"O to be in England now that April is here", so lamented the poet Robert Browning, in 'Home Thoughts from Abroad' He could have said May too, as both months England comes bursting out all over. Hedgerows become plump and weighed down with white Hawthorn Blossom, Chestnut Trees sway with candelabras of flowers, and hillsides yellow with swathes of Buttercups.
So dawn rise Sunday...I'm thinking I need to do some final training for the sponsored walk I registered for next weekend in London, and what better way than to sally forth into the 'Church' of Nature.
So I flipped opened a local map, and lightly penciled a circle out five miles from home.. looking for an interesting destination to make a bee-line for. On the circle I noticed the ruins of the Roman Villa at North Leigh stood out, deep in countryside to the north west, and I hadn't been there for a few decades, plus I figured it would make some interest in a blog.
Not that it would have changed since I last went there, twenty five years out of one thousand six hundred years since the owners shipped out is a mere drop in time here.
The Roman empire had been sniffing around this northern Celtic Isle since 55 BC but they didn't get around to getting their sandals muddy till 43 AD.. and when they did they found it exceedingly verdant and fertile so stayed on till 413 AD
As I set off, I mused on the fact that now we have "Fashion" Changes every decade or so...back then, they had Cultural changes every half millennia. I suppose the same could be said today for the vast bulk of the native rural fellaheen the world over, China, India South America...clothing stays the same pretty much as it ever was.
The Brit's tho weren't slow in knowing a good thing when they saw it, and like the great "what have the Romans ever done for us" sketch in Monty Python's "Life of Brian", The ruling elite here stopped fighting and took on the cultural appearances of the Romans and by the time the high class Villa that I was visiting was built in 400 AD; roads, education, bath houses, under-home heating were well known in the very best country residences.
I put one foot in front of another, passed Bladon Church, where Winston Churchill is buried, then Long Hanborough's thatched houses and topiaries, till a few miles on I reached a turn off down a quintessential English track, where the trees close down a slope to a tunnel shape........
and leads you a further mile into a sweet river valley, till you can glimpse the archaeological remains of the villa peeking through gaps in the trees.
The Villas were high status places of their day, and we are talking 400 AD here, before the Brit's failed to pick up on all the brilliant things the Romans left behind when their Empire crumbled when it got unsustainable, and they left, and England slipped back into the Dark Ages.
Today, the Foundations and floor plan still exist in detail, and you can walk from room to room, with its bare under floor heating ducts openly visible. The damp and cold of England was something the Romans didn't really appreciate, coming from Southern climes.
An even more evocative reminder of the lavishness that must have been surrounding them is there, when a beautiful mosaic was found on the bath-house floor, and has now been reset under a roofed gallery. its astonishing design speaking volumes for the Romans attitude to life in general.
Stepping out of my shower onto something like this now, I would considered very luxurious, and for a moment there, with the whole complex to myself, I could imagine how the Romano - British Owner of this estate must have thought, that Life couldn't really get better than this, and you know, he probably was right.
As a keen metal detectorist I'd have loved to have toted my gear along with me that morning... but such sites are "Verboten" in a big way here, and only fields away from such hot spots can ever be considered for searching, so who knows what treasures lie tucked away on the fringes of the estate, where owners would bury their riches, in case they were attacked by a horde of Saxons.
On the way out of the valley homeward, I couldn't resist doing what most detectorists do when doing a survey to see if a site is worth getting their kit out, and I stepped into a harrowed earth field , and after fifteen minutes of hard searching amongst the swirl of stones I'd found several good pieces of Roman pottery, thrown away when originally broken and further churned to pieces by the plows over the years,... but still with that human touch that potters leave behind, evident in the shards I brought home with me to show you.
On the left, the inside of the bottom of a basic kitchen storage pot, still with its indentation where the potters thumb pressed the revolving clay out to form a flat base.
Above the rim of another terracotta jar, with its final little rim, scored out with a flourish by a Roman nail all those years ago, and below two shards of smooth almost shiny Samian-Ware, high status pottery ..the fine china of its day, showing that the people who lived in the valley, probably had a sign on the wall that said;
"There's no place like Rome"
Sir Dayvd (whose ankles held up during the return) of Oxfordshire