|Friday the 13th (13.5.2011) brings us to Oswestry for a couple of days, in our ongoing Offa's Dyke Path walk. Old Oswestry is an easy stroll from the town, it's only a mile to the northeast.
On our way, we spend a little time in the town's suburbs, seeking out a rather fine section of Wat's Dyke that runs through a housing development. Wat's Dyke is roughly contemporary with the much better known Offa's version a few miles west of here. Constructed between the 5th and 8th centuries AD (CE), it's too late for TMA, but is still worth a look, especially as its course runs both north and south from the ramparts of the hillfort. The section of dyke running through the suburbs here remains as a standing earthwork of over a metre in height.
We follow this northwards, until it disappears under a Victorian factory building (being refurbished for re-use, nice to see) and then its course crosses the old railway line that used to run from the main line at Gobowen into Oswestry itself. It runs under the roads and streets for a while, but eventually we come to a recreation ground to the north of the town, where a quick uphill detour offers views of the hillfort itself. From here the low bank of the dyke continues northwards, until it comes to a halt at the foot of the massive earthworks of the fort.
And what earthworks they are. Michael Watson described it as "big, bold and brassy" and he's certainly not wrong. This is without doubt one of the most impressive prehistoric constructs you can find in this country. Old Oswestry does not have the advantage of a lofty hilltop, or cliffs, or a steep escarpment. True, it is on a natural hill rising above the low-level plains of north Shropshire. But the defensive behemoth rising above us is largely the work of human hands.
Along the road, a gate with English Heritage boards gives access to the fort itself. We are facing the western entrance to the fort, which presents an overwhelmingly depressing sight to any would-be attacker. Seven (yes, seven!) lines of ramparts rise above us, one above another. The only way through is straight up the funnel of the western entrance track, providing any number of places for the defenders to throw javelins, fire arrows, pour hot cauldrons, etc over the hapless aggressor.
Luckily such scenes do not greet us today and we can make our way unchallenged up the steep track to the top of the fort. From here, the scale of the western defences, laid out below us, is readily apparent. Once the top is reached, the interior of the fort is a large open grassy space, now home to a herd of cows rather than the late Bronze Age/early Iron Age houses that once stood here.
We walk clockwise around the interior, watching low rain-clouds passing over but thankfully leaving us alone. The fort's shape is an irregular pentagon, with the western side being the most heavily defended. Around the other sides, there are only(!) five lines of ramparts. Wat's Dyke picks up its northwards progress from the northern corner of the fort, heading off towards Wrexham. The surrounding ground is lowest to the east of the fort.
Further to the east, the hump-backed and hillforted Wrekin can be seen, while to the southeast the hills around Church Stretton and onwards towards Brown Clee can be made out. Due south, the view is blocked by the Breiddin hills, while to the west the nearby Offa's Dyke ridge cuts off any lines of sight beyond.
After completing the circuit, we have a look at the mysterious line of pits that have been placed halfway up the western side of the defences, enclosed between ramparts. Each one is different, some are very overgrown while others appear to be full of greenish water. Who knows what they were for? Not me anyway.
Suitably impressed after the walk around, we've also managed to avoid any date-related ill-fortune and so we head off back to Oswestry, where a much needed ice cream beckons. A cracker of a site this, fully deserving of its "show site" reputation.
Posted by thesweetcheat
16th May 2011ce