Wendy Coombey, Chair Herefordshire LEADER Local Action Group and Jean Prosser, Chair adventa and Monmouthshire Rural Development Plan Partnership
The Offa’s Dyke Centre at Knighton was the venue for the coming together of representatives from many of the 15 plus partners in the two-year Walking with Offa project. The celebration marked the start of an initiative which has been several years in the making, and which is intended to improve the economy and sustainability of the Welsh-English border area through which the National Trail passes.
Launching the £625,000 project, Jean Prosser, Chair of the adventa and Monmouthshire Rural Development Plan Partnership said: “You are all to be congratulated on having got to this day. It’s an amazing idea and its time has come, even though I guess Offa himself is probably spinning in his grave as he built this Dyke as a boundary to separate us.
“However, Offa was interested in and good at diplomatic relations and trade so it seems to me that what we are going to be doing, in all our separate ways and bringing it together under one banner is about exactly that – cooperation, diplomacy and trade, so probably his spirit will be with us.”
She went on to say that the project has huge potential and she hoped it would be a model for other similar initiatives.
The project is a cross border cooperation between Welsh and English Local Action Groups, three Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, a National Park and local authorities whose territories include the Marches border region along the Offa’s Dyke Path National Trail. This is named after, and often follows, the Dyke which King Offa had constructed in the 8th Century to divide his Kingdom of Mercia from rival kingdoms in what is now Wales. It passes through eight different counties along its 177-mile route and crosses the border between England and Wales more than 20 times.
Walking with Offa has identified sustainable tourism, including transport issues, as the top priority for development and it will concentrate not just on the National Trail itself but the wider area called Offa’s Country.
The project aims to develop and promote the sustainable tourism experience, based on the high quality natural and cultural assets of Offa’s Country.
Walking with Offa will improve access for visitors, help them gain more enjoyment and understanding from their visit and also help local businesses such as accommodation providers, shops, pubs and restaurants to thrive.
The programme will:
- Develop and promote circular walks in Offa’s Country
- Improve and promote Long Distance Paths which link to Offa’s Dyke, with infrastructure, local business development and web based information
- Implement interpretation along the Offa’s Dyke Path National Trail and at key entry/information points to the area
- Provide training/familiarisation for local businesses and walk leaders, helping to achieve a sense of place, route familiarisation, and promotion of walking opportunities
- Promote local food and drink outlets and other local businesses
- Provide sustainable transport bus services and green transport options for events
- Develop Offa’s Country by Train, with information on rail services, train travel offers, web pages and walks from stations
Shropshire Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) Partnership has recently developed a series of ‘King Offa’ caricatures, designed by Kington artist Alan Duncan, to help promote various aspects of the project. Alan attended the launch to enjoy, with other guests, a slice of the novelty celebratory cake made by Buffy’s Cake Art in Abergavenny, which depicted his cartoon-style Offa in icing. It was the first time I had seen it the idea in 3D and it was a lovely surprise,” he said.
One of the Walking with Offa cartoons by Alan Duncan. www.asduncanillustration.co.uk
The project team comprises Monmouthshire County Council, adventa (Monmouthshire’s rural development programme), Wye Valley Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), Powys County Council, Glasu, Clwydian Range AONB, Offa's Dyke Path National Trail, Shropshire Hills AONB Partnership, Shropshire Council, Brecon Beacons National Park Authority, the VITAL Herefordshire LEADER programme, VisitHerefordshire, Cadwyn Clwyd and Denbighshire County Council and Northern Marches as well as a number of co-opted local community groups associated with promoting walking.
This project has received funding through the Rural Development Plan for Wales 2007-2013 which is funded by the Welsh Assembly Government and the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development.