Boots and Feathers on Offa’s Dyke!

Re-blogged and adapted from Howard’s Archaeodeath blog.

Interpreting traces of present-day activity along Offa’s Dyke isn’t always straightforward.

In previous posts, I’ve reflected on a range of practices by which walkers leave their mark on Offa’s Dyke: sticking erect bird feathers into cracks on stiles and posts along the National Trail.

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At Bronygarth in October, I noticed a further dimension that was new to me. In addition to a bird feather stuck into the top of a post beside a stile between a field and a lane on the National Trail, there was, suspended by a lace, a single well-worn walking boot (right foot I think).IMG_1773

Across the lane, in a nearby field, the second had been discarded.

What’s going on here?

Is the feather associated with the boot or are they unrelated?

IMG_1775Many questions remain unanswered…

Were the boots discarded as uncomfortable by a frustrated walker? If so, what did they use to walk onwards to the next Blacks or Millets?

Was one of them then tied to the post by the same person at the same time, or by different people at different times?

Could this be a memorial to a dead walker?

Does it celebrate walking?

Or else was this the makeshift use of an abandoned boot by the feather depositor?

Could the farmer be pointing out the refuse left by walkers by suspending one in a prominent position?

One commentator on my Archaeodeath blog posted an explanation:

Leaving worn-out boots behind as a sort of salute to the trail is common on other trails, so I suspect that’s what happened here. They would have been carried to the spot purposely, the walker already wearing their replacements. Usually both boots are tied to a post together, so my best guess is that they weren’t secured very well (especially since you imply the first one was hanging by a single lace), and the second one was stolen by a fox. I’ve heard several stories of foxes stealing footwear, playing with it and then discarding it in the middle of a field or garden when they get bored; possibly the smell of sweaty feet interests them!

If we follow this interpretation, what I witnessed was the result of multiple agents: human intentional and accident, and then fox….

Maybe we’ll never know the precise sequence that led to this eerie deposit. However, there are a range of other inscribing and depositing practices along Offa’s Dyke. Someone seems to have taken the trouble, for instance, to balance a mushroom on a fence-post beside the dyke.IMG_1804

Meanwhile, on beech trees along the dyke, there is the occasional graffito.

IMG_1799

Whether long-distance walkers or local people, walking footpaths along the dyke rarely yields litter, but occasionally one encounters more evidence than the trail and the stiles…

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