Having recently walked long stretches of Offa’s Dyke, I’ve returned to thinking in perspecitve about my former visits to parts of Wat’s Dyke. I take my students each year to a stretch of Wat’s Dyke near Ruabon where the two dykes – Offa’s and Wat’s – run closest in parallel. I also recently visited a bit of the dyke at Pandy as part of a field trip to look at industrial and post-industrial landscapes for my The Contemporary Past students. Also, I’ve been back to look at parts of Wat’s Dyke again recently, to consider its form and landscape placement, as discussed here.
Most recently of all, I revisted a stretch of Wat’s Dyke near Ruabon with my Archaeology of Medieval Britain students. I was able to utilise the resident sheep and visiting students to afford the viewer a sense of the monument’s true scale. While seemingly modest in comparison with stretches of Offa’s Dyke, it is actually still a supremely monumental structure, even in its current denuded form. Its commanding views westwards and ability to communicate along and behind its route shouldn’t ‘be underestimated.
This monument is now generally considered to date to the early 9th century: perhaps anywhere up to half a century later than Offa’s Dyke is traditionally dated. It might be the work of the Mercian ruler Coenwulf.
Taking my students out into the landscape made me think about one further issue: how many people do actually walk Wat’s Dyke?
This raises further questions: how much do people know about this monument? Where do they find out? Do they appreciate its scale and character, function and symbolism? What do they think about its potential relationship with a pre-existing Offa’s Dyke? I wonder whether there is a coherent heritage interpretation of the monument along its length? Elsewhere, I’ve found a memorial stone marking its line, near Hope, where there is a fine stretch of the monument to be seen at the entrance to a housing estate. Yet the heritage sign at Ruabon is now swamped by gorse and invisible. Will Wat’s Dyke’s history, archaeology and heritage remain so subdued into the future?