Exploring Offa’s Dyke at Craignant

Adapted from Howard’s Archaeodeath blog.

In October 2018, Dr Caroline Pudney and the final-year students explored sections of Offa’s Dyke. Having visited Montgomery Castle and then Dudston Fields, we headed north to explore a very different topographical situation for Offa’s Dyke.

The only similarity is that here, again, Offa’s Dyke follows the modern Anglo-Welsh border. As we headed north from Dudston Fields, we saw the dyke at key points including at Llanymynech where it heads for an Iron Age hillfort on a prominent hill having negotiated the Severn valley, and later on we saw it dramatically situated at Baker’s Hill and Carreg-y-big. We then walked a section of Offa’s Dyke from Craignant south up onto Selattyn Hill.

In contrast to the wide open vistas of the Vale of Montgomery, here Offa’s Dyke navigates steep topography as it jumps across and blocks tight valleys in the Welsh uplands.

IMG_2020
Offa’s Dyke looking S as it descends around the western edge of Selattyn Hill

The line of the dyke was clear here, we could see how it bends eastwards as it descends into valleys, so its concave line more effectively overlooks and impresses those approaching from the west. This is a feature Ray and Bapty (2016) identify.

We then followed it as it skirted the western edge, rather than attempted to reach the top, of Selattyn Hill.

IMG_2016
Looking south from Selattyn Hill over the Shropshire Plain, one can see the Wrekin and Long Mynd

We also discussed how you have fairly restricted views westwards from the dyke, contrasting with the situation at Dudston Fields. However, the significance of its line in navigating this more challenging terrain might have instead come from strategies of communication along the dyke’s line, rather than an ability to surveil extensive vistas west. Furthermore, as I’ve suggested before on Archaeodeath, the dyke in this area controls stupendous views eastwards, and the hills immediately behind it to the east might have served as beacons affording communication over 40 miles across the Cheshire and Shropshire plains.

The composition and design of the dyke differs here too. It is less monumental than at Dudston Fields. The dyke has to be dug into very different geology: here it is stone and must have been very difficult to excavate. The bank is smaller, and the ditch seems less broad, meaning it might have been deep but steep.

Another point of interest is that the rise up from Craignant reveals demonstrable scrapes that might be unrecorded primary quarries, used to excavate stone to face the dyke. It might have originally been dressed to appear like a drystone wall: a point suggested (again) by Ray and Bapty.

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Traces of scoops that might be primary quarries used to construct the bank of Offa’s Dyke, looking W

An additional point of interest is the proximity of the dyke to a seemingly prehistoric cairn, although I’m not suggesting any precise connection to the dyke.

IMG_2021
looking W over Offa’s Dyke, one can see a striking prehistoric cairn

The section at Craignant allowed us to identify the later commemoration of Offa’s Dyke: the notable Craignant tower. This is a 19th-century folly affording the dyke with a fortified Gothic appearance.

IMG_1992
The Craignant Tower from the east heading W into Wales
IMG_1994
Looking W from within Wales, the dyke rises steeply at an angle

 

Finally, we discussed the role of the Offa’s Dyke Path, and we met walkers enjoying it. The walk gave us a clear sense of the dyke as a long-distance footpath, and the signs revealed its intersection with the Shropshire Way.

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Signs navigating the path
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Offa’s Dyke path running along an old lane on Selattyn Hill

 

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