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'Where Wales Begins'
The Dark Ages
stone slab in Meifod Church

Although often called the Dark Ages, the 500 years following the end of Roman rule in Britain in the 5th century, is in fact a period of great learning and enlightenment. It is at this time that the border between England and Wales is first formed and the history of Welshpool in this period illustrates both emerging cultures.

During this period Wales developed into a series of kingdoms perhaps echoing the tribal areas of the pre-Roman Celts. Christianity flourished under the Welsh kings and many of Wales' churches were established at this time - Welshpool's first church, sited to the east of the present parish church, was reputedly founded in the 6th century by Saint Llewelyn. The church at nearby Meifod was once the site of a great Celtic monastery linked to the Princes of Powys and today houses a magnificent carved cross perhaps coming from the grave of one of theses early princes. The decoration on the cross, which probably dates from the 9th century, also shows Viking influence. This might seem surprising but the Anglo Saxon Chronicle records a battle in 894 between invading Vikings and English forces at Buttington, just north of Welshpool.

This stone slab in Meifod Church, decorated with Welsh and Viking motifs in the C9th, may once once have covered the coffin of one of the Princes of Powys. Photograph CS86-19-14 © The Clwyd-Powys Archaeological Trust.
Offa's Dyke

Contemporary accounts also record one of the greatest civil engineering feats of British history - the building of Offa's Dyke. The Dyke, a 6 metre high bank and ditch was constructed, perhaps in about 785, by King Offa the Saxon King of Mercia, to mark the border of his kingdom with the British kingdoms in Wales. The Dyke, well-preserved sections of which survive immediately east of Welshpool, ran the length of Wales from the Bristol Channel to the Dee Estuary and was in effect the first English - Welsh border. Today the dyke is followed for much of its length by the Offa's Dyke long distance footpath.

Further information about this can be found on the Offa's Dyke Initiative website (www.cpat.org.uk/offa).

Offa's Dyke, probably built in the C8th. © The Offa's Dyke Initiative.