The Offa’s Dyke Association (ODA) – one of the many heritage bodies that have recently celebrated their half century – was founded in 1969 by Frank Noble, a school teacher and archaeologist based in Knighton, Powys, at the midpoint along the Dyke. Noble gathered a group of like-minded enthusiasts to lobby for public access to the Dyke and for its designation as a long-distance footpath. This aim was achieved two years later on 10 July 1971, when the path was officially opened by Lord Hunt, leader of the 1953 British Mount Everest expedition that culminated in Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary’s conquest of the summit on 29 May 1953.
A commemorative stone now marks the spot in Pinners Hole where the opening ceremony took place, within sight of the Dyke, the River Teme, and the remains of one of Knighton’s Norman castles. On the hilltop above the riverside park stands the Offa’s Dyke Centre, which opened in 1999 to house a permanent exhibition and information centre dedicated to the path and the Dyke.
The Centre receives a steady stream of walkers who come to get their ‘passport’ stamped (proof of their having walked the 177-mile/285km path) and to celebrate their achievement with tea and homemade cake. Having shut its doors due to COVID-19, the Centre reopened this year with an informative new permanent exhibition on the Dyke and its landscape, funded by the Welsh Government’s COVID Recovery Fund. The new exhibition was created by Keith Ray, co-author of Offa’s Dyke: landscape and hegemony in 8th-century Britain (2016; CA 316) – just one of many books that you can find in the Centre’s well-stocked reference library and shop.
The Centre is run entirely by volunteer members of the ODA and funded largely by membership subscriptions, ‘passport’ sales, and the hiring out of the centre for weddings and meetings. Unlike most monuments, though, which tend to have a single owner, the Dyke weaves between two nations and passes through the gardens and farms of thousands of landholders. The outreach work of the ODA – which aims ‘to promote the conservation, protection, development, and improvement’ of the Dyke and path – thus faces unique challenges. That said, as anyone visiting the Centre will testify, there is no lack of enthusiasm and affection for the ODA locally, and new members, volunteers, and trustees will be made very welcome.
Further information: www.offasdyke.org.uk
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Photos: C Catling.