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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Home-made signs to point the way (and avoid 2014 building diversion)
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.