Tag Archives: Offa’s Dyke Centre

Exploring Offa’s Dyke with Dr Natalie Fryde

Recently, it was my pleasure to meet for the first time, and introduce to Offa’s Dyke, medieval historian Dr Natalie Fryde.

Natalie now lives in Ireland following a long career as a University professor in Germany. She is best known as a researcher for her work on the 13th and 14th centuries, including a tome on Edward II. Yet, the particular circumstances of our recent communications via email has been to facilitate the reproduction of a revised version of a chapter Natalie had co-edited as one of the ‘classics revisited’ articles due to appear in the Offa’s Dyke Journal. This is because, in 2009, Natalie co-edited with Dirk Reitz a collection called Walls, Ramparts and Lines of Demarcation: Selected Studies from Antiquity to Modern Times which featured a chapter on Offa’s Dyke by eminent early medieval historian Ann Williams. Through dialogue with Natalie and Ann, we have now received a fresh version of Ann’s 2009 study for the ODJ.

By way of thanks I promised to show Natalie some sections of Offa’s Dyke and, together with University of Chester doctoral researchers Brian Costello (investigating early medieval grave-goods) and Liam Delaney (exploring Offa’s Dyke), we met at the Offa’s Dyke Centre before walking along two key sections of Offa’s Dyke south of Knighton: Hawthorn Hill and north of Yewtree Farm, Discoed.

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I’ll write about my impressions regarding these sections of the Dyke in a later post. Here, I would say that we discussed with Natalie the construction, design and landscape placement of the Dyke in some detail, as well as its broader historical context. Using the two stretches, we considered how the Dyke navigates hillsides, but also the approaches to river valleys. Furthermore, we also addressed its shifting preservation along these stretches. Furthermore, we talked about its heritage interpretation, its signposts and gates and stiles.

Here are some pics of us exploring with Natalie.

While the scale and character of the Dyke was impressive, so was this awesome oak tree we encountered.

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We also came across this wonderful old wooden gate post, preserved within a far newer fence, on Hawthorn Hill.

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Mention must also be made of some fabulous Offa’s Dyke ewes and lambs.

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Offa’s Dyke Centre

I’ve posted previously about why the Offa’s Dyke Centre is so awesome. 

We enjoyed the new Offa throne. Here’s Brian imagining himself a Mercian despot.

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We also got to meet Offa himself. Brian introduced him to mobile technology and he didn’t look at all impressed. He also didn’t really enjoy reading Wikipedia entries about the 9th century, narked off he most certainly was regarding the fate of Mercia. He also made clear he thought Brexit was the stuff of nightmares and created by weaklings and imbeciles.

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It was great to see the small part of ‘Welsh resistance’ to the dyke-focused narrative in the form of the Pillar of Eliseg.

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Finally, it was exciting to see the July weekend activities organised by Clwyd-Powys Archaeological Trust are being advertised!

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So here’s to meeting a super-bright and lovely lady and thanks to her for helping Liam and I with the first volume of the brand-new Offa’s Dyke Journal.

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The CBA Wales Conference: “New Perspectives on the Dyke”, 30th March 2019, Offa’s Dyke Centre, Knighton

Last weekend, I was pleased and proud to represent the Offa’s Dyke Collaboratory at the CBA Wales conference held at the Offa’s Dyke Centre, Knighton, Powys on the theme of ‘New Perspectives on the Dyke’.

The event served to celebrate three anniversaries, coinciding as it did with the 50th anniversary of the Offa’s Dyke Association, 75 years of the CBA and 45 years of the Welsh Archaeological Trusts. The range of fascinating talks revolved around the CBA Wales AGM and Business Meeting and showcased the flourishing interest in researching Offa’s Dyke, Wat’s Dyke and related monuments and landscapes. I would like to thank Dr Cy Griffiths and those involved at the Centre in organising a fabulous day. I regret not being able to join delegates for an expert-led guided walk on the Sunday. The programme can be viewed here.

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The day opened with a welcome from Mike Greene (CBA Wales chair) and Dr Mike Heyworth (CBA Director), followed by an expert and in-depth review of the history of the Offa’s Dyke Association’s 50 years from its inception driven by local schoolmaster Frank Noble. Ian brought the story up to the present, including a review of the ODA’s conservation work and long-term support for the only information centre attached to a national trail. Ian then evaluated the ODA’s vision for the next 50 years by Dr Ian Dormer. Among other points, Ian highlighted the ODA’s support and contribution to the Offa’s Dyke Conservation Management Plan which has reported on the state of the Dyke, including the widespread threat of ‘benign neglect’, Ian also highlighted the ODA’s ongoing support and engagement with the Offa’s Dyke Collaboratory which is fostering new research on the Dyke and its context.

digNext up, Ian Grant (CPAT) began by reviewing the C14 dates from the damaged section of Offa’s Dyke examined in 2014 at Plas Offa, Chirk, before reporting on the fabulous CPAT work in the summer of 2018, excavating Offa’s Dyke at Chirk and Wat’s Dyke at Erddig. Both these new interventions, each situated in places where the bank and ditch of the respective monuments were no longer visible, discovered not only the ditch but also slivers of the banks of each monument. The Offa’s Dyke Collaboratory visited the Chirk dig after the Oswestry conference in September ’18. Samples were taken for C14 and OSL dating at each location, offering a palpable opportunity, if funding can be secured, to enrich our knowledge of each monument’s dating and significance. Also notable is the fact that each dig uncovered earlier pits beneath the dykes, both containing cultural material.dig

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After lunch was a discussion led by former Denbighshire county archaeologist Fiona Gale and Dr Cy Griffiths, evaluating the relationships between the Dyke and the Path. Important issues were raised regarding how the Dyke is understood by walkers, and how the  Dyke is viewed from the Path. A host of further issues relating to heritage conservation, management and interpretation were explored.davdav

Next came a fascinating presentation by the Radnorshire Society’s Julian Ravest who has been producing high quality photographs and photogrammetric surveys using a drone, focusing on sections of Offa’s Dyke north and south of Knighton – Hawthorn Hill and Llanfair Hill.

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The day ended with a triple set of papers by myself and University of Chester doctoral researcher Liam Delaney (also the Herefordshire HER officer). Liam began by delivering a presentation outlining the rationale, methods and even some preliminary results from his doctoral research, including newly discovered, and further enhanced, understandings of Offa’s Dyke in Herefordshire, Radnorshire and Shropshire.

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I followed with a presentation of the comparative landscape dynamics of Offa’s Dyke and Wat’s Dyke in the northern section of the Anglo-Welsh borderlands. I reaffirmed and extended previous discussions of the dykes’ similarities and differences in terms of placement and landscape context, focusing on their cumulative viewsheds, riverine relationships, and reuses of ancient monuments.

Finally, Liam and I presented an update on the Offa’s Dyke Collaboratory’s academic publication that we are co-editing together: the Offa’s Dyke Journal. We were able to give the conference delegates a sneak-preview of the contents of the first volume: multiple ‘classics revisited’ papers, and also new original articles. More info on that one in future posts!sdr

Finally finally, I got to cheer up my old mate King Offa; he looked a bit down in the ditch.

Final finally finally, I got a new Offa’s Dyke t-shirt!

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CBA Wales conference in Knighton, 30th/31st March 2019: “New Perspectives on the Dyke”

The Offa’s Dyke Collaboratory are pleased to announce a weekend celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Offa’s Dyke Association at Knighton, 30th and 31st March 2019. Details are available via the CBA Wales website here.

The programme is here: https://councilforbritisharchaeologywales.files.wordpress.com/2019/03/programme-final-1.pdf

Offa’s Dyke: Conservation Conversations

Paul Belford writes on his blog:

The conservation of Offa’s Dyke has been the focus of two events in recent weeks. Both were hosted by the Offa’s Dyke Association (ODA) and took place at the delightful Offa’s Dyke Centre in Knighton. The first event, on 23 March, was the third meeting of the Offa’s Dyke Collaboratory; the second, on 12 April, was a formal consultation on a new Conservation Management Plan (CMP).

 

The Offa’s Dyke Centre in Knighton, home of the Offa’s Dyke Association.

Rather than providing a ‘blow-by-blow’ account of the events, this post summarises some of the main issues around the CMP which were articulated at both meetings.

First, some background. The Offa’s Dyke Collaboratory was established after discussions in 2015 and 2016 around Keith Ray’s monumental book on the Dyke. A number of us felt that some sort of loose collaboration was needed between people and organisations who had been most actively engaged in research, and were likely to be so in the future. The Collaboratory is a mechanism for engagement between academics, communities and professionals; so far three events have been held and fourth is being planned for later in 2018. The papers presented at the Collaboratory event in March can be found on the Offa’s Dyke Collaboratory website – along with more information about the Collaboratory, and its events and activities.

Meanwhile, in 2017 and 2018, Historic England and Cadw jointly funded the production of a Conservation Management Plan for the Dyke. This work – which was overseen by the ODA and undertaken by Andre Berry – was the first re-appraisal of the conservation issues surrounding the Dyke since the original Conservation Statement was produced in 2000. The new plan has not yet been published, but is in the final stages of production. From what we have seen so far it looks a very thorough piece of work providing a comprehensive and detailed survey of the condition of the Dyke, and an analysis of the key threats to it. The meeting in April was split into two parts – archaeology in the morning, and access (including the relationship between the Dyke and the Offa’s Dyke Path) in the afternoon.

 

Offa’s Dyke at Llanfair Hill, Shropshire.

Discussion topics ranged from the minutiae of data management to the possibility of Offa-branded food and tourism products. Three areas stood out for me.

What about the data? The CMP has produced an enormous quantity of data. Of course there is already a great deal of information on the Dyke already held by the Historic Environment Records (HERs) of the three English counties through which the Dyke passes (GloucestershireHerefordshire and Shropshire), and by the Clwyd-Powys Archaeological Trust (CPAT) in Wales. There was some discussion about how the data gathered by the CMP process is integrated into the HERs. The creation of a separate database would create all sorts of issues around adding new data to it, or accessing the data already in it. It is also not yet completely clear who owns the data and who may use it. It was agreed that more thought could perhaps have been given to this at the outset of the CMP project. Fortunately the four HER Officers are working closely to resolve some of the (minor) technical issues, and there was clear agreement that this will be a priority for the CMP. Indeed further cross-border co-operation in this area would be a positive outcome more generally for the longer term.

Informed conservation? The management of the trail needs careful co-ordination with historic environment needs: the CMP has clearly highlighted the need for better co-ordination between the creation of path infrastructure and monument conservation. However it was clear that resources to manage the National Trail were already stretched and likely to be more so in the future. The CMP has also prepared draft archaeological guidance. This is welcome in principle, but the emphasis of the draft proposals sat uncomfortably with many people. Some questioned whether the proposed priorities represented the best use of resources. Many of those present felt that potential opportunities to learn more about the Dyke were not being fully considered. In many places the monument is poorly understood, or even not known at all, and excavation would enable conservation to be fully informed by better understanding. A more ambitious, imaginative and creative approach would be welcome.

Whose Dyke is it anyway? The increasing divergence between England and Wales in historic environment legislation and resourcing (for which see my recent paper on politics and heritage in Wales), together with the different approaches in the various local authority areas, means that ‘ownership’ – of research and conservation, and the data that can be derived from projects – is potentially fragmented. Moreover, archaeologists and ‘heritage bureaucrats’ aren’t the only stakeholders. There is a long tradition of non-professional engagement with the Dyke. Sometimes this has been under the umbrella of community-focussed heritage projects by professional bodies such as CPAT and Herefordshire Archaeology. Elsewhere individual groups have developed more independent approaches, such as the recent development of the CoSSM project. The ODA itself has been instrumental in developing a much wider understanding of the Dyke’s historical role, and has also generated a great deal of enthusiasm for the landscape through which it passes. Much of this enthusiasm is driven by aspects that are not directly related to cultural heritage.

CPAT excavations of the Whitford Dyke (Flintshire) in 2012. Photo copyright CPAT (3551-0033). 

The CMP is an excellent piece of work, and a sound basis from which to start. Everyone agreed that there must be more archaeological research, better integration of data, improvements to access, and greater community and landowner awareness. However substantial funding for any large-scale project – whether for conservation, access or research – seems unlikely to materialise in the current climate. Replicating the CMP walkover survey at regular intervals would seem to be the most cost-effective way of monitoring the condition of the monument. Conservation needs to be informed by understanding, and – as many said at the meeting – our understanding is somewhat limited (I articulated three areas of particular concern in a previous post).

The best approach will be to embed the CMP findings into the HERs so that they can inform more localised research frameworks and investigation projects. These in turn can be delivered under the umbrella of the Offa’s Dyke Collaboratory, to ensure synergy between research, conservation and public benefit.

It will be interesting to see to what extent the discussions at both meetings – but particularly the formal consultation – will have on the final form of the CMP.

These are some initial thoughts, and they may cohere more gracefully in time for my presentation on the conservation of Offa’s Dyke at the forthcoming CIfA Conference in a couple of weeks.