People, understandably, often get over-excited and dewy eyed when they talk about their own local area. We all have an attachment that runs deep inside of us to the place where we were born and raised. However, our attachments are forged on much more than just a sense of locality or the place we like to call home. It’s built on how we interact with our local landscape over time, and the precious moments that we spend enjoying the best of what is has to offer with the people that mean the most to us. Based on my theory, I consider myself hugely privileged to be a native of North East Wales. Consequently, in this first of a four-part series on the area, I’ll be inviting you all to come and experience and enjoy my favourite part of this remarkable area: The Offa’s Dyke Path.
As well as guiding you through the 44 or so miles of Offa’s Dyke National Trail over this four-part series, neatly divided into four achievable walking legs, I’ll also be showcasing what’s available just off the trail. So, make sure that you check out the bottom of each blog post for my recommendations of activities and destinations to immerse yourself in whilst you’re visiting beautiful North East Wales.
Here’s a short video overview of this first section…
Leg 1: Llangollen to Llandegla
Bearing in mind that we spend so much of our free time exploring the great outdoors, I could think of no better way to celebrate Visit Wales’ Year of the Sea than to literally walk across North East Wales to the seaside town of Prestatyn. The first leg would see me travel 13miles/21km on foot from Llangollen to Llandegla.
Llangollen, for those of you not familiar with it, is a gorgeous town enveloped in natural beauty. The surrounding hills and River Dee really do make for a spectacular backdrop for this early part of the walk. As much as the picturesque town and its wealth of cafes, restaurants, accommodation choices and independent shops is a huge draw, we’d come to sample it’s trails. And what a beautiful start it was.
This first leg, although long, is characterised by pretty easy terrain. As such, you really can relax yourself into the walk. Rising above the town itself you’ll soon find yourself strolling alongside the canal. Risking the chance of sounding like an M&S advert, this isn’t just any canal, however, as the Llangollen Canal is widely considered to be one of the most beautiful canals in the country. You’ll see families enjoying canal boat holidays, as well as kayakers and stand-up paddleboarders exploring this stretch of water. We even found a canal boat confectionary shop, complete with chairs and tables, should you wish to break off for a short while and savour an ice cream.
You won’t have to travel too much further before you embark upon your spectacular crossing of Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. Trust me when I say that this is one of the absolute highlights of this leg. This designated World Heritage Site took 10 years to design and build before it opened in 1805. Consisting of 19 huge and dramatic stone and iron pillars, it is now the oldest aqueduct in the UK and the tallest in the world at 30m/100ft.
I must say, it’s a pretty unique feeling crossing it. It’s surreal to think that the canal and its water, together with the boats that cross it, are all 30 metres above the ground that looms below you. You’ll probably want to grab plenty of photos of this so I’d suggest dropping down below it after you’ve crossed it. There is a riverside path with some great vantage points and some open, grassy areas perfect for soaking up the sun and refuelling yourself for the next section of this leg.
The next notable place on your Offa’s Dyke Path destination tick sheet will be Castell Dinas Bran. Just outside of Llangollen itself, you’ll walk steadily uphill through some stunning scenery to reach it. This is a really dramatic contrast to the canal section, which feels very laidback and sedate. Here, the landscape opens out before you with big granite cliffs and ridges to your right, which look down over rolling green hills to your left. For the first time you feel like you’re in a big section of open countryside. It is, quite simply, mesmerising.
As you approach Castell Dinas Bran itself, you can’t help but wonder how the heck they constructed it. Loosely translated as the Crow’s Castle, it was built in the 13th century for Gruffydd Maelor, Prince of Powys Fadog. However, according to historical documents, it didn’t actually last all that long…just a few decades, it is thought. Whatever fate befell it , you have to admire its majestic hilltop perch. Make the effort to complete the short diversion away from the trail to climb to the top. It’s well worth it as the 360opanorama is certainly one to savour. Explore the ruins and arched remains of the castle inners. Some of them make for amazing natural photo frames. Just one little tip: don’t leave your sunglasses at the top like I did. It’s a heck of a walk back up that hill!
From Castell Dinas Bran you’ll head to the imposingly named World’s End. After a gentle descent it’s time to head slowly back uphill again as the landscape once more transforms before your eyes. Gone are the rolling green hills and dramatic ridge lines; in their place appears heather moorland as far as the eye can see. This constant changing of terrain and landscape really does make day one of the North East Wales section of the Offa’s Dyke Path one to cherish. You don’t get this degree of variety or such distinct vividness in many places.
From the heather moorland of World’s End your now weary legs, but contented mind, make the final turn up into Llandegla Forest. With this, you get one last change of scenery as you trace the trail through the tall, dark recesses of this otherwise busy woodland. As you escape the last shadows of the forest, you’ll end your day in the village of Llandegla. This extremely friendly place plays host to a range of facilities which walkers in the area need: a good pub that serves quality food, various accommodation choices including campsites, and a village shop that does one of the best pre-walk breakfasts I’ve ever had. It certainly set me up for the big climbs on day two of the Offa’d Dyke Path through North East Wales – look out for that post next week!
All in all, this section of the Offa’s Dyke Path is as majestic as it’s memorable. I have done a heck of a lot of walking both in the UK and abroad, and rarely have I ever witnessed the constant and dramatic changes in scenery over such a relatively short distance. Enjoy it.
Experiences Away From the Trail
So, you’ve booked your stay in North East Wales and you’re all set to complete the Offa’s Dyke Path. You’ll now be wondering what else this beautiful region has to offer. Thankfully, I’m here to guide you through some options for your down time. Here’s some highlights for leg 1…
Depending on the time of year you choose to visit, a great option is the Llangollen International Eisteddfod. Taking place 3rd-8thJuly this year and offering performances from the likes of the Kaiser Chiefs, Van Morrison and Alfie Boe, this is always a great event. Furthermore, this culturally significant event hosts the ‘Choir of the World’ and dance competitions over the duration of the Festival. Competitors and festival goers literally travel from all over the world to take part and witness it. We went as a family last year and had a brilliant time!
Sticking with music, North East Wales continues to attract some of the best musicians and artists all year round too. Central Station in nearby Wrexham hosts great bands and singers on a regular basis, and even holds the annual Focus Wales music festival. It’s always an energetic and enthralling few days which throws the light on the very best emerging talent that Wales has to offer. This year it took place over the 10th/11th/12th May and boasted live acts such as Gaz Coombes, Kidsmoke and Jane Weaver.
As if all of this wasn’t enough, the Red Dragon Music Festival, which takes place in Llangollen every year, offers one of the most eclectic line-ups possible. Celebrating everything from heavy metal and grunge, to punk, folk and even a didgeridoo; this is yet another amazingly friendly and atmospheric event that underlines North East Wales’ many, many talents.
To check out more of what North East Wales has to offer go to: www.northeastwales.wales