Today Offa’s Dyke is a long-distance recreational footpath, walked by many hundreds of backpackers every year.Some do it carrying tents and full gear, some do short lengths for a Sunday outing; I decided to do it stark naked and handcuffed.
Not all of it, of course.I checked out the large-scale maps looking for a stretch about a mile long that crossed a road at each end, which proved surprisingly rare.The Dyke is about half an hour’s drive due West from where I live, just north of the mid-point and with some of the best-surviving sections.It is hilly, beautiful, sometimes bleak sometimes-wooded country, and the lanes are infrequent.Most intervals on the Dyke were much too long, but I found a couple which looked promising and drove over one afternoon to scout around.
The first place was right on top of a hill and very bleak, no trees and much wind.The Dyke only cut off a loop of the road and was visible from it.It was also too short.Not exciting enough.
At the second place the Dyke path ended in a wooden stile, then a steep slope down to the lane.The footpath followed the lane after that.I climbed the stile and saw the path followed a hedge along the edge of a large meadow field – evidently the Dyke itself had been completely ploughed out.At the far end of the field I saw another stile in what from a distance looked a very muddy section, but I knew I had left my car blocking the lane and hurried back.The walk looked fun, but the parking problem clearly meant I would have to start from the other end.
The map showed that the other end shared an entrance with a hotel, and when I got there (a long circuitous drive) I found the hotel had once been a Victorian country gentleman’s residence.There was a large, two-storied, castellated stone gatehouse with an archway through the middle.Under the arch were doors each side leading to what had been gatekeepers’ accommodation, and one side at least looked as if it was still in occupation.If you are someone who is lucky enough to have walked this section of the Dyke then you must surely recognise the feature.
The Offa’s Dyke fingerpost pointed through the arch.I went through.Immediately beyond, a formal drive curled away lined with trees, hedge and wire fence making an impressive but impassable barrier.About 100 yards up the drive another fingerpost identified the Dyke path branching off to the right through a gate.
Following that I found myself in an old area of woodland; it was early March and the ground was covered with a breathtakingly beautiful carpet of snowdrops.I’ve never seen snowdrops like it before or since.I was admiring them as two hardy hikers came down the path towards me and we chatted cheerily for a while; they were going on until dusk, hoping to reach the next town.
The path wound through this wood for a while, then climbed up onto a long embankment.This was Offa’s original rampart, still a good eight feet above ground level but surrounded with trees.A delightful walk, I was captivated.I went up it a little way and decided that, once the weather got warmer, this was where I would take my evening stroll.I was parked easily, outside the gatehouse, and I noticed a surprising number of cars coming and going up the drive as I walked back to it.Clearly the hotel was having a function this afternoon.
Where did I make the mistake?I should have explored the whole route, not just the two ends.
Two or three months later I set out again, going first to the end with the stile.There I left the spare car key knotted into a white plastic bag stuffed under the hedge just over the stile, so I could find it in the dark.Then I drove to the gatehouse and parked.I made sure my pair of handcuffs was unlocked and put the key into the glove compartment.
It was only just getting dusk. I guessed this was the most risky part of the whole trip, but the place seemed deserted so after a while I slipped off my jacket, got out of the car and locked it with the keys inside.
To get back into the car I would have to get the spare key from the other end of the path.I was wearing nothing but boots and a cockstrap, and carrying a torch and a pair of handcuffs.
Inasmuch as anyone can glide quietly in a pair of British army-surplus commando boots I moved rapidly up the drive and through the gate into Snowdrop Wood.Time to pause, take stock, wait till my heart was operating evenly again and start enjoying the walk.I slipped the cord loop of the flashlight over one wrist so I wouldn’t lose it and clicked on one side of the cuffs.Then I put both hands behind my back and clicked the other.Several deep breaths later I set off.
There was still just enough light for me to see where I was going as I strolled along the top of the Dyke path, although thin branches occasionally whipped my chest and tree-roots across the track could easily trip me.That was quite a danger, since with my arms pinioned it would be easy to fall.It had been a warm day but now the cooler air on my naked body felt very sexy.The old eight-inch woke up and stretched.As the trees thinned, I could see the hotel drive over to my left curving back towards me, lit up by frequent car headlights.Another function?I began to get uneasy.
After about ten minutes of walking I came out of a clump of trees and stopped dead.
The hotel was there all right, looming dark with a few lights burning, but all the land between it and the Dyke path, for as far ahead as I could see, was packed with ranks of caravans.Readers in the States would probably call it a holiday trailer park.The path ran all along the edge of the caravan site at high level, still six to eight feet up, and protected only by scrubby bushes growing on the sloping side of the Dyke itself.The wire fence bounding the site had the occasional gate to give access to my footpath.It was darker now, but anyone looking in my direction could surely see me, a light-coloured object showing up against a dark backdrop of woodland.
Most of the vans had lights on, and some people were walking about.I waited a while, but soon realised I had no choice but to press on.I could just see the path well enough to walk it without switching on the torch, which would have made me even more noticeable.I crept slowly on.The nearest vans were only about six feet from the bottom of the Dyke, I could see over their roofs.Once a man came out of a van just as I was passing; I froze, heart thumping, but he didn’t look up.
About three vans from the end of the site I had another shock.A dog outside a caravan door suddenly started barking wildly up at me!A quick look told me it was tied to something, but surely its owner would come out to see what the trouble was.I flicked on the torch and made rapid speed to the safety of the woodland past the end of the site.
When handcuffed like that, the only way to shine the torch on the path in front of you is to point it between your legs, which has the effect of highlighting anything hanging in the way.This hadn’t struck me before and the idea got me quite randy.I went back to the edge of the caravan site and flashed my hard-on at them for a bit, but probably no-one noticed.I even called “Hello campers” (a catch phrase from an old UK TV show) but not too loudly.
A little further on the bank came down steeply where a stream crossed its line.Cows had churned the whole area up into a quagmire which I got very muddy trying to cross, and beyond was the stile I had seen in the distance on my first visit.Just try going over a stile in the dark in slippery boots with your hands handcuffed, especially when some bastard farmer has nailed barbed wire across the top rail.I tried it backwards, very gingerly, and made it across.
After that it was a simple and pleasant stroll to the end where I’d left the car key.The bag had a string tied to it with a noose so I could tighten it round a wrist, and that done I set off cheerfully back to the gatehouse.It was half an hour since I had started and by now fully dark.The stile was easier the second time but I made the mistake of jumping down the last bit, slipped in the mud and ended up sitting in squelch and cowshit.The torch still worked, once I’d scraped its lens, and I checked I hadn’t lost the precious key.
As I neared the caravan site I switched off the torch.This was going to be tricky.I decided to move a short distance at a time, giving only a brief flash of the torch to scan the next section.
Then I saw a flashlight on the path up ahead of me!
This time I was sure I was in real trouble.If I switched on my own torch it would easily be seen.I tiptoed down the side of the embankment and crouched down behind some bushes, watching the torch flickering nearer.(The bushes turned out to be very prickly gorse on close acquaintance.)It was a man and a dog, perhaps the same dog that saw me earlier, and I realised that the chances of hiding from a dog are pretty slim.The torch stopped perhaps fifty yards away while the dog shat all over Britain’s greatest medieval earthwork, then turned around and went back to the campsite.I heard a gate click, and slowly relaxed and stood up.
The caravanners by now seemed all to be inside their plywood boxes and relief from my narrow escape made me less cautious, breezing along merrily with the torch shining.Soon I was past and in Snowdrop Wood, then I was peering out of the gate onto the hotel drive.A car swept down the road in a blaze of headlights and I peered back in again fast.Once I was on that driveway I had to go right on to the gatehouse, there was no place to hide in between.In the distance there were lights in the gatehouse windows.
All was quiet.Nothing to do but GO.Rapidly.I set off.Then a door opened under the gatehouse arch and a man came out and crossed to the door opposite leaving both doors open.I just froze on the edge of the driveway, hoping another car wouldn’t come by.The man went back into his own house, shutting both doors.
The adrenaline was pretty high by now, but one last terror awaited.Outside the arch I could see the red light of a parked car!
Perhaps someone was sitting there waiting…
Still, I couldn’t stand here in the driveway like a naked and muddy lemon until the next car came.I sidled through the arch with torch doused to have a good look at that car.It was empty.What’s more, it was mine!I must have left the parking lights on when I left it.
I just unlocked the cuffs, spread my coat on the driver’s seat and drove away.
Why does one do these stupid things?It’s a finely calculated risk, combined with a test of resource should unexpected events occur.It’s the adrenaline.It’s being 100% alert. It’s the delicious feeling of nude at night. And it’s such a sexy adventure!