Devil's Dyke, Cambridgeshire
|Site of Special Scientific Interest|
|Area of Search||Cambridgeshire|
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Devil's Dyke or Devil's Ditch is a linear earthen barrier, thought to be of Anglo-Saxon origin, in eastern Cambridgeshire. It is now also a 39.8 hectare biological Site of Special Scientific Interest. It runs in an almost straight line from Woodditton south of Newmarket to Reach north-west of Newmarket. It is also a Special Area of Conservation and a Scheduled Monument.
Devil's Dyke is over 7 miles (11 km) long and is the largest of a series of ancient Cambridgeshire dykes. In some places the bank measures 9 metres (30 ft) high and 36.5 metres (120 ft) across. Its highest point is at Gallows Hill where it measures 10.5 metres (34 ft) from the bottom of the ditch to the top of the earth wall.
From Reach, the dyke crosses farmland, before running along the edge of the July Course at Newmarket Racecourse and then through the woods of a private estate near the village of Woodditton. The Rowley Mile course is unusual in that it can have races which start in one county, Cambridgeshire, and finish in another, Suffolk. It crosses the Devil's Dyke where it has been previously levelled.
Devil's Dyke is the largest of several earthworks in south Cambridgeshire that were designed to control movement along the ancient Roman roads. When it was created, it completely blocked a narrow land corridor between the southern edge of a region of water-logged marsh (now known as The Fens) in the north-west and dense woodlands in the south, so making circumvention difficult and forming an effective defensive barrier for the lands to the east. The dyke crossed three important Roman roads, including the ancient Icknield Way, and may thus have served as a way of controlling trade and movement in and out of the area. Findings such as the small quantity of silt in the ditch fills suggest that the dyke fell into disuse soon after it was built.
The other Cambridgeshire dykes include Fleam Dyke, Brent Ditch and Bran ditch. Black Ditches, Cavenham is a fifth earthwork guarding the Icknield Way which is in Suffolk, to the north west of Bury St Edmunds.
The earthwork has been described by various different commentators since Anglo-Saxon times. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle refers to the Devil's Dyke in its annal for 905, when Edward the Elder is recorded as fighting and defeating the Danes of East Anglia, after first laying waste to the countryside: 'and he laid waste their land between the Dyke and the Ouse as far northward as the Fens'—' and oferhergade call hera land betwuh dicun and Wusan. call oþ da fennas norð' . Abbo of Fleury, writing in the late 10th century, described East Anglia as "fortified in the front with a bank or rampier like unto a huge wall, and with a trench or ditch below in the ground". The mediaeval Flores Historiarum, referred to "...duo fossata sancti Eadmundi..." – the two fortifications of St Edmund – when describing the battle between Edward and his adversaries.
There have been a number of excavations and investigations of the dyke in modern times, including excavations in 1923 and 1991. In 1991, little was found when a small part of the dyke (measuring 8 × 3 metres (26.2 × 9.8 ft)) was excavated prior to the construction of a new aqueduct. The results of a 1988 resistivity survey of the point where Street Way cuts through the dyke were inconclusive. The Dyke is thought most likely to be Anglo-Saxon as there would have been no strategic reason to build it in the Roman period, and the most likely context is the period of warfare between Mercia and East Anglia in the sixth and seventh centuries, when the East Anglians might have thrown it up as a line of defence.
- "Designated Sites View: Devil's Dyke". Sites of Special Scientific Interest. Natural England. Retrieved 30 November 2016.
- "Map of Devil's Dyke". Sites of Special Scientific Interest. Natural England. Retrieved 30 November 2016.
- "Devil`s Dyke SAC". Joint Nature Conservation Committee. Retrieved 30 November 2016.
- "Devil's Ditch, Reach to Woodditton". Historic England. Retrieved 30 November 2016.
- Cambridgeshire Historic Environment Record 07801.
- Earle, Two of the Saxon Chronicles Parallel, pp. lxxi, 98.
- Tymms, The Devil's Dyke, Newmarket, p. 175.
- Babington, Ancient Cambridgeshire, p.60.
- "Devil's Ditch/Dyke, Reach to Woodditton". Heritage Gateway. Retrieved 30 November 2016.
- "Devil's Dyke citation" (PDF). Sites of Special Scientific Interest. Natural England. Retrieved 30 November 2016.
- Babington, Cardale (1853). Ancient Cambridgeshire: or an Attempt to Trace Roman and Other Ancient Roads That Passed Through the County of Cambridge. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
- "Cambridgeshire Historic Environment Record 07801 (Devil's Ditch/Dyke, Reach to Woodditton)". Heritage Gateway. 2006. Retrieved 27 November 2011.
- Earle, John (1865). Two of the Saxon Chronicles Parallel (in Old English and English). Oxford: Clarendon Press.
- Fox.C (1923) The archaeology of the Cambridge region: a topographical study of the Bronze, Early Iron, Roman and Anglo-Saxon Ages, with an introductory note on the Neolithic Age. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
- Tymms, Samuel (1853). "The Devil's Dyke, Newmarket". Proceedings of the Bury and West Suffolk Archaeological Institute. Bury St. Edmunds. 1. Retrieved 21 November 2011.
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