Monday, 28 December 2015

Devil's Dyke

No, this post is not about... whatever you're imagining.

Like most people, I've found the run up to Christmas pretty busy hence the lack of blogging of late. I've just returned from my pilgrimage back to see my family in Hertfordshire. While I was there I went to go an see the Devil's Dyke in the nearby village of Wheathampstead.

The Dyke is all that remains of what was possibly a massive Celtic fortified encampment surmounting a shallow plateau of raised land. We really don't know know much about it other than that, but there are several conjectures. One is that the Celts would have retreated to it in times of strife, and perhaps King Cunobelinus fought the Roman's there when Caesar invaded in 54BC. There isn't much evidence to prove or disprove this, but the Celtic-Roman connection has certainly embedded itself in public consciousness, as the local street names like 'Battle View' attest. The attribution of the dyke to the devil isn't something there seems to be a lot of literature about. It was common in history for all sorts of mildy unusual things to be explained as the work of the devil as a neat and theologically-sound way to account for unnatural phenomena. A massive ditch might well have warranted such an attribution.

The Dyke is certainly an impressive affair. Its sides are too steep to climb and the trees shade its bottom from the sun. The deepest part gets churned to mud in the winter, so walking through it is a task. One gets the impression of moving through an antediluvian region, somehow separated from the modern world above. When it is possible to climb the Eastern ridge one can see out onto the raised plane (known as "Belgic Oppidum"). These aren't so nearly managed that one can't imagine medieval farm workers tilling the land and discovering all manner of Satan's Claws uncovered by their ploughs.