I’ve just finished reading Keith Ray and Ian Bapty’s fascinating new book: Offa’s Dyke: Landscape and Hegemony in Eighth-Century Britain, published by Oxbow. Hence, Offa’s Dyke is foremost in my mind. The monument is under threat of destruction along its line – from ignorance, neglect and irresponsible (sometimes criminal) behaviour. It is still misunderstood by many early medieval archaeologists, let alone the general public, and Offa’s Dyke is poorly served by heritage professionals and organisations. In many parts of its length, there is no, or very little, or very poor, heritage interpretation and on each side of the modern border, archaeologists have fought a long rear-guard action to conserve the monument. Offa’s Dyke is hindered, not helped, by its historical interweaving with the Welsh-English border. This is of course, a perverse state of affairs and underscores the importance of ongoing efforts to research and engage communities with this important monument.
I’ve previously blogged about how the monument runs through a range of different landscapes, often without any clear heritage interpretation, and sometimes with woeful out-of-date or damaged heritage boards. See my previous posts:
- Clywedog below Nant Mill and Sculpture Commemorating the Dyke
- Y Gardden
- Damage to the Dyke at Plas Offa, north of Chirk
- Crogen below Chirk
- Craignant to Chirk
- Vale of Montgomery
I’m a regular visit to Chirk Castle and its gardens and previously I’ve posted about its canine commemoration. The site is great, the staff are great. Because I’m such a fan I’ve tried to hold back on this rant, until now. However, Chirk Castle woefully present their oldest and greatest feature: Offa’s Dyke. While heavily denuded near the car park and Home Farm, it is a key component of this landscape as it faces higher ground and then the steep northern slope of the Ceiriog.
Almost every one of the thousands upon thousands of visitors Chirk Castle must receive each year drive over Offa’s Dyke to get to the main National Trust car park. They then cross its line again on the walk up to the castle. They might stop and let their kids play upon it in an adventure play area beside the small cafe at home farm. They might encounter its earth and bank and cross its line if they detour to visit the dovecote and kitchen gardens. There are two longer walks within the grounds that allow visitors to see better-preserved sections of the Dyke, including the walk down to the Ceiriog. Then, on their way out, they have to cross it walking back to the car and driving off.
Now I accept that the website for Chirk Castle does give a brief mention to the fact that Offa’s Dyke runs through the NT site as follows:
Bisecting the estate is a section of the remarkable 8th century defensive earthwork Offa’s Dyke, built by King Offa of Mercia to mark the ancient border with the kingdom of Powys. When you drive into the car park at Chirk you will cross Offa’s Dyke, although you may not notice – William Emes levelled vast sections of it as part of his uncompromising work on the parkland. A fantastic section of the dyke still exists in the medieval deer park, which is accessible from March to September along a permissive path.,and that visitors will cross it. Also, the map vaguely shows the dyke with a near-illegible drawing of a ditch and bank, situated.
I also accept that there is brief mention and visualisation of the dyke on one sign board. Still, upon the map given out to visitors, and on key information, the dyke is ignored. There are no signs identifying it. Hence, I suspect most visitors don’t know it is there. Indeed, while I recognised, as an early medieval archaeologist, the line of the dyke in the field next to the car park, I visited many times before I fully realised its course continued down to the Ceiriog through Home Farm!
I cannot accept this is a sufficient state of affairs for a modern visitor site. I wonder whether I’ve missed places and dimensions to how Chirk Castle promotes the presence and significance of this monument for understanding the early history of the Welsh border and the specific history of Chirk and its environs.
Note – 24th October 2016
Chirk NT have been in touch with me, having read the above blog entry. I’m pleased to learn that they are already fully aware of the challenges I raise regarding the presentation of Offa’s Dyke. They have plans in place to enhance the maps and signs in response to how visitors are using the Chirk estate. In particular, they have a clear and positive vision of enhancing how visitors experience Offa’s Dyke.