The scramble for Offa's Dike

Weekend walks: Over hill and dale, in country once the battleground of Celts and Saxons, Hamish Scott follows the contours from Llanthony Priory to the mound of Offa

Few pubs can match the Abbey Hotel in Llanthony for its romantic setting. The vale of Ewyas, in the Brecon Beacons National Park, is an idyllic valley of lush pastures, woods and ancient hedgerows sheltered by steep mountain ridges.

A narrow lane, following the river's course up to the Gospel Pass, winds past the ruins of Llanthony Priory, a skeleton of Gothic stonework standing out from the fields. Despite appearances, however, the priory is far from lifeless. Since the Dissolution of the Monasteries, its old infirmary has been the parish church, while an undercroft beneath the prior's quarters has become the local pub. Far from any tourist route, and untouched by heritage consultants, Llanthony Priory is still as much a thriving centre of the valley as it was five centuries ago.

Signboards from the abbey car park indicate the start of paths up the hills behind. The line of Offa's Dike marks the English border just a mile to the east, but a thousand feet above the valley. Our intention was to climb up to this ancient Iron Curtain that once divided Celt from Saxon, take a distant look at Hereford through our binoculars and then head back to Llanthony for our lunch. Judging from the map, the route looked quite straightforward. We laced up our boots and set off in the expectation of a pleasant stroll. We should, perhaps, have paid rather more attention to the contours and the clouds.

Behind the abbey ruins, the right of way runs through a pasture grazed by mountain ponies before diverging to the left across a stream into a steeply rising field. As we climbed, panoramic views opened out across the valley and the stream cut an ever-deeper gorge in the hillside. Then, crossing the ravine, we found a ruined tower with a hiker in a bright cagoule poking round its fallen masonry. This, as we were informed in considerable detail, was the never-finished dream-house of the poet Walter Savage Landor, who briefly and tempestuously owned Llanthony early in the 19th century.

Paths diverge above the house and in our quest for Offa's Dike we followed an arrow indicating the "way to the hill". This was a mistake. An hour later we were back at the same spot, having scrambled over dry-stone walls, crawled up banks of scree, hacked our way through bracken, and bickered with increasing bitterness over the definition of a "way".

The route for humans, as opposed to the one for mountain goats, lies along the contours of the valley, with Landor's ruin and Llanthony to the right. Half-a-mile further on, the path skirts Wiral Farm, perched above the woods with wild moorland reaching almost to its door. We continued onwards, slowly gaining height, past a noisy duck pond that marked the upper limit of domesticated land. The path grew ever steeper, and the line of a stone wall guided us through swaths of mist. Then the hillside levelled off and we met the broad, well-trodden tack of Offa's Dike's long-distance path.

The dike itself is now curiously unimpressive - just a 5ft bank of turf. Sitting on its crest, we listened to a distant English dog barking through the clouds. "The view must be wonderful," said my companion. We decided to head back for lunch.

Returning to the dry-stone wall, we continued along its course until it reached a sharp right-hand corner and nose-dived down the slope. From here a faint footpath led us to the left, dipping down the hillside at a rather less exciting angle. Emerging from the clouds, we continued towards Maes-y-Beran farm, nestling in the valley far below. From here, a path across the open fields led back towards the abbey and our pace grew faster with the thought of lunch.

Despite its unique setting, the Abbey Hotel is an unpretentious pub serving hearty food to satisfy the appetites of farmers and exhausted walkers. A home-made stew of beans and lamb was perfect for our needs, basic pilgrim fare that seemed in keeping with the bare stone floor and vaulted ceiling of the ancient room. As we left, a shaft of sunlight pierced the clouds, shining down into the ruined nave through the gaping hole of the west window. A buzzard soared above our heads. There was a burst of singing from the bar.

"The walk was worth it just for this," said my companion.

Directions

Llanthony is 10 miles north of Abergavenny, between Llanfihangel Crucorney and Hay-on-Wye.

From the priory car park, follow signs to hill walks.

At the rear of the priory, continue across pasture and bear left before a gate, following a sign to "circular walk" across stile and stream.

Bear right over the stile at top of the field and cross the stream.

Ignoring the "way to hill" sign to the left, continue straight ahead, with Landor's ruin to the right. Continue along the path for half a mile, passing Wiral Farm on right.

Continue over cross-paths, following the sign to Cwmyoy, with stream and duck pond to your right. Follow the path uphill to Offa's Dike.

Return to the path and follow a dry-stone wall to the left. At a right- hand bend in wall, bear left along the path.

Continue down this path to Maes-y-Beran Farm. Turn right at the farm and follow the path for 1 mile to the road. Continue for a quarter of a mile along the road back to Llanthony.

Length of walk: five miles (two hours). OS maps: 1:50000 Landranger sheet 161; 1:25000 Outdoor Leisure sheet 13 (Brecon Beacons East).

Travel
travel
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show
tvBig Bang Theory filming delayed by contract dispute over actors' pay
Sport
England celebrate a wicket for Moeen Ali
sportMoeen Ali stars with five wickets as Cook's men level India series
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Voices
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act, says Simon Kelner
News
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Travel
travel
News
Robyn Lawley
people
News
people
News
i100  ... he was into holy war way before it was on trend
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmThe film is surprisingly witty, but could do with taking itself more seriously, says Geoffrey Macnab
News
people
Life and Style
food + drinkVegetarians enjoy food as much as anyone else, writes Susan Elkin
Life and Style
lifeDon't get caught up on climaxing
Life and Style
tech
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

1st line call logger/ User access administrator

£9 Per Hour: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Warrington a...

Shine Night Walk 2014 - 'On the night' volunteer roles

Unpaid Voluntary Work : Cancer Research UK: We need motivational volunteers to...

Accounts Assistant (Accounts Payable & Accounts Receivable)

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Accounts Assistant (Accounts Payable...

Senior IT Trainer - Buckinghamshire - £250 - £350 p/d

£200 - £300 per day: Ashdown Group: IT Trainer - Marlow, Buckinghamshire - £25...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star