Posted by: travelrat | September 4, 2013

Wansdyke: A Historical (?) Tale

The Wansdyke.

The Wansdyke.

This is a Tale. There was such a person as King Alfred; Wessex, Ethandun and the Danelaw actually existed and there is a large linear earthwork to the North of the Vale of Pewsey called the Wansdyke. Everything else is fiction, so … serious students of history, read no further!

Long ago, before there was such a place as England, the country was divided into several parts. To the South and West was the Kingdom of Wessex, ruled by the great and good King Alfred. The present Royal Family claim descent from the Kings of Wessex, which is why, to this day, our Sovereign Lady still signs her name ‘Elizabeth Arrh!’ (nowadays, abbreviated simply to ‘R’)

To the North was an area called the Danelaw, ruled, as the name suggests, by the invading Danes. They had a particularly punitive form of Council Tax there known as the Danegeld … and, if you wouldn’t, or couldn’t pay, you could expect a visit from the Rape and Pillage Squad.

One day, the Danish tax-gatherers decided they would collect some Danegeld in Wessex, to which the citizens took great exception, and sent an army, led by the King, to have words with them.

The Danes were defeated at a place called Ethandun (nowadays called Edington) and the King ordered a White Horse to be carved in the hillside there, to commemorate his victory. Then, he called for the surviving Danes to be brought before him. They pleaded that they weren’t actually aware they had strayed out of the Danelaw, so the King gave another command.

‘Let a ditch be dug on the northern boundary of my kingdom, and the earth used to build a wall. That way, there can be no doubt … and, it’s open season on any Dane found to the South of it’

The courtiers wondered who was to build such a ditch, and the King’s eye fell on a man at arms called Wan, who was trying to sneak quietly out of the door.

‘Does Wan have to?’ he squeaked.

‘Yes, Wan does!’ replied the King, thereby establishing another Royal custom that has endured to this day.

Several years later, the King returned to Ethandun to inspect the new White Horse, then crossed the valley to inspect the ditch.

‘We ought to have a name for it’ said the King ‘King Alfred’s Dyke sounds rather good, don’t you think?’

Then up spoke a ragged, emaciated figure, scratching at the earth with an antler pick, who had not been noticed until now.

‘Wan’s Dyke!’ he shouted.

Then, he died.




  1. Great story!

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