In 2017, I visited and reflected on the stretch of Offa’s Dyke at Tidenham, Gloucestershire, notably at the Devil’s Pulpit where the Dyke affords dramatic views to the ruins of Tintern Abbey as it negotiates the steep ridge-tops above the Wye Valley. I discussed not only the survival and behaviour of the late 8th-century linear earthwork, but also the challenge of appreciating it in dense woodland (even in winter), its heritage interpretation (about the folklore of the Devil’s pulpit and completely absent at Tintern Abbey) and genealogy of walking waymarkers. My long-distance walk on that occasion had taken me along the Offa’s Dyke Path and I hadn’t conducted the circular walk from the Tidenham Heath car park. Because of this, I missed out on photographing and discussing some aspects of the monument and its interpretation today. Likewise, I missed out on visiting Tintern Old Station with its Circle of Legends sculptures: the subject of another recent post.
First up, to complement my winter photographs, here are some more cheery late-summer photographs of Offa’s Dyke north of the Devil’s Pulpit where it descends through Lippets Grove.
Here are summer versions of the previous images of the Devil’s Pulpit itself and its environs. Here, the quarries for the Dyke leave a pillar of stone, now the base of a gnarly yew. The Pulpit itself is perhaps (as Keith Ray suggested to me) an outlier left from the cutting of the Dyke’s ditch. The Offa’s Dyke Path itself at this location is upon the Dyke’s bank, but I do wonder how many walkers realise this: there is no heritage interpretation for the monument at all, only about the folkore!
Next, I want to add to my photographs showing the genealogy of wooden and more recent metal waymarkers. One recent post looks like its been hit by a tractor or car! Meanwhile, one gate has received some serious damage!
But there are two striking features that this additional walk afforded me about Offa’s Dyke in the 8th century, and Offa’s Dyke today. First, regarding the 8th century, what I gained was a sense of how high up Offa’s Dyke is at Tidenham and how, just set back from the ridge-top line of the monument by a few fields, even in today’s heavily wooded landscape one can gain vistas across the Severn estuary to the borderlands between the rival Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of Mercia and Wessex. As with at Sedbury Cliffs, I’d argue that Offa’s Dyke is simultaneously facing south and east, as well as west, controlling the confluence of the Wye and Severn and those using these rivers. In the woods on the Dyke itself, one cannot appreciate this multi-directional interplay which may have been integral to the construction and use of the Dyke and its environs, supported by beacons and watch towers.
Second, about the heritage interpretation, I hadn’t realised how important the Tidenham car park is as a locus for interpreting the Dyke. This harbours one of only two modern interpretation panels about Offa’s Dyke south of Knighton, the other at Hawthorn Hill.
In addition to the largely up-to-date textual information, a striking aerial view from the south-west is opted to show the Dyke without trees, carving its way along the top of the ridges above the Wye and the ridge cleared of vegetationn. I doubt the detail of the heavily worked landscape of fields and enclosures represented both east and west of the monument. However, in general terms, this artwork does something I’ve not seen attempted elsewhere and deserves the highest commendations for attempting to articulate the scale of the Dyke and transformation of the landscape associated with the monument.
There were other features en route, including an OS triangulation station and an interpretation board explaining the heathland conservation. I also noted the wonderful adder gate opposite Tidenham car park.
And finally, how many brown signs point to Offa’s Dyke? Is this the only one?