At the very start of this year, I published a post called ‘Where can you visit Wat’s Dyke in Wrexham?’
My aim was to offer a ‘field guide’ to Wat’s Dyke in the vicinity of Wrexham – as it runs through the west of the town, its suburbs, and the fields at Pandy (to the north) and through Erddig Park (to the south). I picked out 8 locations where one can see the Dyke in different modern environments from fields and woods to waste ground and property boundaries, and one place where it has been reconstructed but is inaccessible.
This time was different, however, since I was visiting with experienced world-renowned archaeologist, heritage interpreter and artist John G. Swogger. I had the opportunity to show him Wat’s Dyke in this landscape to, firstly, offer perspective for him regarding his work on and around the town of Oswestry and Old Oswestry hillfort where Wat’s Dyke also runs. Yet secondly, the hope was that discussing Wat’s Dyke at Wrexham might provide the inspiration for a collaboration between us, using my blog-post as the basis of some form of heritage trail in comic and map form, akin to his fabulous Oswestry Heritage Comics. The aspiration is to not only engage and educate local people and visitors alike in Wat’s Dyke, but to use the Dyke as the string upon which other, otherwise disparate, aspects of local heritage (from prehistory to the present) might be threaded. To do this, I needed to discuss with John issues regarding the scale, form, placement and landscape context of the Dyke, issues affecting its survival, as well as critiquing the near-absence of heritage interpretation of it in a landscape of agriculture, former and current industry, shops, hotels, football grounds, a National Trust property and private housing.
1. The Pandy Dyke
Pandy – Wat’s Dyke – Gwersyllt De151 – Primary Reference Number (PRN) : 106671
We started in the north and headed south. Visiting the ‘Pandy Dyke’ first, we discussed its scale but also its intermittent survival as both ditch and bank, and how erosion, but also the hedge line, obscure the full extent and character regarding its survival. We explored the amazing still-extant and boggy ditch where the A483 road embankment has blocked the drainage. We also discussed how this section of the Dyke is a walking ‘cul-de-sac’, given the A483 has buried the Dyke and blocked walkers from following it south into Acton. Ponies also lined up to be on the Dyke here for us.
2. The School Dyke
Ty Gwyn Lane and Wat’s Dyke Primary School – Wat’s Dyke – Wrexham De221 – Primary Reference Number (PRN) : 106673
We then drove to the south side of the A483 and walked uphill towards Wat’s Dyke Primary School and onwards to see how the Dyke integrates into suburban landscapes descending towards the Gwenfro river in Wrexham. Here it forms the back line of gardens and with a cleared unbuilt-over stretch of green space retained in front of the bank where the ditch is now still subtly visible in places.
The Dyke here is marked in a road name, running parallel with, but not crossing, Wat’s Dyke: ‘Wat’s Dyke Way’. The aforementioned primary school which adjoins the Dyke on a prominent hilltop location with views westwards towards Ruabon Mountain also commemorates the monument.
We went to see where a path rises up over the Dyke at Wat’s Dyke Primary School, which actually simultaneously reveals the denuded character of the monument and the many modern features obscuring it. If you are aware of its presence, one’s eye is dawn up it from a very shallow surviving depression over where the former ditch was, and up and over a low but distinctive bank.
Further south, a snicket crosses the Dyke and through the property boundaries that run along and obscure it. At this point the tarmac does actually serve to pick out its line again, looking east up and over the bank in this first photograph…
… and west down into where the ditch once was. The striking views of Ruabon Mountain can be discerned despite the modern housing, and the green strip of common land between properties does mark the monument too.
This is a landscape of public suburban space for dog-walking just as the fields at Pandy are, but sadly no horses! Here we are looking along the line of Wat’s Dyke marked by another snicket, the Dyke is here within the boundaries on the left and is no longer a discernible feature beyond peaking through gaps of fences into the backs of gardens.
Walking back northwards, we mused regarding how many, if any, local walkers and dog walkers knew that Wat’s Dyke was a feature of their quotidian landscape.
3. The Railway Dyke
Crispin Lane – Wat’s Dyke – Wrexham De191 – Primary Reference Number (PRN) : 106675
We had a quick look at the Dyke along Crispin Lane, where the bank on the east side of the road on the edge of the railway line and opposite Victorian-period housing and Glwyndwr University’s campus is a further challenge, and opportunity, for public engagement.
4. The Premier Dyke
Premier Inn, south of Wrexham Railway Station – Wat’s Dyke – Wrexham De191 – Primary Reference Number (PRN) : 106675
John and I agreed that this is indeed a fascinating and odd stage on Wrexham’s Wat’s Dyke story. We observed the reconstructed section of Wat’s Dyke near the Premier Inn. This is interesting and odd, especially given the way it seems forgotten and curtailed within the development and might itself become regarded as original in decades to come.
5. The Cambria Dyke – Wat’s Dyke – Wrexham De165n – Primary Reference Number (PRN) : 106678
Our next port of call was Morrisons supermarket for a sandwich and to observe the Dyke as it runs along the back of allotments and properties by Coleg Cambria towards Wrexham Cemetery. From the bridge over the railway line, one is in a rare situation where one can look along the Dyke’s line over relatively flat country between river valleys of the Gwenfro and Clywedog, heavily obscured by the railway and modern development. We assured a local resident we weren’t gawping at his house but at the 1,000-year-old linear earthwork. ‘That? Offa’s Dyke!’, he asserted. I didn’t feel like agreeing or disagreeing: I smiled.
6. The Cemetery Dyke
Wrexham Cemetery – Wrexham Cemetery, garden – Primary Reference Number (PRN) : 22995
As previously discussed, the cemetery offers a striking, and different again, situation in which the Dyke occurs. It is readily visible as an earthwork that was enwrapped within the story and topography of the Victorian and modern cemetery. This is the only place where there are markers on the cemetery paths noting the presence of Wat’s Dyke, but no explanation is given as to what it was and is. John and I discussed how the cemetery’s heritage website says nothing about the monument: a missed opportunity perhaps?
7. The Court Wood Dyke
Wat’s Dyke – Wrexham – Primary Reference Number (PRN) : 106679; Wat’s Dyke – Wrexham De173 – Primary Reference Number (PRN) : 106680; Wat’s Dyke – Wrexham – Primary Reference Number (PRN) : 106681; Wrexham De152 Primary Reference Number (PRN) : 106682
With sections cleared by National Trust volunteers, we finally enter a ‘heritage’ landscape with Erddig Park, and here the Dyke survives in stretches to a monumental scale, following the SW-facing eastern scarp of the Clwywedog for a way before crossing the valley and rising up the eastern scarp of the Black Brook at its confluence with the Clwywedog. Again though, there is no heritage interpretation and the park map notes this is the long-distance footpath the Wat’s Dyke Way, but not where Wat’s Dyke runs.
8. The Big Wood Dyke
Wat’s Dyke – Erddig Big Wood, excavation 1985 – Primary Reference Number (PRN) : 17766
Finally, John and I walked up and into Big Wood, and here we walked right along the woodland stretch of Wat’s Dyke north of Erddig House. Here in woodland and with protection measures of fences installed, the Dyke is striking but again has no heritage interpretation along its length. Meanwhile the interpretation board at Erddig Castle mentions it, but doesn’t point out its line. I did, however, point out that here the late 11th/early 12th-century ditch of the castle bailey cuts through the Dyke and thus creates a section of it for visitors to appreciate, if they are guided as to where and how to look.
Extra – the Rookery
We then walked along the line of Wat’s Dyke north of Erddig Park to the Rookery.
It was a great day out with c. 8 miles of walking done up and down Britain’s third-longest monument, and one that remains poorly understood by locals and visitors alike. John and I are planning to discuss further how we might take forward our ideas regarding how the monument might be interpreted and connected to its variegated local landscapes in Wrexham borough. We’ll keep you posted!