While many spent the evening watching the Eurovision finals, I was presenting a public lecture at the Prestatyn Walking Festival, in the parish church hall in Prestatyn, close to the end-point of the Offa’s Dyke Path.
Coinciding with Wales’s Year of Discovery and at the 50th anniversary of the Offa’s Dyke Association, I presented a talk and content devised by Professor Keith Ray with the title Offa’s Dyke and the North-West Frontier of Mercia.
As Keith’s stand-in, I adapted his lecture slides in his absence, and outlined the history of research on Offa’s Dyke and Wat’s Dyke and their relative neglect by many researchers, before outlining the key arguments of Keith and Ian’s 2016 book: Offa’s Dyke: Hegemony and Landscape in Eighth-Century Britain.
By way of introduction, I discussed the varied survival of the monument, using an example of Discoed where, within a few metres of each other, the monument shifts in scale dramatically, perhaps relating to contrasting afterlives and different erosion patterns between where the dyke follows and crosses the contours.
I also explained the significant difference between the line of the Offa’s Dyke Path, especially in the north, and Offa’s Dyke. I noted that the farthest north one can see Offa’s Dyke from the Path is where the Llangollen Canal cuts it on the south-side of the Vale of Llangollen.
I identified some of Offa’s Dyke’s construction features, design and placement in the landscape, and its broader landscape context. Next, I presented to the audience the latest ideas and fresh questions regarding Offa’s Dyke in the north, before presenting a comparative review of the middle and northern stretches of Wat’s Dyke.
I concluded by discussing why the further archaeological and historical investigation of Britain’s first and third-longest ancient monuments deserve our attention, and why it matters to investigate, conserve, manage and interpret Wat’s Dyke and Offa’s Dyke in the early 21st century. For instance, I noted how the only place there is a sign about Wat’s Dyke in Wrexham is at the cemetery. Many people in NW England and NE Wales don’t know these massive ancient monuments are on their doorstep.
The link to Eurovision? Well, from the start of the talk, I emphasised the European context of these 8th-/9th-century linear earthworks.
In this context, I discussed how linear earthworks reveal the challenges of interpreting the early medieval past in the early 21st century, a time when many wish new borders and frontiers to emerge in Europe, as well as old ones to be reinvented across Europe and beyond. This set the stage for explaining, at the end of the talk, the importance of the Offa’s Dyke Collaboratory to foster new research and enhance greater public understanding of these monuments, to enrich appreciation of the historic environment – to celebrate ancient frontiers and their redundancy, and thus to help future-proof them against extremist appropriation.
Introduced by the Mayor of Prestatyn and Meliden, it was a privilege and pleasure to stand in for Keith and present his work and some of my ideas about the Mercian frontier works at the Prestatyn Walking Festival.
By my estimate, this was my 63rd public talk, and I was delighted to have a lively and large audience of c. 68 humans, plus one dog called Frankie. I received lots of challenging questions, and strong opinions about Offa’s Dyke, and much surprise about the significant of Wat’s Dyke. Furthermore, I amassed some really positive feedback from the audience, who seemed to consider the talk information-packed and excellent.
As a final point, I promoted the CPAT-led Living History weekend at the Offa’s Dyke Centre, Knighton.