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?
- Monmouth Town Centre
- Hay-on-Wye – The Book Town
- Impressive Ruins At White Castle
- Other Places Just Off Offa’s Dyke Path:
Montgomery, A Small Georgian Town
Llangollen And The River Dee
Monmouth Town Centre
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!
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.
Thankfully it was pedestrianised again in 2004, which means you feel pretty safe as you stand there gawping up at this ancient wonder!
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
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.
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!
Alternatively, you could spend a bit of time gazing at some unusual window displays…
or sit in a cafe people-watching while you have breakfast, lunch, or like me…both!
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.)
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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!
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!
Spread The Word!
Are You Looking For Even More Inspiration?
How about this feature with Zoe Langley-Wathen?
Or Maybe discover some cool places to put your feet up on The Cotswold Way National Trail too!