I grew up at a place known as the gap of the graves, or the gap of the dead.
To some of you, this may conjure up images of Indiana Jones-esque zombies and other spooky horror stories. In fact, history has its own terrific tales to tell.
The gap refers to a gap in Offa’s Dyke, an early Medieval earthwork – a massive ditch and bank – which runs, on and off, the border between Wales and England, and right past my front door at Castle Mill. Only, at Castle Mill, my childhood home and the old mill of Chirk Castle, the dyke stopped for a short length, presumably because of the River Ceiriog.
It is believed that this is the location of the Battle of Crogen. This was where, in 1165, Owain Gwynedd and his troops pushed back English, Anglo-Norman, King Henry II as he tried to invade Wales.
Despite being outnumbered, the Welsh used their knowledge of the terrain and environment to engage guerrilla tactics. An important old Welsh document, called Brut y Tywysogion (Chronicle of the Princes) states that Henry even ordered for the woods and trees to be cut down to help the English defence and force the Welsh into fighting on open ground.
The Welsh ambushed the English ‘at a narrow gap near the Castle of Crogen’ and inflicted a number of casualties. The dead were said to have been buried here, following the battle, the area from then on known as ‘the gap of the graves’. One account in 1697 claimed the graves were still visible.
Despite this set back, the English did return and attempted to continue to make inroads into Wales, over the Berwyn Mountains. However, they were soon to turn back, defeated not by Welsh natives, but ‘oppressed by a mighty tempest of wind and exceeding great torrents of rain‘.
Good old Welsh weather.