6 days /5 nights
At the time of the Roman invasions of 45 & 55BC, Britain was still in the late Iron Age, inhabited by Celtic tribes whose ancestors had emigrated centuries before from the Danube basin. In July 54BC with 50,000 men General Julius Caesar landed in Southern England unopposed and crossed the River Thames. It was to be the start of 450 years of occupation and settlement.
Our tour will visit major sites of Roman occupation in the south of England, to see how they lived, relaxed and what major benefits, including 8,000 miles of road, they brought to the inhabitants to this Roman outpost.
You’ll see examples of villas, fortresses, amphitheatres (including the best preserved in the UK) and towns. You’ll visit superb modern interpretative centres and see reconstruction of life under the Romans.
To add to your enjoyment, the sites are all set in some of the UK’s prettiest landscape and amidst its oldest cities. There’s plenty more to see and do on this tour for those who are not quite perhaps as enthusiastic about learning of Roman Britain as others may be!
Tour Dates: Your choice! Begin on any day of the week. (Note that some attractions may not be opened daily.)
Available at any date for private groups of 2 – 15 people, subject to availability. Rates are based upon vehicle and guide hire per day; groups of 7 – 15 would have a per person rate same/similar to one of our scheduled tours of the same length.
Please note, this is a suggested itinerary. It may be revised to suit your individual group needs.
We depart from London, heading for the English Channel and an area rich in well-preserved Roman sites. In keeping with our theme, we’ll even use the old Roman road to travel there (seeing a preserved section en-route).
Many modern English city names give away their Roman origins; the suffix ‘chester’ is a corruption of the Latin ‘caestra’ meaning fort. Today we’ll explore the city and immediate area around the pretty south coast city of Chichester.
The highlights of our day’s highlights will be the splendid Fishbourne Palace and the famed Bignor Villa. The latter was only discovered by accident in 1960. The site museum has fascinating artefacts from the excavations along with plans, reconstruction drawings and models. In the remains of the North Wing of the Palace can be seen the largest collection of in-situ mosaics in Britain, including the famous ‘Cupid on a Dolphin’ mosaic. Outside, the northern half of the formal garden has been replanted to its original plan as recovered by excavation. An attractive plant display area contains a range of plants known to have been cultivated by the Romans. Adjacent to it is a Roman Garden Museum which includes a reconstructed Roman potting shed with a selection of horticultural tools. By contrast, Bignor Villa has a been a museum since 1815! It contains a wealth of interesting objects from everyday life found in excavations.
Next to Old Sarum. This impressive earthwork consists of an outer defensive wall and an inner rampart rising at an angle of over 45 degrees and measuring 40 feet from trough to top. The fortification, named Sorviodunum in Roman times, was occupied successively by the Romans, the Saxons, the Danes, and finally by the Norman conquerors of England. This great earthwork is sometimes overlooked because of its proximity to Stonehenge (a mere two miles away). That is unfortunate because powerful impressions of the past still linger, here, and, in a strange way, seem to be amplified by the incredible beauty of the natural environment.
We begin with Bath (Aquae Sulis). The first Roman camp was established here in 44. The Roman town occupied less than 25 acres, but commanded a vital bridging point across the river Avon. Bath was later reconstructed as a Temple and bathing complex due to the healing springs there, and contains some of the finest Roman remains in Britain. Construction of the complex began approximately 15 years after the revolt of the Iceni in 60AD and were part of the cult of Sulis Minerva. We will visit the Roman Baths museum.
Over the Severn Estuary, in South Wales, we discover the extensive remains of the great legionary fortress of Isca and town of Venta. Two thirds of the Roman armies were employed in securing their border and subduing the Welsh tribes. Know today as Caerleon and Caerwent, the town and fortress became the biggest in Wales with a jpoint population of around 3,000. It was an important centre of Romanisation in this era. Caerwent was the only walled city in Wales at the time and you’ll examine the 30 foot high earthen (later a 16 foot stone) wall which was built in the mid 2nd century. In nearby Caerleon we find several superb sites, arguably amongst the best in Britain. There’s an amphitheatre, the remains of a great circus and the fantastic Roman Legionary Museum.
As a bonus, you’ll also see the famed Tintern Abbey and the scenic Wye valley today.
NIGHTSTOP South Wales
The county of Gloucester, perhaps better known today as The Cotswolds’, was one of the most important settlement sites for the Romans of the 1st and 2nd centuries. The city of Gloucester was in fact a ‘Colonia’ – the highest urban status granted in the Empire. Nearby was another settlement now known as Cirencester.
Needless to say, the region is rich in Roman finds; in the Gloucester city museum there’s a fantastic collection from the Roman burial grounds. But it will be the Corinium Museum in Cirencester that will prove the absolute final day’s highlight. This great museum will just have completed a £5 million restoration project by 2004. The results of which will arguably be the most impressive display of things Roman in the UK. Every detail of the new Museum has to be carefully worked through to give the best possible visitor experience. The new galleries require meticulous research to ensure that they are both historically accurate and evocative of life in Roman Britain. For example the reconstructed rooms of a town house excavated in Dyer Street, Cirencester will be decorated using traditional materials and techniques, with a wall-plaster based on the remains found during the excavations in 1854.
Next to Wroxeter Roman City, or Viroconium, to give it its Roman title. Thought to have been one of the largest Roman cities in the UK with over 200 acres of land, 2 miles of walls and a population of approximately 5,000 it began as a legionary fortress and later developed into a thriving civilian city, populated by retired soldiers and traders. Though much still remains below ground, today the most impressive features are the 2nd century municipal baths and the remains of the huge wall dividing them from the exercise hall in the heart of the city.
The site museum and audio tour reveal how Wroxeter worked in its heyday, and the health and beauty practices of its 5000 citizens. Dramatic archaeological discoveries provide a glimpse of the last years of the Roman city, and its possible conversion.
Our first major stop of the day will be at Chester. It was founded by the Romans in about 60 AD as a strategic site for a garrison of occupying troops and as a harbour and an important base for the conquest of Wales. The Romans called the settlement Deva which was changed to the Saxon ‘Caestre’ (camp) after they left. The Newstead Roman Gallery tells Chester’s the Roman story, including that of the Roman legion and everyday life. Guarding the entrance to the gallery is a life size model of a Roman legionary of about AD 60!
Chester’s real jewel is the amphitheatre; the largest stone amphitheatre in Britain. It could hold over 6000 spectators and was for training the legionaries in fighting techniques. You will see the Roman baths and Roman gardens. We’ll also have time to explore more of this pretty city, famed for its city wall, cathedral and medieaval shopping ‘rows’.
Ribchester, our next stop, is located in the picturesque village of Ribchester, set in the beautiful countryside of the Ribble Valley. The Roman fort, called ‘Bremetennacum veteranorum’, was established during the late first century AD. A thriving civilian settlement, or ‘vicus’, quickly developed outside the fort. Roman Ribchester is brought to life at the museum here by dramatic displays, which contain a life size cavalryman, Roman legionary and exciting interactive exhibits.There are wonderful objects, including weaponry, jewellery and leatherwork, which have never been seen before, alongside favourites like the replica of the Ribchester Parade Helmet and the impressive sculpture of a cavalryman riding down his Celtic adversary.
We can also see the external remains of the Roman granaries. Ruins of the Roman bath houses are visible near the White Bull Pub where can take the opportunity of sampling the local beer!
Nearly 2000 years ago, in 122 AD, the Emperor Hadrian embarked on a huge undertaking: to mark the northernmost boundary of Roman Britain with an unusually long fortified wall. Skirmishing tribes were contained behind it for over 350 years and Hadrian’s name written indelibly into the history of this remote part of the UK. As a World Heritage Site, Hadrian’s Wall has been recognised for its international importance as an evocative monument to one of the world’s greatest civilisations. Not only is it the most important structure built by the Romans in Britain, but it is the best known frontier in the entire Roman Empire. Large parts of Hadrian’s Wall are still visible. There is a host of fascinating forts and museums waiting to be discovered with 73 miles, from Wallsend to Bowness, studded with forts, milecastles, temples and turrets. These 2000 year-old remains are brought brilliantly to life by museums, reconstructions and fascinating visitor centres.
We promise a day to be remembered and savoured!
We’ll begin our day in the town of Carlisle and the Tullie House Border Galleries, telling the story of the ‘Debatable Lands’ which are made up of Carlisle, Cumbria and the Borders. The museum has many artefacts which were gathered from the north west region of the Roman Province of Britannia. It gives a vivid account of the life for the Roman military and the civilians under their control in this remote outpost. There are examples of nearly everything that was used in everyday life from such items as sewing kits to the letters the soldiers would write home to their families. It is also an interactive museum in that the visitor can experience the thrill of travel by riding the Roman saddle, or wander down a Roman street. For those who are more adventurous, there is the opportunity to try out replicas of the Roman soldiers weapons and artillery.
Next, our Roman theme offers an excellent excuse – if one were needed! – to tour through some of the most breathtaking scenery in the British Isles, the Lakes District.
First to Ambleside , one of the Lake’s atmospheric towns, for a minor Roman Fort, picturesquely situated on the northern edge of Lake Windermere. Next to Hardknott and probably the most strikingly sited to be seen in the Roman world. It is perched high upon a rocky spur overlooking the River Esk from the south-east, with a superb view south-westwards towards the Irish Sea. The approach from the east along the course of the Roman road from Ambleside through the Wrynose and the Hardknott Passes is most exhilarating. The small stream which once fed the bath-house standing outside the fort’s southern defences makes the final approach particularly boggy but the remains of the fort, on very uneven ground, makes the arduous drive and short (but muddy) walk most rewarding. The spectacular stone defensive circuit is complete with gateways, corner and interval-towers and the buildings of the central range are all evident.
O me miserum! Regrettably, it’s time to head south and to return to Manchester where tour participants will either travel onward or sat awhile in this great city.
Accommodation tonight is not included but is available for a supplemental fee.