This year marks 50 years of the Offa’s Dyke Path National Trail.
There are local walking festivals to look out for and a revamped visitor centre in the Welsh border town of Knighton to open later this summer.
An ITV series about the Path, Wonders of the Border, will be shown over summer.
The 177-mile national trail, which runs from near Chepstow on the River Severn to Prestatyn on the North Wales coast, divides into 12 day sections.
As lockdown restrictions eased, I walked the trail for a day from Castle Mill [pictured above] near Chirk Castle in North Wales into the Shropshire Hills to get a taste of the path.
The earliest reference to Offa’s Dyke is attributed to Asser, King Alfred’s biographer, who wrote:
“A certain vigorous king called Offa … had a great dyke built between Wales and Mercia.”
Offa was the king of Mercia (the modern-day Midlands) and ordered the construction of the dyke around 785AD to mark a de-facto border between England and the rebellious Welsh tribes to the west.
National Trail Officer Rob Dingle says: “King Offa is something of a shadowy figure from history, but we do know that he was keen to expand his kingdom, and the design of the Dyke was quite deliberate, acting as a warning shot to the west.”
National Trails is encouraging walkers to share their memories of 50 years of Offa’s Dyke. Read more.
Read my feature coming soon to the i newspaper.
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With restrictions easing, but overnights stays still off limits until April 12, I made a day trip to the National Memorial Arboretum (NMA), the year-round centre for remembrance in Staffordshire.
As an outdoor attraction, the Arboretum has managed to remain open throughout lockdowns and, with the Rule of Six back in force from yesterday, it’s a good place for socially distanced small gathering.
Many of the memorials, such as the Shot at Dawn memorial [pictured above], are thought-provoking and rich with symbolism.
More importantly, it offers a tranquil place for reflection set in nature to digest the events of the past year that have changed our lives beyond measure.
That could be why the Arboretum has been mooted as a potential site for a new national, government-led memorial to recognise all those who have served their community during Covid-19 pandemic, including NHS keyworkers.
The Arboretum celebrates its 20th anniversary on May 16 and I have a feature coming soon in the i newspaper — look out for details.
It’s like Chris Ansell, the Arboretum’s Head of Participation and Learning, told me this week:
“We have a responsibility to those who have given their lives for their country but also a responsibility to ourselves to take time and reflect in order to look forward with hope.”
Normally I’d be raising a glass of the black stuff to celebrate. But, like everything else, it looks be a bit different this year with Visit Ireland live streaming the craic via YouTube.
But, pre Covid, I had celebrated the big day in the west of Ireland, joining walking guide Ged Dowling to climb Croagh Patrick, the holy Irish mountain towering over County Mayo.
I had gone to discover why some 120,000 people hike the treacherous trail to the summit each year, and to learn more about the man behind the folklore-shrouded myth of St Patrick with which is it so closely associated.
Patrick spent 40 days and 40 nights atop the summit of Croagh Patrick in 441AD, fasting, praying and communing with God in a lonely vigil, which established this formerly pagan peak as the new summit of Irish spirituality.
Ever since, the annual Croagh Patrick pilgrimage for St Patrick’s Day has felt like walking in his holy footsteps.
“Croagh Patrick was revered as a place of ancient spirituality long before Patrick was in town,” says Ged. “To me, it feels reassuring — like visiting an old friend.”