There is a quaint little market town in the county of Shropshire, on the edge of England and Wales. I used to get excited when I saw the signs for it when I was a child, because it meant we were nearly in Wales and the holiday was about to begin. I still kind of get that feeling now, too.
My excitement is a little different now though. I don't need to drive through Oswestry to get to Wales as I live further south, in the Midlands. No, it is the history that thrills me.
There are narrow streets and passageways, independent shops and agricultural supplies. There is soon to be a statue of Wilfred Owen, the poet and soldier who served in the First World War, who was born there. Offa's Dyke runs alongside the town. And in a place outside the town called Old Oswestry, one of the most spectacular and best preserved Iron Age hill forts in Britain exists with evidence of construction and occupation between 800 BC and AD 43.
But really what gets me fired up is the story from the Dark Ages. I have portrayed this story in my first historical novel, Gulfyrian. It is something of legend and still lives on, like all good legends.
In 642 a battle between the Christian King Oswald of Northumbria and the pagan King Penda of Mercia took place here. The event was known as the Battle of Maserfield and Oswald was defeated. Penda mutilated his body and hung the limbs and head on a tree. It is suggested that this was part of the religious ritual of pagans but the Christians took this as a sign of martyrdom. Bede recalls that Oswald died in prayer, praying for the souls of his dead soldiers.
Oswald's body hung there for a year before his family removed it. Pilgrims visited the battlefield and took some of the blood-stained earth away with them, so much so that there was a crater left in the ground. A raven flew off with his right arm and when it dropped it, a spring sprung from that spot.
Oswald's cult grew and the tree where he hung grew, too. Obviously Oswald became a saint and his followers came from as far as Europe to visit the tree, the site of miracles. No longer did people visit Maserfield, they came to Oswald's Tree...which morphed into 'Oswestry'.