Stephanie Boon hiking on the South West Coast Smiling at the camera.

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This is Monnow Bridge on the edge of Monmouth town centre in Wales. The bridge is the last remaining fortified bridge in Britain and this photo highlights the red sandstone construction and medieval gatehouse on the far side of the bridge. It's a bright summer's day and the river is flowing gently under the bridge's two arches.

Monmouth Town (And Other Highlights On Offa’s Dyke Path)

Monmouth Town And Other Highlights On Offa’s Dyke Path is part of series of articles on hiking Offa’s Dyke Path 177 mile national trail.

Most hikers hike for the big views, the immersion in nature, maybe even to find ourselves rather than just finding the trail. But hiking national trails in the UK inevitably takes you through villages, towns, and historic sites too, and Offa’s Dyke Path is no exception. So, just like on the Cotswold Way, I spent a bit of time exploring – or gazing up in wonder!

Maybe you’re putting your hiking plan together right now and are wondering where it’s worth spending a bit of time. So,

Here are 5 highlights on the trail – great places to put your feet up for a while and soak up the atmosphere!

Why not pencil them in?

Contents

Monmouth Town Centre

This low bridge marks the entrance to Monmouth town. It has two (visible) piers and at the farther end is a tall decorative stone gateway. The gatehouse has two towers with an arch below and a tiled roof. It's a really sunny day and the river looks cool and inviting.

Monmouth’s 13th century Monnow Bridge

Monmouth is famous as the birthplace of King Henry V, and it’s right on the trail so you can’t miss it – in fact, the trail goes through Monmouth town centre. It’s a pretty, vibrant town in Wales full of independent shops as well as the usual chain stores. It’s worth planning a break in your day here, even for an hour or so. I stopped for lunch (you could even sit by the river Monnow to make a brew) and a battery charge, as well as stocking up on some groceries (there’s a good M&S right on the main street).

The best thing about Monmouth I experienced though, hands down, is the Monnow Bridge over the River Monnow, shortly before its confluence with the River Wye.

Monmouth Town Centre’s Treasure: Monnow Bridge

I had no idea Monmouth town had a fortified bridge, let alone the only one left in Britain with a gatehouse tower on it. And when I realised that, it became even more special because I knew I’d never see another one again!

In this view of Monnow bridge Monmouth town will be behind you. You can see the river flowing under two arches and on the right hand side of the bridge is a tall stone gatehouse with a tiled roof. Someone is sitting on the riverbank and there are a few people crossing the bridge.

This is the last remaining bridge of its kind in Britain

Monnow Bridge (grade 1 listed) is built from a beautiful red sandstone and it’s amazing to think it’s survived since the late 13th century (although there’s been some reconstruction over the centuries). Motorised traffic used the bridge until relatively recently, and after the number of accidents, you wonder how it survived at all.

Under the archway of the gatehouse is an arched doorway with a narrow wooden door and highly decorative iron hinges. The door leads into one of the gatehouse towers., which would give a good view over Monmouth town.

A beautiful arched doorway and iron hinges caught my eye

Thankfully it was pedestrianised again in 2004, which means you feel pretty safe as you stand there gawping up at this ancient wonder!

The round towers of the gatehouse have arched passageways through them. This is a view through one of the arches and an old lady in a red coat is framed by the arch. She has her back to the camera and is carrying bag in one hand and a large package under her other arm, heading out of Monmouth town.

A passageway through the tower

 

Other Things In Monmouth

  • Monmouth Castle – a short walk off the high street (it’s free – but sadly I didn’t have time)
  • Monmouth Museum (The Nelson Museum and Local History Centre)
  • Monnow Bridge Caravan Site – right on the trail in the town centre (tent pitches) Listed on UK Campsite

Hay-on-Wye – The Book Town

Looking down from a high bridge to the wide River Wye with tall trees growing on either side. The river isn't very deep and you can see rocks and stones poking out of the water.

The River Wye at Hay

Hay-on-Wye is known for books: secondhand books to be precise. And once again this thriving Welsh town is right on Offa’s Dyke Path – no detour required.  I was ahead of myself by this point of my hike, mileage-wise, so decided to do half a day’s walk and spend some time eating myself around Hay-on-Wye and soaking up the atmosphere!

Hay is just within the Brecon Beacons National Park and makes a great place to stock up after you come off (or head up) the long walk across Hatterrall Ridge.

 

This narrow pedestrian side street is full of ramshackle buildings with bunting strung between them. There are a few metal tables and chairs on the pavement and a view of the stone clocktower at the bottom of the street. A sign hanging from a building in the foreground reads 'Harrison & Pope Handmade Kitchens'.

A view down a pretty side street to the town’s clock tower

Hay-on-Wye Festival

Hay-on-Wye has hosted the annual literary festival ‘Hay Festival‘ at the end of May/beginning of June since 1988. Time your hike right and you could spend some time listening to authors from all over the world. Failing that you can do what I did: spend a good few hours browsing second-hand books and wishing your base-weight was somewhat lighter!

A sunny view from the corner of a street across to a red and cream painted bookshop. There are people milling about window shopping and there's someone sitting and reading in one of the windows at the top of the shop.

Booth’s bookshop is the oldest second-hand bookshop in Hay-on-Wye

 

An open wooden bookshelf full of second had walking books. There are two shelf-edge labels titled 'Walking' and you can see through the bookshelf to more shelves of books behind.

There are plenty of walking books to browse through, even if you can’t carry them! (There was a good selection of Wainright’s too.)

Alternatively, you could spend a bit of time gazing at some unusual window displays…

There's an old book in the foreground of this photo titled 'How to draw insects' by Norman Weaver. Behind the book are some old wooden printers' shelves with colourful insects encased in plastic blocks sitting in them.

One of the quirkier, intriguing window displays in town

or sit in a cafe people-watching while you have breakfast, lunch, or like me…both!

This photo is taken from inside the cafe through an old bow window. It's an attractive, timeless scene with two customers in the doorway reading a menu on an easel.

Shepherds Cafe – famous for icecreams and delicious lunches

Other Things In Hay-on-Wye For Hikers

  • Hay Castle (right in the town centre)
  • Hay-on-Wye Thursday Market (8 am to mid-afternoon) (Clock Tower area)
  • Outdoor store (near the Clock Tower)
  • Large Co-op supermarket a 10-minute walk from the town centre

 

Impressive Ruins At White Castle

The ruins of White Castle (grid ref SO 39589 15117) will really surprise you as you round a Tarmac lane on Offa’s Dyke Path, just past Upper White Castle Farm (heading north). You can’t see it if you’re heading north and there’s no indication of how impressive it is. (If you’re heading south though, you’ll see it on the approach.)

The tall ruins of grey stone towers that made up the gatehouse flank either side of a stone bridge with metal railings along the top. Another tower can be seen in the background.

This is the first gatehouse you cross as you enter the castle grounds

It’s the best-preserved of three Monmouthshire castles (including Grosmont and Skenfrith, which aren’t on the trail) and it’s free to visit. The gatehouses and water-filled moat are pretty special.

A high stone wall fills the width of the photo. At the bottom centre of the wall there's an arch with a narrow cruciform window in what looks like what was once a tower.

Inside the castle walls

 

A view of the castle from inside the walls. It's an impressive stone structure with lots of arches at the base and three ruined towers.

The inner castle

 

This photo is taken from inside the castle and looks out towards an arched entrance leading to the bridge over the moat. The wall is extremely high with blue sky behind and there's a wooden bench either side of the arch

Looking at the main gateway into the castle (from inside)

You could spend 30 – 40 minutes exploring the ruins, or take a bit longer and enjoy the grounds too. Large grassy areas and picnic tables make it the perfect place for a pit stop before you head off again. I was there fairly early in the morning and there were only two other people enjoying the peace and quiet. Imagine that – a whole castle pretty much to yourself!

Two towers of a gatehouse dominate the photo. A wooden bridge can be seen heading under an arch between the towers and in the background you can see the castle wall and another tower.

Bridge over the moat

Other Places Just Off Offa’s Dyke Path

Montgomery – A Small Georgian Town

I was pretty desperate for water when I decided to head off-trail for a mile or two into Montogmery. I didn’t want to go. In fact, I was in a right mood at the prospect of adding more miles to the heat of the day! But it was, of course, worth it.

The town hall is a detached, symmetrical red brick building with a cream-coloured clock tower on the top. There are cars parked on either side of the very wide street in front of the town hall and dense fir trees behind. If it wasn't for the cars, you'd feel like you'd stepped back in time.

The Town Hall and market

Luckily it’s an easy walk that brings you right into the centre of a well-preserved small Georgian town. ‘Pretty’ doesn’t begin to describe it.

I found a well-stocked Spar shop soon enough, right on the square (above). There were bistro tables outside so I sat and ate my sandwich and drank a litre of Coke: what a place to watch the world go by! I heard my first Welsh speakers in 100 miles and put the world to rights with an older couple (local farmers) enjoying a pasty. They’d been avid walkers and climbers all their lives and completed all the Munroes –  and were still doing “10 – 15 mile walks”…in their mid 80’s!

 

Ivy House Cafe in Montgomery is a Georgian red brick building on the corner of the street. The windows have multiple panes. The cafe entrance is through an old white door with a large shrub growing up around it.

One of two cafe’s in Montgomery village centre

Llangollen And The River Dee

The centre of this small town is about a mile and a half off Offa’s Dyke Path. It’s a really steep descent, so if you’re lacking in energy remember there’ll be a tough hike back up! (So allow more time.)

The most beautiful aspect of the town is the River Dee and the 14th-century bridge that spans it (see below), but the town is also famous as the venue The International Musical Eisteddfod.

Looking over Llangollen Bridge, which has a street lantern on it, down to the River Dee. The river is partially obscured by trees and there's a large white hotel called The Royal on the bank. Further down the river, appearing to come from beside the hotel, a crane brings the timeless scene into the 21st century.

The River Dee from the 14th-century bridge

You’ll find everything you need in Llangollen’s main street from a large convenience store to outdoor suppliers, and of course plenty of places to eat.

When you head back up to the trail you might fancy going up an even steeper hill to explore the ruins of Castle Dinas Bran…but then again, you might not!

A winding path heads steeply up a tree-lined slope to the top of a conical hill with the ruins of a castle on the top. Sheep graze in the foreground.

Castle Dinas Bran on the outskirts of Llangollen

I have to admit that I did not haha! (Imagine the views though.)

There are lots of other places to spend a bit of time along the way of course, but I hope I’ve persuaded you that these highlights are worth adding to your hiking plan.

What do you think? Maybe you’ve visited some of them already or have other places you think are worth exploring along this trail? Share your recommendations in the comments – we’d love to hear from you!

Happy hiking

Stephie x

Spread The Word!

Are You Looking For Even More Inspiration?

How about this feature with Zoe Langley-Wathen?

Image Link: Women Afoot Interview With Zoe Langley-Wathen, Hiker And Podcaster

Zoe’s backpacked and wild camped Offa’s Dyke Path too

Or Maybe discover some cool places to put your feet up on The Cotswold Way National Trail too!

Hailes Abbey - and other side trips on the Cotswold way (abbey ruins across a grassy path under a horse chestnut tree)

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