The ‘archaeology of Offa’s Dyke’ is not simply about the monument’s construction and use in the Early Middle Ages, it extends to consider the material culture of the monument to the present. Hence, I’ve been writing posts about its design and placement, landscape affordances and associations, but also about its life-history to the present, including recent and modern memorials and materials.
In previous posts I’ve explored contemporary waymarkers and signage for north from Knighton, Gloucestershire and Selattyn on the Offa’s Dyke Path and cognate long-distance walkways. I’ve also considered ‘memorial’ cairns and feathers, ash-scattering and votive offerings as a further dimensions of the Offa’s Dyke path: for Trevor Rocks (see also here) and the Clwydian Range. Together with the heritage boards, art installations and monuments, as discussed (for example) at Sedbury Cliffs, Tidenham, Knighton, Nant Mill and Craignant. Together these traces and materials constitute the recent and contemporary material culture of this (originally at least) early medieval monument.
Amidst this range of modern features that make and commemorate Offa’s Dyke and the national trail, I’ve encountered some explicit memorials to individuals, notably the cairn with plaque and memorial bench on Panpunton Hill above Knighton. This post reports on a further fascinating instance on Herrock Hill in Herefordshire.
Herrock Hill is a striking and prominent landmark that marks a point where Offa’s Dyke fundamentally shifts its behaviour from running north-south to east-west. It is situated on common land just off the Offa’s Dyke path which omits it and takes a more direct course from Burfa to Kington. Still, it is situated on the line of the linear earthwork which enwraps the prominent hill, affording views to the south, west and north.
Exploring the Hill recently for the first time, I encountered at its summit three memorial plaques distributed in two locations. First there is a sizable cairn: akin to a walkers’ cairn, but in this instance clearly constructed with a memorial function in mind. In two different places there are small memorial plaques, seemingly to different, unrelated people adopting the spot as a place for ash-scattering and/or remembrance.
Close by is a distinctive and separate second memorial. This is a concrete plaque set flush with the ground surface.
Therefore, this beautiful hilltop has been the focus of at least three recent moments of memorialisation, with untold other more ephemeral acts of remembrance taking place to honour these individuals and others.
While some archaeologists would claim recording such features is too recent and too intrusive to be considered appropriate archaeological research, I would disagree. These monuments are placed in public locations and constitute a fascinating aspect of our present-day environment. Furthermore, discussing such features affords us with greater awareness of the significances people today are giving to these open spaces, footpaths and trails. Furthermore, these features should not be ignored when considering the impact on the heritage management and conservation of the monument and its immediate environs, for while they are very small and modest in themselves, they constitute one dimension of modern use of the landscape. Furthermore, these memorials show starkly the contemporary connection between landscape and mortuary commemoration in which our entire landscape is a potential medium of mourning and remembrance.