I’m persisting with my ongoing survey of how Britain’s third-longest linear monument – Wat’s Dyke – at c. 40 miles long it is slightly longer than the Antonine Frontier – has a presence in the landscapes of Flintshire, Wrexham and Shropshire. I’m currently writing up this for publication.
Who cares? Well, in doing so, I’m reflecting on the different ways its invisibility in the contemporary landscape diminishes public awareness of a monument key to understanding the 9th-11th-centuries in what was to become the Anglo-Welsh borderlands, and thus a key stage in the complex stories of the origins of both England and Wales, and the Welsh Marches in particular.
Where Wat’s Dyke does have a monumental presence, it often lacks signs or explanation. Further still, where it has signs, the monument is often greatly diminished or completely invisible to the inexperienced eye. The incongruous location of a hotel car park in New Brighton is perhaps the only place where the monument is truly clear and visible and there is a (now-outdated) signboard. To compound matters is a further point I wish to raise in this post, where it has roads named after it, Wat’s Dyke isn’t there!
First up, I’ve already addressed how Acton’s (Wrexham) ‘Wats Dyke Way’ runs from Wat’s Dyke primary school broadly parallel to the line of the monument as it navigates land between the Alyn and Gwenfro rivers, aligned N-S. However, the road is a full house-width east of monument. Hence, no one walking along this road will have a clue where Wat’s Dyke actually is.
Second, in Mynydd Isa (near Mold), ‘Wats Dyke Avenue‘ runs parallel with the monument following the contour NNW-SSE. Wat’s Dyke itself is visible close by in a stretch running between areas where it has been built over, through ‘Wat’s Dyke Park’. But how many residents know where Wat’s Dyke actually is in this built-up landscape, and where it runs from and to? Perversely, the longer road ‘Mercia Drive’ joins with Wat’s Dyke Avenue at its northern end, but runs NNW-SSE parallel but west of Wat’s Dyke, on the ‘Welsh’ side.
The third is in Sychdyn (NE of Mold): Wat’s Dyke Way. This is the only road that actually follows the crude line of the monument from NW-SE: the bank and ditch are however destroyed and in the gardens and beneath the houses on the NE side of the road. Note here the apostrophe is rightly included in the road name.
The fourth and final example (since I’m aware of 4 road-names only associated with Wat’s Dyke) is located on an estate in Holywell (Flintshire), this ‘Wat’s Dyke Avenue’ runs perpendicular to, Strand Walk, actually does follow the line of Wat’s Dyke. So it is going completely at odds to the line of the monument! One good thing about this road name is that it keeps its apostrophe: and therefore while heading in the wrong direction, Holywell has the most ‘authentic’ of the three road-names!
At one level, modern road-names presence Wat’s Dyke in areas where it has been destroyed. In another sense, they dislocate and deceive local people and visitors regarding the location and line of the monument. The challenge for the future is to positively utilise these road-names to gain local people’s interest in this monument and the broader stories of the Early Middle Ages it might serve to represent.
Note: is it notable that all four road names are in Wales, whereas the English (Shropshire) sections of Wat’s Dyke have attracted no road-names.
Also note: two have apostrophes, two don’t, so we have from north to south
Wat’s Dyke Avenue
Wat’s Dyke Way
Wats Dyke Avenue
Wats Dyke Way
What can this mean?!
Read all my posts about Wat’s Dyke here.
NOTE (17/04/20) – Since writingn this I realised I’ve missed quite a few more Wat’s Dyke names and Offa road-names on the line of Wat’s Dyke. These will be discussed in a forthcoming publication due to appear in the Offa’s Dyke Journal.