The recent final-year field trip to explore the history, archaeology and heritage of the Anglo-Welsh borderlands focused on Offa’s Dyke. One of the key things missing from the heritage interpretation of Montgomery Castle – our first site of visit – was any sense of its relationship to the longer-term frontier context of the pre-Norman and Anglo-Norman period, most significantly its association with the Mercian monument: Offa’s Dyke.
The striking thing about Montgomery Castle is that it was situated on one of a series of hills immediately west – i.e. on the Powysian side – of the eighth-century linear earthwork. Moreover, Keith Ray and Ian Bapty speculate that maybe this locale might have been a Powysian stronghold and the dyke was carefully situated to face and defend against this area.
On the field trip, we discussed the likelihood that a naturally well-defended hilltop such as that selected for Montgomery Castle in the 13th century, might well have seen earlier stages of fortification. Yet equally, given the large-scale landscaping of the site for the masonry castle, we discussed how unlikely it was that any discernible trace of any prehistoric or early historic settlement would be readily identified.
Regardless of the presence or absence of a 7th-/8th-century British fortress on the spot, what is evident for the students is the proximity of, and relationship to, the line of Offa’s Dyke. Best viewed from the bridge that spans the outer and middle wards, the line of Offa’s Dyke was readily discernible crossing the Vale of Montgomery from north to south. In particular, I was able to point out the position of our next destination: the well-preserved section of Offa’s Dyke running parallel to the modern Anglo-Welsh border, at Dudston Fields, south of the Montgomery-Chirbury road.