The main archeological evidence of the Dark Ages is the Nico Ditch.
This is a linear earthwork which stretches around Manchester linking the mosses of Hough and Ashton and possibly extending as far as Moorside in Urmston, forming a barrier to traffic between the Rivers Irwell and Medlock.
What its function was, nobody is really sure but suggestions over the years have ranged from simply being a drainage channel, an agricultural boundary, an administrative boundary or a defensive ditch.
Romantics will prefer the latter, Crofton writing at the end of the nineteenth century theorised it was built as a defence against the Danes by the inhabitants of Manchester in 870 AD, popular tradition has it that the men of Manchester dug it in one night, six feet per man, which would have meant a population of forty thousand; highly unlikely, to defend the town from the rampaging Vikings.
But it may go back further in time to the boundary disputes between Mercia and Northumberland two centuries previously, some have even said that it may date back to Roman times.
The Ditch first gets a written mention around 1200, the “Mycke Dyke” in reference to Land ownership in the area. Little of it is visible today but earlier studies show that it ran from the Mersey near modern day Flixton, travelling eastwards along the Davyhulme boundary, through Stretford and Longford Park to Chorlton, continuing into Platt Field’s park by way of Platt Brook, through Levenshulme, crossing the A6 at what was once the Midway and following Matthews Lane before once again being visible at Mellands Playing Fields.
It then formed the property boundary of the houses on the south side of Holmcroft road following the Manchester – Stockport boundary along the southern side of Gorton Cemetery and Cranbrook Road beyond Reddish Lane where it continued on the Northern side of Laburnum Road and reappears through Denton Golf course where its best surviving portion can be seen.
The building of the Audenshaw reservoirs obliterated it from the maps before following Lumb Lane and finishing on the Ashton Moss.
There have been attempts to excavate it. In 1975 at Denton Golf course, although no records were kept of the excavation,and then in 1990 the Greater Manchester Archaeological Unit excavated a section at Kenwood road in North Reddish and in 1992 at Park Grove in Levenshulme. Little or nothing has been found which dates from the pre-Norman conquest era.
It will remain a mystery, some argue that it was originally 5 ft wide with a 12 ft bank on the Manchester side, possibly surmounted by a palisade.
Even the origins of its name are contentious. The word “Mykell” is almost certainly of Saxon origin, being gate but as for Nico, some say it derives from Nickar, the water spirit who seized and drowned unwary travellers, others claim the word has Danish origins from Hnickar, the form that Odin would take when he descended to earth to take vengeance against humankind.