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Searching for a Roman Villa

There is a Roman villa somewhere at the foot of the Cotswolds outside Cheltenham that I remember Chris and I searching for years ago. The trouble was, although it was just off Ermin Street, so clearly a place of some importance 1700 years ago, times have moved on and now it’s pretty much in the middle of nowhere. It was roughly marked on our map, but without any indication as to which nearby road the access route was off, and I remember that the two of us drove round and round Great Witcombe in circles, getting increasingly frustrated, before we finally found it.

Recently, I’ve been spending a great deal of time being driven up and down the A417 on my way to and from customer meetings. On occasions, the traffic on the top of Birdlip Hill has been so heavy (i.e. stationary with queues of at least a mile) that my driver has plunged down the old road, directly down Birdlip, to avoid the traffic on the trunk road. And there at the bottom of the hill I noticed a signpost to a Roman Villa – clearly the same one that we had visited all those years ago, but slightly better signposted these days.

I had friends visiting this weekend, and we wanted to go out somewhere one afternoon, rather than spending the entire weekend watching the rugby on the tv. So I thought of the Great Witcombe Roman Villa, and suggested that we went looking for it. So far, so good. Armed with my new knowledge of its likely location, we found the turn-off from the main road easily enough. Then our problems started.

The way to the villa turned out to be an extremely narrow single-track road, through a farmyard and over several cattlegrids. Which was fine until we met a car coming in the other direction. There were no passing places that we’d seen on the track, and the other car clearly had no intention of reversing. So P. reversed his car a little way and pulled over, off the track and onto the verge. The other car passed without even a wave to say thank-you, which rather annoyed us. Then P. tried to set off again, at which point we realised that the verges were extremely soft mud (presumably because of the recent floods) and we were stuck! Well and truly stuck!

The other car had in fact stopped to watch the fun and games, so I tapped on the window to ask the driver to help push us. I similarly stopped two other passing cars and asked them to help push too – it wasn’t as if they could get past the other car anyway! Even with five adults pushing like mad, the wheels just span and dug the car further into the mud.

At that point I decided to walk down the track to the farmhouse and see if I could find a farmer with a tractor to pull us out. The first car, which had caused all the trouble in the first place, passed me, and I think by then he was feeling guilty at having run us off the road. He said that he was local, and would come back in 15 minutes with a rope. I also carried on with Plan B and after several attempts managed to find the local farmer who said he’d come and help.

Twenty minutes later we were converged upon first by the original car, now with a tow-rope in the boot, shortly followed by the farmer in his 4×4 with a chain. We got a tow all of two feet back onto the track. Phew! In the end, everything was fine. It was daylight, the weather was cold but dry, we had our mobiles on us (and there was a mobile signal – not a given in the middle of the Cotswolds!), and if the worst had come to the worst, J. and I are both members of the RAC so could have got a tow from them as a last resort. But it was very annoying! And by the time we were rescued, we’d all had enough of even the thought of a Roman Villa, so we turned around in the site car park at the end of the track, and drove straight back. So we didn’t even get to see it! We’ll have to leave that for another time – preferably in the middle of a drought, when the verges will be as dry as bone!

{ 2 } Comments

  1. pauld | 11 March 2013 at 7:25 pm | Permalink

    Personally I think theres some right stuck up snobs living round cheltenham and the cotswolds.

    Think weve passed that ruin maybe from a footpath, cant remember how to get to it by road, perhaps from the sound of it thats a good idea.

  2. pauld | 11 March 2013 at 7:36 pm | Permalink

    best bet is to park at Air Balloon, have food and drink then walk along cotswold way, down hill then its on your right.

    BUT Air Balloon do now charge for parking, you get it back if you spend £5