Sir Cyril Fox surveyed Offa’s Dyke in North Shropshire in 1928, publishing is full findings in 1955 (Fox 1955: 65-67). This is a striking section of Offa’s Dyke worthy of discussion, so let’s explore here further.
I’ve visited Llanymynech Hill on three occasions in recent years and in a previous post I addressed the heritage interpretation of the landscape and dyke.
It is certainly a fascinating, but also frustrating, stretch of the monument. Here, the monument is heavily damaged by quarrying. Its line is also ambiguous given its construction interacted with the remains of a vast Iron Age hillfort that had encircled the hilltop.
While its form is poorly preserved, the stretch embodies aspects of the modern-day ‘ideal’ of Offa’s Dyke as popularly perceived as an ancient borderline and military work. At Llanymynech Hill, Offa’s Dyke’s position is domineering and represents topographically savvy engineering work as it stretches along the break of slope above-facing cliffs before reaching Asterley Rocks. It then descends and strikes out for the Severn and the Breidden Hills to the south-east. From hitting the Severn, the river itself seems to have constituted the frontier monument southwards to Buttington where the dyke was once more cut rising gradually up the eastern slopes of the valley towards Hem near Forden before descending towards the Camlad (Ray and Bapty 2016: 32-33, 131-132). Llanymynech Hill is the point of a significant alignment shift from following the tops of west-facing slopes to a complex multi-stage cross-valley orientation.
To the north are the best-preserved sections on Llynclys Hill and it continues southwards to Llanymynech Hill as it: ‘… accommodates itself to the contours of the hill, rising gradually to the 600-ft. level and making for a point where the steep western slope becomes precipitous (Fox 1955: 66). Fox described it here as quarried out of the limestone, the western ditch or berm in evidence but the material taken from the upper (east) side: a ‘quarry not a true ditch’. The ‘moderate’ size of the earthwork is explained by Fox as due to the fact the cliffs are ‘practically unscalable’. Ray and Bapty (2016: 169) regard the dyke here as following the ‘slighter construction mode’.
Fox doesn’t describe, but does draw on his OS map, how the dyke behaves on Llanymynech Hill: running to a lower spur before taking a dramatic angle-turned dog-leg to rise up to the highest point of the cliffs with dramatic views west, south and east from Asterley Rocks (Ray and Bapty 2016: 237). Akin to Cwmsanaham Hill (Shropshire) and other locations (Fox 1955: 138), this is a critical vantage point and shift in long-distance alignments for stretches of the monument.
The place-name is intriguing because this section might well have once held the name ‘Offa’s Rock’ preserved in the parish and place-name ‘Carreghofa’ (Ray and Bapty 2016: 132, 277, 400, n. 22). As such, this could have been not only a prominent place but maybe it was even recognised by the Mercian builders of the monument to have had sacred and cultural significance as a place of ancient habitation and fortification. Such associations may have inspired its reattribution to Offa himself at some point during or after its construction.
Upon my visits, it was possible to appreciate the scale of the monument, as well as to identify, partly preserved in the golf course, the scoops of quarries used in its construction (as identified elsewhere along the line of Offa’s Dyke). More than this, despite the tree cover, I got to feel a true sense of the enormity of the landscape and the task, as well as the scale of the monument itself.
And here is where I turn to the recent heritage re-mythologising of this place in association with Cwynddylan.
Fox, C. 1955. Offa’s Dyke. A Field Survey of the Western Frontier-Works of Mercia in the Seventh and Eighth Centuries A.D. London: The British Academy/Oxford University Press.
Ray, K. and Bapty, I. 2016. Offa’s Dyke: Landscape and Hegemony in Eighth-Century Britain. Oxford: Windgather Press.