The recent final-year field trip to explore Offa’s Dyke and its landscape context was led by Dr Caroline Pudney and myself, and we were lucky to be joined by my new PhD student Liam Delaney who will be researching Offa’s Dyke’s landscape context. The students got a treat of multiple locations and a sense of the entire northern part of the Anglo-Welsh borderland: its prehistoric hillforts, Roman sites, early medieval monuments and some of its castles too.
Having driven down the A483 from Chester, I used the microphone on the coach to point out the topography along the way and, specifically, where Offa’s Dyke and Wat’s Dyke ran. Then, when at Montgomery Castle, we looked out and identified where Offa’s Dyke navigated the Vale of Montgomery.
The first site where we visited Offa’s Dyke up close was at Dudston Fields in Chirbury parish, just east of the modern Anglo-Welsh border and not far east of Montgomery. I had visited this with the EMWARG conference delegates in 2015 for the first time, when Dr Keith Ray had expounded his arguments, subsequently published in his 2016 book about its adjusted-segmented design. This time it was great to have Liam there – his first visit – as well as to bring Ray and Bapty in book form!
On this visit, I got to see it more, less restricted by the EMWARG delegates. The students, Caroline and Liam were excellent for bouncing ideas off and adding key points about the monument and its landscape setting.
We started off by identifying the striking fact that this is the only section of Offa’s Dyke to be surveyed to a modern technical standard by the former RCAHME (now Historic England). I then pointed out and discussed the interpretation of the medieval ridge-and-furrow agriculture in relation to the dyke.
Next we explored what we think we know, and what we don’t know, about the dyke’s form and appearance. We also discussed Ray and Bapty’s arguments regarding the dyke’s ‘adjusted-segmented’ design of 20m-80m segments, each section aligned at slightly different angles. Here and elsewhere, as discussed for Hawthorn Hill, the dyke is made of a series of straight lengths, rather than being curvilinear. One student suggested this might have been to optimise the challenge of those scaling the monument and minimising erosion gullies.
We also talked with the students about the dyke’s differential survival depending on post-medieval landscape utilisation, the bank’s height and ditch’s depth vary considerably over this short stretch alone. In the field to the south, the monument has all but disappeared. In the Dudston Fields section, there are varying survival qualities of the bank and ditch in evidence.
We discussed how the monument is an ongoing victim of casual neglect. Fresh sheep-scrapes were in evidence into the bank. We also noted positive management strategies by the farmer: old logs dumped in the ditch to put off animals using sections where erosion was in evidence.
Then we turned to the broader landscape dynamics of the monument: its management of movement through the landscape, and surveillance of the landscape. We considered this in terms of both it managing the west-east traversing of the Vale, and perhaps also creating a protected corridor for traffic N-S. The idea that the dyke overtly ‘faced’ Montgomery, as proposed by Rap and Bapty, was also discussed.
In photographic terms, both students and sheep were very useful: affording a valuable scale to show the monumental dimensions of the dyke at this point.