On our previous trip into this area, many moons ago, we made the best of a rainy day and got out to a couple of interesting spots; one of these was Chedworth, the remains of a Roman villa just outside of the town of Cirencester. We’ve told that story a few different ways (including the linked blog post above) but, basically, it was a very rainy that miraculously cut us a break when we pulled up to the villa and then, later, absolutely did not cut us a break when we drove up the road to the White Horse of Uffington. Point being, we had been to Chedworth but it had a) been a long time, b) been in some kinda gross weather so we didn’t really wander about much, and c) been super cool so I wanted to go back. Lisa had brought some work to do with her because she is a responsible person whom I admire, but I did not because I am me, and so John went solo on a return jaunt to one of our favorite Roman ruins in Britain… and don’t I love that life allows me to have an actual list??
The day was gorgeous; like, even the locals were tickled at how sunny and warm it was. The drive from Dursley is a pleasant 40 minutes or so; pleasant, on this trip, means a minimum of single-lane tracks to white knuckle your way along. That said, the final half mile was absolutely nerve wracking, but we were almost used to it by now and, anyway, what are you going to do? It was the route to a National Trust site, everybody driving it knows why they are there and that they aren’t likely to be alone, so (in my experience) all the drivers are on their best behavior. The only trick was that I forgot a lesson that we had just learned a few days earlier.
We had a day a little ways back that we may write about later as an example of how things can go very wrong sometimes, but the take-away that’s relevant here is that if a place is on a national registry, like the National Trust or English Heritage, well, it’s not a secret gem. In the summer, you should just assume that no matter how tucked away it is there will be plenty of people out to enjoy it just like you are; indeed we were turned away from more than one place because the parking accommodation was completely full up. It wasn’t so bad at Chedworth, but there was a very narrow lane with diagonal parking slots that was completely full up. I was dreading that I might have to traverse it in reverse if I didn’t get lucky; fortunately, I did. The lot opened up a bit right at the visitor center and I slid into the one space available. Also fortunately, while the parking was tight it’s all relative, and the grounds of the villa never felt swarmed with visitors.
One of the remarkable things about Chedworth is that when the first glimmers of a potential archaeological find shone out – a few colored stones found by gamekeepers back in the 1800s – the landowner did not dig up the best bits to decorate his home nor did he strip-mine raw material to provide “color” to his holdings. In fact, that house in the center of the picture is an expansion of the original museum, built shortly after any excavating began in order to display the finds to visitors. In fact, practically everything found has been left in situ as my darling bride likes to say which is wildly forward-thinking in comparison to their peers. Granted, as amateur archaeologists (to be generous) the methods used to dig were crude and, undoubtedly, much was destroyed in the process. Also, there was no method of cataloging where various things were dug up, so a clear picture of some of the purposes of the buildings will probably never come into focus. But still, we should celebrate what they did leave, and how it has been kept since.
I couldn’t figure out a way to get a clear photo of it, but what we’re looking at the right is a mesh gangway that runs practically the full length of the best-preserved remnant of the villa. It allows you to see the entirety of the amazing mosaics that remain without disturbing them at all. And they truly are wonderful. The header of this post is some of the remains of what was probably the triclinium, a particular style of dining room that was fashionable in the period of the villa’s residents. There are also significant remains of one of two bathing spaces which speaks to the wealth of the owners – men and women had separate bathing situations, a distinction that while not unique was certainly not common because of the resources required. There was even the distinction of the dry heat (think sauna) that the women seemed to prefer, while the men’s space has the more traditional cold/hot/warm baths to alternate between. (We experienced this once in Barcelona, and it is… something else.) There is another wing of the villa that has not been so much as scraped at, and from what I gathered from the docents it’s not likely to be explored in my lifetime, if ever. There’s never money for everything, and “more of the same” rarely generates the same fundraising excitement as the first go-’round. In fact, there was a new mosaic that was found almost by accident in the already-exposed ruins, apparently quite lovely, but putting it properly on display would require a building similar to the one I described above but it’s unlikely to be built for the foreseeable future; they have covered it back up, safe-keeping it for future generations. Admirable, but also disappointing.
It was lovely to be able to amble across the grounds on a lovely day. Having seen diagrams, I could take the time to walk about and see the described forecourt, the approach from the valley that would have led to the public space, as well as the rise in the land that still to this day shows where they inner courts’ walls stood. It’s a gift to neb about in these sites and drink it all in; hopefully the wonder of it never wears off.