Fascinating Facts about Britain: Offa’s Dyke and the Staffordshire Hoard

July 8, 2011 at 6:22 pm (Anglophilia, To Britain and back 2011)

It began more than three years ago, on a golden evening of high summer. I’d started out from Knighton that morning on what was projected to be  a six-day tramp along the southern half of Offa’s Dyke.

These are the opening sentences of Borrowed Time, a novel by one of my favorite authors of psychological suspense, Robert Goddard.    I read this book shortly after it came out in 2006; at the time, I had no clear idea of just what Offa’s Dyke was.

Here is the definition and description provided on the Offa’s Dyke Association site:

Offa’s Dyke is a linear earthwork which roughly follows the Welsh/English boundary. It consists of a ditch and rampart constructed with the ditch on the Welsh-facing side, and appears to have been carefully aligned to present an open view into Wales from along its length.

The author speculates that the dyke must have been about 27 meters [approximately 88 feet] wide and 7 meters [approximately 23  feet]  from the bottom of the ditch to the top of the earthen bank. He adds: “The origins of the Dyke are shrouded in mystery so that many of its aspects are speculated upon rather than being fully understood.”

And who, pray tell, was this Offa personage, he of Dyke fame? Offa was the King of Mercia from 757 to 796.  Well, that explains it, doesn’t it..? Mercia was an Anglo-Saxon kingdom, located in what is now called the Midlands. Here’s how Britain looked at  the time of Offa’s death: 

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Since our sojourn was taking us along the Welsh borders, it was inevitable that we would pass close to the Dyke, which is now a popular walking path.   In fact, by the look of this map, we passed very close to it in two places: Monmouth and Hay-on-Wye. And yet we never actually saw it – or I didn’t, at any rate.

Pam offered us an altogether more irreverent and less scholarly, if more succinct, definition of the Dyke: “a hill in England and a ditch in Wales.” Beneath those words, scribbled in the midst of a rather bumpy bus ride, I can barely make out the following: “Devil and gander made Dyke.” What…? A website for the Teme Valley recounts the legendary claim that “…the dyke is just a deep furrow ploughed in the night by the devil using a plough pulled by a gander and a turkey cock!” (I found this bit of lore repeated on a number of sites dealing with the Dyke.)

The National Trails site offers these fascinating facts about the ground traversed by the Offa’s Dyke Path:

In its 177 miles / 285 kilometres it passes through no less than eight different counties and crosses the border between England and Wales over 20 times. The Trail explores the tranquil Marches (as the border region is known) and passes through the Brecon Beacons National Park on the spectacular Hatterall Ridge. In addition it links no less than three Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty – the Wye Valley, the Shropshire Hills and the Clwydian Hills.

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A major event concerning the history of the Kingdom of Mercia occurred in July of 2009 with the discovery of the Staffordshire Hoard. It’s the largest trove of Anglo-Saxon gold ever found – and it was found by one Terry Herbert, an ordinary bloke who enjoyed poking around in farmers’ fields with a metal detector, a tool  purchased at a car boot sale for two pounds fifty (about four dollars). Mr. Herbert was 55 and unemployed at the time he quite literally struck gold. Judging by this piece from the March 23 2010 edition of the Sunday Times, his money worries are well and truly behind him.

Here are some of the prize finds from the Staffordshire Hoard:

Pectoral cross

Zoomorphic mount

Helmet cheek piece

Stylised sea horse

2 Comments

  1. Barbara said,

    Another absolutely fascinating post. Thanks for the treasures of information you pass our way…..

  2. Laurel L. Anderson said,

    How do you do it? Another very fine reporting of interesting information to enhance my trips around the Borderlands. Thanks for sharing it.
    Laurel

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