Whilst recently walking the Offa’s Dyke path between Discoed, Powys and Rushock Hill, Herefordshire, I got to see some terrific birdlife, including a mistle thrush, linnet, multiple wren encounters, a reed warbler, a redstart, a wheatear, sparrows, great tits, blue tits and so on, as well as the usual pigeons and corvids.
In addition, I witnessed a phenomenon I’d been made aware of, but hadn’t experienced before even when walking other sections of Offa’s Dyke. Now, in the summer (as opposed to autumn, winter and spring when I have previously walked Offa’s Dyke), I became aware of the practice of long-distance walkers leaving bird feathers of posts linked to the Offa’s Dyke path. I’m not aware if this is a practice linked explicitly to the Offa’s Dyke national trail, or a broader phenomenon. Nor do I know why this happens.
I guess this practice isn’t a form of commemoration, but it does possess mnemonic qualities. Each feather says ‘I was here’ to celebrate the act of walking and to communicate a shared practice to fellow walkers who then encounter the feathers. The lack of identity of the person leaving the feather, and their lack of knowledge of who might see it, is key to the practice. anThe ephemeral nature of the gestures is also important: they can easily be blown away, knocked or plucked out of their position. This ephemerality and anonymity are part of their mnemonic power I would suggest. These feathers says ‘I’m part of the club’, and encourage others to do the same. Perhaps it is like lorry drivers flashing their lights at each other, maybe.
Then again, I was intrigued to see another feathered friend hanging from a tree in the saddle between Rushock and Herrock Hills on the Offa’s Dyke path: a yellow plastic chicken. Is this a personal joke? Or a parody of the feather-leaving practice?