Visited 26th April 2003: Dad looked after William while I explored Devil's Dyke. I wasn't alone. There were hoards of kids on bikes at one end, playing some sort of game that was leading to tears. Being off duty, I did the responsible thing and walked the other way.
The sun was doing well getting through the trees, and the bluebells were out, so it was all rather pleasant. The dyke is really quite deep in places, tapering off at each end. Getting from one side to the other is tricky, and because the sides are steep and eroded by generations of bike riding kids. Not a good place to visit for anyone who's not sure footed, but an excellent place to take kids (Dad assures me he took us here, but I don't remember it). The best parking for Devil's Dyke is on Ceaser's Road.
The Slad is on private property, and not visible from he road as much more than a line of trees. The southern end of the Slad peters out into a long curving pond, which you can just about get to from he road.
Popped along to take a look at this today, and also its continuation in St Albans, Beech Bottom Dyke.
It's an impressive defensive ditch, but I'd be inclined to just walk along to the end and attack at that point!
Of course, it's very overgrown now, with bluebells in abundance, as well as the usual detritus of 21st century living: broken cycles, botles, syringes etc. Apart from that, it'd be a nice short woodland walk alongside the housing estate.
Devil's Dyke and the Slad (to the east) are thought to be the remains of the stronghold of Cassivellaunus, the king of the Catuvellauni tribe. One version of events is that Cassivellaunus invaded the territory of the Trinovantian tribe, murdering its king. At this point the king's son Mandubracius fled to the Romans for help, giving Caesar an excuse to invade Britain. In his article about Colchester Dr Mike Ibeji writes,
...after a botched attempt in 55 (which even his own propaganda cannot quite disguise), Caesar returned to finish the job in 54 BC. He chased Cassivellaunus back to his stronghold, which he stormed from two sides, forcing Cassivellaunus to flee and come to terms.
There's some debate (at least in our family) as to whether Beech Bottom Dyke and this site were ever connected.
I enterpret Devil's Dyke and the Slad are two sides of the same defensive enclosure *. Even from the Landranger you can see the contour lines following the existing ditches, and continuing around to the north and south where there is no longer a ditch. The lake to the south of the Slad is a definitely a continuation of the defences. If you look at the Slad on the ground this is really clear. Whatever Beech Bottom Dyke represents, I don't think it ever connected with Devil's Dyke and the Slad.
* Apparently I'm not alone here, as Sir Mortimer Wheeler was of the same opinion (you can't argue with that, he's a 'sir').