.

Where to eat and drink

Prince and Pugh's is an excellent tea shop and only one of several in Knighton. There are plenty of pubs too, such as the George and Dragon, a 17th-century free house with home-made food and a beer garden. The medieval, flower-bedecked Horse and Jockey near the station looks attractive, and the Knighton Hotel has a choice of bars and a coffee shop.

What to look for

The 13-arched Knucklas (Cnwclas) Viaduct is an impressive piece of railway engineering - you'll get a good view of it as you approach Monaughty Poeth. Its battlemented style was inspired by the ruins of the 12th-century castle on the adjacent hill. The Heart of Wales rail line is hugely scenic and the best way to arrive in Knighton.

While you're there

The Offa's Dyke Centre is a must. There are interesting displays and a good range of tourist information. Behind the centre is a stretch of the dyke and an inscribed stone commemorating the opening of the National Trail by Lord Hunt (of Everest fame), who lived at nearby Llanfair Waterdine until his recent death.

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