Walking Offa’s Dyke 50 years ago

Vintage colour photo of children descending a path far above a valley

Approaching Redbrook

In summer 1972, my dad decided we should all walk the length of the newly created Offa’s Dyke Path National Trail. He had read about the new long-distance trail in the Ramblers’ magazine and ordered Arthur Roberts’ guide in preparation. The previous summer, we spent a number of weeks camping in Switzerland, and my parents noticed the apparent ease with which I was able to go up some of the mountains.

Portrait of Sian EvansSo on Saturday 22 July 1972, my dad, mum, two brothers - Dylan (13), David (11) and I set off from our home in Borehamwood, Hertfordshire, to the start of the trail near Chepstow on the Severn Estuary. According to my dad’s diaries, we parked the car at Bowens Garage, Tutshill, and organised our gear - two tents (a Black's Good Companions and a Black's Tinker Tent), sleeping bags, Primus stove, ground sheets and food into the backpacks.

As it was already late afternoon, we only walked a few miles along the trail, making our first camp in a little glade by the path. We camped every night along the trail – mostly in farmers’ fields (with permission) or carefully chosen spots, making sure that there was never any evidence of us having been there. We travelled light and washed our clothes and swam as much as we could in the streams and rivers along the trail in order to stay clean. We didn’t cause any river pollution as I don’t remember soap coming into the equation!

Hungry walkers

For the next two weeks, we spent our days walking for a few hours in the morning, relaxing in the afternoons and walking again in the evenings. Food is a prominent feature in all of my dad’s diaries. If it hadn’t been carefully noted down, who would have believed that we stopped at a Chinese restaurant in Monmouth and had a set lunch of prawn chop suey and rice, grapefruit juice, ice cream & coffee – all for 30p each. But mostly, my mum cooked for us. I remember her producing breakfasts of bacon and eggs for five on a primus stove, and Vesta curries with rice in the evenings that were really tasty. It was always exciting if we’d managed to buy a chicken during the day, and we would make a fire on stones by a river and roast it in tin foil for supper.

Some events and feelings during that fortnight I remember very clearly: not being allowed to fill my rucksack with the fossils that I found in one particular quarry; my dad’s face as he shouted ‘Run! Bull!’, pursued by a massive snorting bull. I also vividly remember falling off a fence into a big patch of stinging nettles, mainly because that incident caused much hilarity for my brothers. A lot of my memories of Offa’s Dyke are of playing – in rivers and streams, making dens in the bracken, and the excitement of coming across a castle to visit, especially if it had dungeons that were accessible.

Four children sitting upon a large rock, backpacks around the floor

Sedbury Cliffs, the Southern End of Clawdd Offa

Kindness of strangers

We met many people along the way who were extraordinarily friendly, kind and welcoming. I was quite small for my age, so I’m sure I didn’t even look eight years old when we walked Offa’s Dyke. We had pub landlords coming out to greet us and on one occasion, a café owner even opened up his café to make us a meal. Farmers would let us put our tents up in their fields when we asked, and often sold us bread and eggs. It was usually my job to knock on a cottage door, or at a farm to ask for water, and I don’t ever remember being refused.

A truly memorable act of kindness came on the last night of the walk in Prestatyn. One couple saw us walking down the street quite late in the evening and offered for us to sleep in their house for the night.

Instilling self-belief

I look back in total admiration at my parents, for firstly thinking it might be a possibility to walk those distances with three children, and then to actually do it. It has been wonderful to read the 18-page account that my dad created of our big family walk with the photographs that he took along the way.

I view the walking that we did in my childhood as an inherent part of my growing up. I think we were very lucky that our parents spent that time with us and didn't for a minute think that we would not be capable of achieving such a feat. For me, it is probably the intrinsic values that come from doing a walk such as this as a child that have had the most impact: believe in yourself and tackle things with a positive attitude in order to succeed. I also think that the experiences made us feel self-sufficient and independent, which is very empowering.

Vintage colour photo of family and a tent set up beside ferns

Campsite on Herrock Hill

Walking as a way of life

The following two summers after Offa's Dyke we walked the Cornish Coast and the Pembrokeshire coast, but I haven't walked any long-distance paths since then. Retirement at the grand age of 10! My husband and I walk every weekend in the Chilterns where we live, but we tend to stay fairly local.

My parents, Neville and Margaret, live in North Wales and have been members or the Ramblers for over 50 years. Dad is still membership secretary for North Wales, and mum has held the post of chair in the past, being especially keen to promote the Ramblers through the Welsh medium. Although they are now both in their 80s, they have been leading local walks until very recently, and have walked regularly during lockdown.

Read the 18-page account of the family walk with photographs.

2021 is the 50th anniversary of the opening of Offa’s Dyke Path National Trail. Ramblers Cymru is curating a series of self-guided challenges and family activities to take place in spring and summer to commemorate. 

Magazine of the Ramblers