blog pillarIn a forthcoming article to be published in the journal Medieval Archaeology, I explore the landscape context of the Pillar of Eliseg with colleague Patricia Murrieta-Flores as part of the Past in its Place project. We are arguing that the Pillar of Eliseg is in a secluded but key strategic location in a contested frontier landscape.

Yet despite our sophisticated GIS analysis, sometimes it is good to support the computer work and get out there and explore the landscape itself. Recently, I realised (on the ground, as opposed to from viewshed maps) that the Pillar is visible from the very far distance from a limited but significant stretch of the Horseshoe Pass to the monument’s north: the historic route linking the Vale of Llangollen with the Vale of Clwyd and Chester. The photo included here has been rendered as an ‘oil painting’ within PhotoShop and is a digital SLR zoom shot.

This observation is hardly surprising since it was already evident on Paty’s viewshed analysis to be published with our article, but is very revealing once it is considered on the ground. The Pillar is not visible from large stretches of the uplands around the modern Horseshoe Pass and it is not visible from the modern road over the pass. Still, identifying a tract of the ridge that is intervisible with the Pillar is important. It opens up some important questions regarding the potential use of this specific sightline. This is because it means that the Pillar and its immediate environs (notably Abbey Farm) – but not Valle Crucis and other parts of the Nant Eglwyseg valley – are directly intervisible with an area of the ridge above the Horseshoe Pass that is itself intervisible from the entire line of the Clwydian Mountains and, indeed, the Roman road from Chester to Caer Gai, the upper Alyn valley and down into the Vale of Clwyd.

In short, we propose that a single beacon somewhere within a zone of ridge-top on the Pass could alert those gathered at the Pillar of any travellers approaching from the north. It is also important to note that mature trees block much of this route, meaning that unles the field immediately north of the Pillar was forested in the Early Middle Ages, this sightline has demonstrable historical significance. What isn’t clear is whether there are any archaeological traces of early medieval occupation or activity in the area that might have served as a lookout point or beacon site controlling access to the Nant Eglwyseg and the Vale of Llangollen from the north…