Posts Tagged ‘Wat’s Dyke’

Oswestry Heritage Comics II - week 48You don’t have to be an expert or a heritage professional to help take care of local heritage. Often it’s common-sense “do-s and don’t-s” that have the biggest impact. While everyone wants to be able to enjoy heritage places, it’s easy to forget that these sites and monuments can often be fragile, vulnerable environments – particularly if you consider the heritage to include not just the archaeology or the historical significance, but the wildlife and the setting as well.

This has been an issue up on Old Oswestry Hillfort, for example. While everyone is delighted that the hillfort features so prominently in many people’s daily routine – going for a walk, taking the dogs out, heading up there with friends and visitors – the impact of a few thoughtless people on such a place can be significant. Don’t Litter and Pick Up Your Dog Mess are common-sense courtesies everywhere – but it’s surprising how many people seem to think that somehow places that are green and open are exempt. They’re not. The dog waste on the hillfort stops kids from exploring and playing on the mound, leaches into the ponds and alters the soil chemistry, threatening the native plants and newts; litter makes the place look distinctly uninviting. Not so many years ago, when the hillfort was less-loved than it is now, I remember seeing bags of rubbish fly-tipped by the entrance.

Erosion is another issue. Walking, running, taking the dog out, playing on the ramparts – none of this does much damage to the ancient earthwork. But bike-riding in particular loosens the topsoil, kills off the plant-covering, and precipitates extremely damaging erosion to both the paths and the monument itself.

Oswestry and the Borderlands are lucky to have a number of really important earthwork monuments: Old Oswestry Hillfort, Offa’s Dyke and Wat’s Dyke. They are great places to enjoy – whether as a visitor or a local; a walker or a bird-spotter; a picnicker or an artist. The privilege to enjoy the natural and historic beauty of these sites comes with responsibilities: to be aware of ones impact on the site and mitigate it where possible. Clearing up dog mess, taking away litter and not using bikes on the mound are all common-sense courtesies that will help safeguard the monument for another thousand years.


Read Full Post »

Week Eight: Oswestry’s Other Border

Wat’s Dyke plays second fiddle to it’s better known cousin, Offa’s Dyke. But I think Wat’s Dyke may be more interesting. The Wansdyke Project produced a great deal of the most current research about Wat’s Dyke, examining in particular the assumptions made about what it was for, when it was made, and who – or what (pun intended?) – “Wat” was. Keith Matthews ably sums up the evidence in a paper on the Wansdyke Project site, and it’s this research that I’ve referenced in the comic.

Matthews’ suggestion that the Mercian King Coenwulf was responsible for the dyke is certainly open to challenge, depending on how one reads the evidence. But regardless, the interpretation of the dyke as being both a customs/trade border and a military one would certainly fit with the general relationship between Mercia and Powys through most of the Early Welsh/Anglo Saxon period. When people ask “What is Wat’s Dyke for?”, I have a feeling we should look at other borders that are both physical as well as symbolic for a clue as to how people in the past regarded it. The red line at Passport Control, behind which you have to stand before being called forward to the desk, for example. It’s not a defensive wall, but it is certainly a border in both legal and psychological terms. Step over that line, behave badly, run across it – and you may well be tackled to the ground, arrested, charged and even denied entry. Both Offa’s Dyke and Wat’s Dyke fall into this kind of category – borders that people respected because of the consequences: both in terms of trade and tax, and in terms of military retribution.

And what of “Wat”? Matthews’ suggestion that the name references the old English hero Wade (also written Wadda or Wat) is new to me. But it makes sense: Coenwulf was certainly not as well-known as Offa, so it’s possible that his legacy was a bit more transient. Myth, legend and folklore are often more solid and lasting that history! Wade was a hero connected with water, so perhaps the fact that Wat’s Dyke starts right at the water’s edge in Holywell has something to do with this identification. And Wade himself would make a great hero to identify with such a curious construction as the Dyke, snaking its way down the Welsh border. Who but a hero with his magic boat, descended from Wayland the Smith, would make such a thing? I think of Wade – with his semi-divine ancestry, his Germanic origins, and his magic travelling machine – as sort of halfway between Thor and Doctor Who. Now there’s a comic just waiting to be made!

The Oswestry Heritage Comics are a year-long series of weekly newspaper comic strips about the archaeology, history and heritage of area around Oswestry, Shropshire in the UK. The comics are published in the Oswestry and Border Counties Adverizer every Tuesday, and on Facebook. The project is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Read Full Post »

Art and Remembrance - John S. 2011

I’m putting together a new project for 2011-2012 through the Inside Out art group called “Art and Remembrance”.

The Shropshire borderlands area around Oswestry is rich in military sites, from Park Hall, Bank Top and Rednal Airfield back through Offa’s Dyke, Wat’s Dyke to Old Oswestry Hillfort. Often, however, our acts of military remembrance are centred on recent monuments and overlook the military landscape that combat, imprisonment, military training and military logistics have created. I’m interested in the idea of art as an act of remembrance in the landscape, and using it to link the memories of vanishing places and sites to contemporary observations of remembrance.

I’m looking to bring together artists who are interested in similar themes, and whose work can create links between outdoor practice such as land-art, installation or performance and gallery/studio-based practice such as painting, drawing or sculpture. The idea of the project would be to create a series of linked works – some outdoor, some studio-based – which explore themes of landscape and remembrance with a focus on places around the North Shropshire borderlands.

The project would culminate in a year’s time, with a series of exhibitions and/or events timed to coincide with the 11th of November, 2012. I’d be interested in hearing proposals from any local artists, not just those currently in the Inside Out group. I’d also be interested in hearing from any artists not from the Shropshire borderlands area who might like to ‘link in’ somehow with this project.

I’ll mention this project at our upcoming Inside Out “Notebook Meeting” on Dec. 7th in the Willow Gallery, Oswestry, and there will be more information about the project as it develops on the Inside Out art group blog.

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: