This is the latest of a series of posts exploring Wat’s Dyke and its heritage interpretation, because I’ve just ‘discovered’ a fresh heritage board I wasn’t aware of!
Who cares? This matters because Wat’s Dyke is Britain’s third-longest ancient monument and the second-longest of early medieval (Anglo-Saxon) date (after its longer neighbour: Offa’s Dyke). I’ve previously claimed that there is only one up-to-date and accurate heritage board along the entire c 62-65km-length of Wat’s Dyke. Even this one embodies an incongruity, since it is situated at a location where Wat’s Dyke was excavated over a decade ago, but there are only slight surface traces of the monument itself for people to see. For many, it will appear only as a sign board without a monument to go with it, even for those willing and able to ‘read’ earthworks!
Elsewhere, Wat’s Dyke is mentioned but these displays are (i) broken/obscured, (ii) too brief as part of a discussion of other monuments, (iii) inaccurate about the date and significance of the monument and/or (iv) wholly or partly incomprehensible. We’re constantly told how much we care for our historic environment in the UK, but the dire situation of Wat’s Dyke reveals this really is rhetoric. Most recently I’ve discussed the now-invisible heritage board at Ruabon here.
However, multiple members of the public have kindly been in touch to point out that I’ve missed one! This is a heritage board located beside a surviving stretch of Wat’s Dyke at New Brighton, north-east of Mold, where Wat’s Dyke is heading straight across higher ground between the Alyn Valley to its south-east and the Afon Conwy to the north-west. I’ve previously discussed another well-preserved stretch nearby at Soughton.
So this is an important addition to my thinking about Wat’s Dyke’s heritage interpretation. I’m unsure of its date, but I suspect it is c. 15-20 years old, but well maintained because of its protected location on private property beside a hotel, rather than on a street or in a park where vandals might more readily operate.
The stretch of Wat’s Dyke is worth visiting, it sits next to the Beaufort Park Hotel just off the A5119 north-east of Mold. This well-mown and protected stretch adjacent to the hotel. Despite being dislocated and damaged by the building of the hotel over former farm buildings, is a rare survival of an accessible stretch in this region. A less readily discernible and separated from the aforementioned section by an access road, there i a further monumental section to the south-east away from the Hotel, enshrined in a field boundary and leading as far as the A5119.
Wat’s Dyke is swamped within a field boundaries in agricultural land that is completely inaccessible to the north-west of the Hotel, and to the south-east it is covered over by modern housing developments where the linear monument is concealed within the property boundaries of back gardens.
Consequently, this is a very isolated and well-preserved stretch, and the only section for a long way where one can visit Wat’s Dyke. Moreover, the heritage board and monument are oddly and incongruously between the car park and buildings of a hotel and the sign board is orientated to look from, and is proximal to, the hotel’s entrance. The result is that I didn’t know it was there, and it isn’t readily visible from the road. While this means the heritage board is well-protected against casual vandalism, it also means that many locals won’t see it: only guests to the hotel. So in one regard, it is a great heritage board in a prominent situation, but in another sense it fails to be publicly accessible to those who are not visiting the hotel itself.
It’s also the first Christmas tree I’ve seen positioned on Wat’s Dyke.
What of the content of the board? The board is bilingual and is clearly written, but the content is now out-dated. It claims Wat’s Dyke is an early 8th-century predecessor to Offa’s Dyke, when now it is suspected based on C14 and OSL dating of the Gobowen section that it is likely to be later than Offa’s Dyke (early 9th century). The design of the sign board is another issue. The border draws upon Style II animal art from Sutton Hoo’s Mound 1 (early 7th century): it’s Anglo-Saxon but that’s as much as we can say. I find it particularly disturbing that the stylised and bizarre portrayals of ‘Welsh’ and ‘Mercian’ warriors confronting each other across the map of the Dyke remind me of an Anglo-Saxon Flash Gordon fighting a Powysian Prince Barren: swords instead of whips!
These limitations to location and content aside, this is a further and (for me) previously unrecognised heritage board promoting the existence of a monument that deserves better heritage interpretation in the future.