Offa’s Dyke walk to celebrate 50 Years of the ODA (Offa’s Dyke Association)

On Spring Bank Holiday, to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Offa’s Dyke National Trail and of the Offa’s Dyke Association, our Group invited the public to join us on a walk along the Dyke from the Devil’s Pulpit to Madgett’s Hill where the Dyke turns to run downhill towards the brook below Mackenzie Hall.

A party of 13 humans and three well-behaved dogs enjoyed the guided walk in cool but dry weather. We stopped at points of interest to discuss and speculate on such mysteries as why was the Dyke built, why it was placed where it is, how it was built, what are the threats to its current and future existence, and how can interested people like us contribute to protecting it while bringing it to the attention of local people and tourists.

One of our group, Jan Rymer, took these photos of yew trees on the west side of the bank just north of the Pulpit.

While such trees can help stabilise the bank, the dead one shown here will probably eventually be blown over as it decays and quite likely cause damage. It’s thought that removing its top would lessen the risk.

Celebrate 50 Years of The Offa’s Dyke Association and walk our local section of The Dyke

Interested in Offa’s Dyke and how/why it was formed? You might enjoy this….

©Mark Taylor. WYRDART

WHAT?

Come and join the newly-formed Offa’s Dyke South Group for a 4 mile walk along Offa’s Dyke path from Devil’s Pulpit to Madgetts Hill (above Brockweir/Hewelsfield) and back.

HOW?

We’ll be pausing to look at and discuss interesting features on the way and stopping for packed lunch so please bring your own snacks, lunch and drinks.

The walk is moderate plus (in ramblers terms), with one climb and some tricky bits underfoot. The ground may be soft or muddy depending on the weather.

WHEN and WHERE?

Bank Holiday Monday 6th May. We will meet at 9.45am at the Offa’s Dyke car park on the B4228 Chepstow/St Briavels road opposite Poor’s Allotment (Grid Ref: ST558992) to start promptly at 10am.  We expect to walk at least four miles and take up to 4 hours.

WHO?

All welcome. Well behaved dogs only on leads please. Sorry but not suitable for wheelchair users. There is no charge, just an opportunity for interested folk to share a pleasant walk and maybe learn a little history.

It would be helpful if those intending to come along could email dickfinch@talktalk.net, who will be pleased to answer any queries.

An exploration to try and view remains of the old Roman Bridge at Castleford

Extreme tidal conditions were predicted for the 21st and 22nd March, so Dick, Gill, Simon and Barbara waited patiently at Castleford looking for any indications of the foundations of the Roman Bridge that is widely accepted to have crossed at this point. Back in 2004 there was an ‘Extreme Archaeology’ investigation recorded at this location when some trenches were opened to expose the foundations (agger) of the Roman Road, and samples were taken from some wooden stakes visible on the Gloucestershire side for Dendro analysis. Apart from recollections of this programme only a few photographs taken by Keith Underwood have been traced, and a verbal report on the dendro analysis disappointingly came back as inconclusive.

We are particularly interested in this location as the clearly visible line of the Roman Road (a linear feature visible running down the field) crosses what Keith Ray believes to be the Dyke at the bottom of the field along the line of the modern hedge. The relative relationship of the Dyke and Roman Road would be most informative in terms of the possible continued use of the crossing at the time of Offa, as well as having the potential of yielding some dating information for both.

View westwards – the ridge of the old Roman road is shown

There were no indications of where the trenches were put in, nor unfortunately any sign of the wooden stakes. However on the Monmouthshire side of the river there were some clear indications of a possible bridge pier foundation. Shortly downstream there were also the remains of a wooden structure. This was probably a coffer dam to do with the excavations conducted by Dr Orville Owen in 1910, who was searching for the original manuscripts of Shakespeare’s plays, which he believed had been written by Francis Bacon. Yes. During these excavations he uncovered what appeared to be the foundations of a bridge pier, and this is what we thought we saw on that afternoon. There are drawings/ plans from these excavations in Chepstow Museum, and although quite detailed do not clearly indicate the geographical location. Dick has explored the Monmouthshire bank at this point, and it seems highly possible that there was a road above this.

Perhaps in 2004 the timbers had been exposed by then current conditions in the river, but have subsequently been covered again. What we saw on the other bank was a lot of stone, and a pool on the river in an elongated oval form. The currents suggested obstructions beneath the surface and at least one possible timber post was just visible. There was also a smaller wooden stake visible in the mud further up the bank.

Perhaps a more extreme tide in dryer conditions might reveal more.”

Research Study group walk

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of The Offa’s Dyke Association our group are planning a walk along a local section of Offa’s Dyke on Monday May 6th.

Meeting at Tidenham Chase Car Park at 10:00, we will walk over to Devil’s Pulpit then north towards Madgett Hill, visiting sections of The Dyke as we go. Time permitting we may venture further south towards Shorn Cliff. Along the way we will investigate gateways through the Dyke and its siting/placement.

Roman Road crossing point with Offa’s Dyke

On 22nd February a small group of us accessed the dyke in the woods on the edge of the Wye Valley in Tutshill

Tutshill Offa’s Dyke probable line

Through the woods the form of Offa’s Dyke was clear to see, well worked by an army of badgers.

The Dyke Form in Chapel House Wood being worked by badgers

We followed the earthwork along through the mixed woodland as it followed the scarp edge of the gorge. In winter the view to the western side of the Wye was quite clear. How much woodland might have existed then? Were many trees cleared in the building of the Dyke?

View of the line of the Dyke showing the western scarp edge falling steeply down to The Wye

Eventually, after passing by what looked like the ruin of an old farmstead, Castleford Farm? We can find no reference to it, just the building marked on a Victorian map

Comparison maps showing The Roman Road line and the buildings of the farmstead.

100m south west of the ruin there was evidence to show that the Dyke changed direction here, turning south south east to follow the field boundary towards the road. As the field had been farmed for centuries since the days of King Offa, all that remains is a vague broad bank of less than 1 meter high.

Showing the probable corner of the Dyke, reinforced with a higher rock content


Further reading

Offa’s Dyke: Landscape & Hegemony in Eighth-Century Britain  :by Ian Bapty, Keith Ray

Keith Ray visits the southern section of the dyke. January 2019

A rewarding if exhausting day on Thursday.

Keith revealed on the walk that there is speculation that King Offa’s grave is the ‘boat-shaped’ barrow on the the plateau below the sharp turn at Passage Grove/Lippetts Grove. Keith told us that it had been recorded erroneously as a round barrow. Anyway, worth a look next time you’re up that way.

Had you heard mention of ‘Offa’s Chair’? I’m pretty sure I haven’t. I’ll see what else appears in the book mentioned.

I made a remarkable discovery yesterday, when consulting the book concerned for entirely other purposes. The book is called The Celtic Borderland: A Rediscovery of the Marches from Wye to Dee (F. J. Snell, 1928), and on pages 90-1  it states ‘South of Brockweir, which village is in Gloucestershire and takes its name, or part of it, from the weir attached to it (‘brock’, we imagine, being equivalent to ‘badger’), is “Offa’s Chair”, the highest point in Offa’s Dyke…’

My question to you is, does this refer to the Pulpit Rock, or to the eminence we visited at Passage Grove with the boat-shaped stone-covered mound? Is there any documented reference to a ‘Cadair Offa’ locally?

How the study group was formed

The Offa’s Dyke South Study Group started with a public meeting in Chepstow Drill Hall on 25 September 2018.

Keith Ray, lead author of ‘Offa’s Dyke, Landscape and Hegemony in Eighth Century Britain’ opened with an account of the OD collaborative and the setting up of other similar local initiatives along the length of the Dyke. He covered the placing of the Dyke along the Mercian/British frontier: and in particular  facing the Kingdom of Gwent along the lower Wye; facing Wessex across the Sedbury peninsula; and where it crosses the Roman road above Striguil bridge at Castleford in Tutshill.

Jon Hoyle, Senior Archaeological Project Officer for Gloucestershire, spoke on recent exploration of the Dyke in the county, illustrated with LiDAR images.

Mel Barge of England Heritage covered her role and expertise  which we’re sure will be of great help to our Group.

Andrew Blake, Wye Valley AONB Manager, described how his organisation will be able to assist us.

Over a working lunch we drew up a list of people to form our Steering Group, and a further list of those who would like to be involved when the Group is established.

We finished off with an illuminating walk led by Keith along the Dyke at Sedbury.

Research of Offa’s Dyke in Tidenham Parish, Gloucestershire

Everyone knows that in the late 8th century, Offa King of the Mercians built a mighty earth bank and ditch along the length of the western border of the kingdom. There are a number of other earthen dykes in Britain, but Offa’s was and is the greatest in terms of sheer size as well as importance. No contemporary documentation survives, but the current belief is that Offa’s Dyke was not built just to keep the Welsh under control along the border, but as a symbol of the power and growing dominance of Mercia among the Anglo Saxon Kingdoms.

In Tidenham parish we are lucky to have some of the finest remaining lengths of the Dyke, including the unique section in Sedbury that faces South instead of the prevailing West.

In the last couple of years, a renaissance in interest and study of the Dyke has led to the formation of the Offa’s Dyke Collaboratory whose main purpose is to support a network of individuals, groups and organisations working to promote awareness and appreciation of, and to manage and investigate, Offa’s Dyke and Wat’s Dyke, as well as related monuments and their wider landscapes (Wat’s Dyke is a similar, but probably older, dyke, running quite close to Offa’s from the Dee estuary to  a point in Shropshire).

Which is where our Group comes in! We have the opportunity to be the catalyst for an alliance of local history groups and interested individuals whose aim is the research, study, conservation and promotion of public awareness of Offa’s Dyke in Tidenham and further north to Brockweir. We feel that this alliance has a key part to play in one or more of these aims: from looking for the ‘missing’ bits of the Dyke around Castleford and along the cliffs of the Wye for instance; to looking up local documents and histories; to talking to family and friends who have memories of the Dyke and who may even live in a house whose garden contains possible remnants of it; to taking part in displays and events to promote awareness of the Dyke to young and old in the parish as well as tourists. I’m sure many more activities will come to mind

One particularly important and exciting project will be the investigation of the connection between the Dyke’s progress in the fields below Castleford and its crossing of the Roman road to the old bridge. And all this within sight of an important Norman Castle that the Conqueror had built very soon after landing.

Offa’s Dyke southern section pages

Offa’s Dyke, following the approximate border between England and Wales was built at the command of the eighth-century king of Mercia. It is Britain’s longest ancient monument, a simple earth ditch-and-bank excavated  1,200 years ago.

Its physical size and visual impact is in many places, even today, truly remarkable – Keith Ray

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