In a series of previous posts I’ve reflected on the ways by which Offa’s Dyke is materialised in the contemporary Anglo-Welsh borderland landscape through an range of waymarkers (including but not exclusive to those of the Offa’s Dyke Path National Trail), heritage interpretation and art, most recently on Llanfair Hill (Shropshire), Oswestry Old Racecourse (Shropshire), Tidenham (Gloucestershire), the Llangollen Canal (Wrexham) and Johnstown (Wrexham).
While in places these signs are deceptive and confusing to visitors by conflating the monument with a long-distance footpath that for long stretches departs from the known line of the early medieval linear monument (and also confusing it with the Welsh/English border which it only coincides with in select stretches), there are multiple benefits to these traces. Affording a sense of walked and traversed space, these can serve to punctuate the route of a monument that varies considerably in the character and context of its survival in the landscape, including stretches lost beneath roads and modern settlement, fields and woodlands. Meanwhile, other monuments and markers are coincidental contiguities and superimpositions. Yet together, they serve to tie Offa’s Dyke into a longer landscape story of benefit for heritage interpretation and education. The challenge is, however, that in doing so, they often detract from the physical monument itself, which is incidental at best, and often simply absent.
With this in mind, I want to review some further examples of the ways that, by design and by accident, contemporary marks materialise Offa’s Dyke, is the stretch of Offa’s Dyke from Llanymynech village north to Llynclys.
This is an important section of the monument between where it is lost due to centuries of flooding where it crosses the River Vyrnwy to the south and where it has been destroyed by building, agriculture and quarrying at Llanymynech Rocks north to Llynclys Common Nature Reserve. It is also important since this is one of only a few stretches – one of four in total – where Offa’s Dyke, the Offa’s Dyke Path, and the modern Anglo-Welsh border coincide closely.
Along this stretch, Offa’s Dyke rises to Llanymynech Rocks and runs along west-facing cliff faces reutilising the defences of the late prehistoric Llanymynech hillfort, and there is a fine surviving section of the monument in woodland upon Llynclys Common. Yet I suspect few visitors know where and what to see of the linear earthwork. Instead, they see the natural topography and a series of signs and waymarkers, industrial ruins and even a memorial bench. Heading from south to north, let’s chart these different material dimensions of Offa’s Dyke in the contemporary landscape.
First, the canal marks where both the Wat’s Dyke Way starts and ends, and where Offa’s Dyke departs from it.
Walking north-west, we have the A483 road itself, the line of which through the village of Llanymynech follows the estimated former line of Offa’s Dyke and the modern borderline.
At this point, Charles Darwin’s geological visit to Llanymynech’s stone quarry is appended to the Offa’s Dyke Path sign.
Walking north and uphill along Offa’s Dyke Path to Llanymynech Quarry, one only sees passing traces of the linear earthwork. Instead, there are repeated footpath signs to mark the route, while the ruins of the industrial past and the quarry itself provide a dramatic setting.
At the quarry, there is a piece of panorama art which features the Offa’s Dyke Association and Offa’s Dyke Path symbol of Offa’s silver penny amidst a landscape story looking out over the Welsh/English borderland, with the quarries and Offa’s Rock behind. As well as flora and fauna, the metal panel illustrates the canal, the railway, the Hoffman kiln, the village, the Severn floodplain, Richard Roberts and Charles Darwin. Sadly, nothing is visualised regarding the prehistoric landscape despite the presence of the vast late prehistoric hillfort on the hill behind!
The openwork metal frame of the panorama also evokes the past, and here it seems that the prehistoric origins of the area are evoked via a roundhouse and interlace pattern, plus a ?Roman coin and mosaic design, complementing the industrial heritage represented by the canal.
Moving along the Offa’s Dyke Path to Llynclys past the golf course and hillfort, further acorn incised waymarkers and signs greeting you. There is also a walker’s cairn below Llanymyneck Rocks. Meanwhile Offa’s Dyke appears on the heritage interpretation panel for Llynclys Common.
Departing from the Offa’s Dyke Path, ascending Llanymynech Rocks, one can follow Offa’s Dyke to a high point and the golf course. Here there are further material markers of note, including the golf course itself and a memorial close by, as well as a viewing point. Amazing views are available over Wales and England.
Finally we come to another memorial dimension, a memorial bench overlooking the landscape, commemorating a community council clerk for Carreghofa. This is therefore a landscape of walking and golf, but also death and memory.
So, in this stretch where Offa’s Dyke dramatically interacts with the topography, the monument itself is rather ignored in favour of the path and the industrial heritage, as well as the natural conservation of this landscape. Offa’s Dyke is thus submerged beneath the borderlands and on the Llynclys sign misrepresented as a border, even though there are monumental traces of it surviving along the path (see a future post). Indeed, this situation stands in contrast to the evocative ways in which art has been deployed to evoke industrial heritage. This is particularly odd given this is a point where, given the place need Carreghofa, the Llanymynech Rocks were likely once called ‘Offa’s Rock’ in local folklore. Still, Offa is suffused into this place through dyke and place-name, beneath the village, up through fields, over the rocks, through the hillfort and along the ridge to Llynclys. Moreover, these memorials and markers reveal a landscape weighted with meanings and memory, around which Offa’s Dyke interacts, and by which it can acquire new significances in the present and into the future for communities and visitors to the Welsh Marches.
The challenge remains regarding how we best interpret Offa’s Dyke in the landscape rather than simply mark it in relation to other things – be they modern borders and land uses, other myths, legends and histories.