En route to a meeting at CPAT headquarters in Welshpool on Monday of last week, I stopped off at Old Oswestry hillfort and walked north for 2km following the line of Wat’s Dyke. Here are some photographs and comments on the dyke’s survival and character along this stretch from Old Oswestry hillfort north to where it is blocked by a stream east of Yewtree Cottage and the Wat’s Dyke Way diverts east to the A483.
The alignment of Wat’s Dyke from Gobowen to Old Oswestry hillfort is near-straight, but there are subtle adaptations of its line in relation to the topography. In doing so, the monument is crossing country where it enjoys restricted views westward but aiming for the massive and strategic feature of the ruins of a multivallate prehistoric hillfort.
I’ll head from south to north in this discussion.
The section from Oswestry hillfort to Pentre-clawdd farm is described by Fox as ‘much reduced by agricultural operations’ and indeed, the ditch is nearly completely gone. The bank is a broad spread, concealed from the walker by the hedge running on its western side. The dyke heads out N from the hillfort’s northernmost edge, and kinks NNE after a short distance. Fox argued this can be explained by a surveying error from a viewer on the top of the hillfort. However, it is also possible that it aimed to provide a clear control of vistas and approaches to the Dyke from the prospect and vantage of the hillfort ramparts, refortified as part of the line of Wat’s Dyke.
Having shifted alignment, the Dyke then runs NNE up to, but just west of, a crest, in a similar fashion to the way it protects a hilltop at Pentre-clawdd Hill, NE of Ruabon. The ditch is a subtle presence as one nears the crest.
The knoll of the crest is demonstrably discrete from the line of the Dyke, making it a deliberate choice on the part of the Dyke to protect, rather than run across, the highest point of the hill. Maybe these were where watchtowers and beacons were situated, just behind the Dyke itself?
Heading N down from the crest towards Pentre-clawdd Farm, the ditch becomes more visible and adapted as a pond, whilst the bank is a very low but wide feature.
North of Pentre-clawdd Farm, the road follows the ditch for a way.
Then there are two more fields where the Dyke is embedded in the field boundary, running towards the stream east of Yewtree Cottage. At this point, one is only a few fields away from the site of the Hayes and Malim excavations that have produced the only dates for Wat’s Dyke, putting it in the early 9th century and contemporaneous with the Pillar of Eliseg.
Pertinent to my talk at the Offa’s Dyke Association today, this small stream is one of relatively few that crosses the path of Wat’s Dyke (relative to Offa’s Dyke which blocks many more in its more upland route). Would such a stream be traversed by the Dyke via a causeway or a bridge? Or would chains and stakes have blocked movement along the stream? Would there be a riparian gate here too?
While the Dyke itself doesn’t survive particularly well, its breadth as a monument can be appreciated along this stretch. One can also appreciate how the Dyke subtly navigates streams and hilltops, and the topographies in between. Most striking though are the views of Old Oswestry hillfort, giving a sense of how this monument was adopted into the line of the early 9th-century Mercian frontier work.