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North Leigh Roman Villa

Home > Oxford > Escape the City | Free | Outdoor | Picnic Spots | Walks
by Cressida Ryan (subscribe)
Classicist and traveller
Published March 23rd 2014
The Cotswolds are a popular tourist destination for their beauty, charm and grace, but 2000 years ago they were also an area for Roman villas. Just outside North Leigh are the remains of one such complex, now managed by English Heritage.

north, leigh, roman, villa, oxfordshire
The view from the road


Oxfordshire has been inhabited for millennia and is known for its long areas of continuous inhabitation. This villa area is no exception, with evidence of a site going back to the Late Iron Age. Situated near to the river Evenlode, it has easy access to a good source of water, and its cultivation makes sense.

It was occupied from somewhere in the 1st / 2nd century AD until the withdrailla can be extended and adapted to suit new generations' needs. It clearly grew, with over 30 rooms at its largest, and external farm holdings.

north, leigh, roman, villa, oxfordshire
The site entrance


Excavations started in 1813-16 and have continued until 1970, but the site remains only partially excavated. Aerial photography tells us a little more about the shape of the complex, but there's something quite inspiring about visiting a site which is not totally explored and known.

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Bath-house


The water was well-used by the Romans, as this villa includes a series of four bath-house suites. Only the ground-plan ruins remain, but channels between the rooms mark out places where water could flow, and it's clear to see how it all worked.

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Bath-house from below


A bench overlooking the exposed wing gives visitors space to sit and take it all in. It's easy to imagine waves of past inhabitants working and resting here, complaining about the British weather on this reasonably exposed site, but also revelling in the fertile soil.

north, leigh, roman, villa, oxfordshire
Bench overlooking the site


It was occupied from somewhere in the 1st / 2nd century AD until the withdrawal of the Romans from Britain in the 4th century, so we see in the site not snapshot of Roman life, but a great example of how a basic villa can be extended and adapted to suit new generations' needs. It clearly grew, with over 30 rooms at its largest, and external farm holdings.

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North side of rooms plotted out


north, leigh, roman, villa, oxfordshire
The whole excavated site


Under cover (for the sake of preservation) is the main mosaic pavement discovered at the site. Even through the window you can get a good view of this remarkably well-made mosaic, whose abstract swirls are uncannily reminiscent of penguin heads.





north, leigh, roman, villa, oxfordshire
Mosaic close-up


The site is free, but therefore also unmanned with no facilities, so don't expect this to be a traditional tourist site. Parking is up on the main road in a lay-by.

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Parking provision - limited to a lay-by


On the way to the area, the usual brown cultural signs help you find your way (ignore the North Leigh signs as the villa isn't actually there). Once you've parked, more signs direct you across the fields. National footpaths criss-cross the area, so if you re keen on walking, it would be a great stop-off point on a longer walk, as well as somewhere to head for in its own right.

north, leigh, roman, villa, oxfordshire
Home-made signs to point the way (and avoid 2014 building diversion)


It's only about 550m to the site from the road, but this is across a field and down a slope, so would not be manageable for anyone with mobility issues, including large prams.

Finds from the site are now in the Ashmolean Museum, whose Roman Britain room celebrates the local input of the Romans.
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Why? A great walk with some Roman history thrown in
When: any reasonable time, but check website for changes
Where: near North Leigh, Oxfordshire
Cost: free
Your Comment
As much as I'm interested in Roman history, I find it difficult to garner enthusiasm about excavation sites. It is nice to see the pictures, but travelling to go and see a pile of rubble has never quite sparked my interest.
by Bryony Harrison (score: 4|11624) 1395 days ago
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