When in England, do as the Romans do…!? Our Top Five Roman Sites of England.

Late last year during the building of a new hotel in the heart of the city of London, workmen discovered the statue of an eagle clutching a writhing snake.  So well preserved, it was unimaginable that the statue could have been of Roman origin however specialists later confirmed that it did indeed date back to the 1st or 2nd century AD when the World’s greatest Empire had spread throughout England.  Today, the statue is on full display to the public in the Museum of London but if you want to get more in touch with Roman Britain why not walk in the footsteps of the Roman people themselves and visit some of the country’s most stunning excavated Roman sites.

Below is adeo Travel’s countdown of our Top Five Roman sites of England:

5. Roman York

Minories Roman Eagle Statue - Museum of London
Minories Roman Eagle Statue – Museum of London

The Romans had an excellent eye for identifying strategic locations for their settlements and this was never truer than when they inhabited what was previously an unsettled area in Yorkshire, but which would soon become the undisputed capital of the North of England.  The city of York was born in AD71 when the Romans pushed their empire North from Lincoln and gave them a strategic base at the point where the River Fosse meets the River Ouse and from whence they could continue to push north.  Today the Yorkshire Museum in York houses some of Britain’s most impressive Roman artefacts including mosaics, sculptures and tombstones whilst existing Roman remains can be spotted in situ at Multangular Tower and in excavations in the under croft beneath the magnificent York Minster itself.

4. Roman Amphitheatre in Chester

Roman Amphitheatre dig in Chester
Roman Amphitheatre dig in Chester

Chester, or Castra Devana as it was known by the Romans, was once England‘s largest Roman settlements covering some 60 acres.  It is thought the site was used for legionary training and as a strategic naval base on the River Dee as far back as 75AD.  With parts of the area having been carefully excavated since the 1960s it was not until 2004/2005 that archaeological investigations uncovered (literally) parts of England’s largest Roman amphitheatre which at its peak could have seated 7000 spectators and included a shrine to the Goddess Nemesis.

3. Cirencester, Capital of the Cotswolds

Roman Mozaic Corinium Museum, Cirencester, Cotswolds
Roman Mozaic Corinium Museum, Cirencester, Cotswolds

As a result of Roman settlement, the charming town of Cirencester became capital of the region which would later become known as the Cotswolds located in the heart of England.  Constructed in the 2nd Century AD, the Roman amphitheatre in the town would once have seated more than 8000 people; today it remains largely unexcavated but offers excellent walks for views of the town. In the heart of Cirencester however you’ll find its true gem at the Corinium Museum, a treasure-trove of local Roman heritage which houses arguably the best collection of Roman artefacts outside of London.  Also well-worth a visit are the nearby excavations of the Chedworth Roman Villa.

2. Roman Baths in Bath

Roman Baths in Bath City
Roman Baths in Bath City

Possibly England’s most visually spectacular Roman remain, the Roman Baths in the city of Bath were constructed as far back as the 1st century AD.  After discovery of hot water springs from the nearby Mendip Hills, with magnificently advanced engineering the Romans constructed their Temple of Sulis Minerva which was soon regarded as one of the best bathing stations throughout the entire Roman Empire and drew visitors from across Europe, even in those times!  Since its rediscovery in the 18th century, when workmen uncovered the bronze head of the goddess Minerva, the magnificent temple has been fully excavated and restored and today you can walk the worn slabs that the Romans themselves strolled along and even sample the mineral-rich water which drew them here in the first place all those centuries ago.

1. Hadrian’ Wall

Hadrian's Wall, North of England
Hadrian’s Wall, North of England

Undoubtedly one of the greatest achievements of the Roman Empire in Britain, Hadrian’s Wall stretches from coast to coast across the North of England for almost 80 miles.  Constructed by Emperor Hadrian as a barrier to keep out the “uncivilised” Scottish Pictish people the wall was an early form of border control with deep ditches, tangled undergrowth and frequent forts and watch-towers defending the wall itself which in places reached 15 feet tall.  Long stretches of the wall remain in-tact today and provide excellent hiking routes whilst the Roman heritage comes to life at excavations and the best of the remaining wall-forts including those at Housesteads Fort, Chesters Fort and Birdoswald Fort not to mention at the Roman Army and Vindolanda Museums at Hexham.

For more information on experiencing first-hand any of the above locations as part of your tailor-made tour of England, simply ask your adeo Travel Britain vacation expert.

Stonehenge – New Look for an Ancient Site

Stonehenge is one of the most iconic and instantly recognizable sites in England; and with around a million visitors each year, it is also one of Britain‘s most popular tourist attractions.  Which is why, last week, English Heritage finally opened the long-awaited state-of-the-art visitor centre which aims to offer a guest experience fitting of such a magnificent slice of British pre-history.

Stonehenge
Stonehenge

For those who have visited Stonehenge, few can disagree that it is a truly enchanting site; huge monoliths standing eerily on the Salisbury Plain and shrouded in mystery.  Pre-dating the Egyptian Pyramids, why did an ancient people go to the effort of creating this ring of stones; a pre-historic calendar mapping the seasons? An ancient burial place? Or a site of worship to a pagan god?  There are theories but still no one really knows!  And more to the point how on earth did they do it?  The stones are estimated to be around 50 tonnes each and are believed to have come from the Preselli Hills of South West Wales, some 250 miles away!

New Stonehenge Visitor Centre
New Stonehenge Visitor Centre

So there is no denying the appeal of Stonehenge, however many of those who have already visited, also agree that the overall visitor experience has not, in the past, done it justice.  In 1989 a government committee called the visitor facilities a “national disgrace” – a tiny gift shop and snack bar, underground toilets which flooded and a narrow tunnel to reach the stones themselves.  And then whilst you were trying to immerse yourself in the enigma of the stones, your audio guide was competing with the traffic noise from the A334 route which ran to within less than a 100 yards away.  But fortunately, this is all now set to change so that guests can enjoy modern comforts on their exploration of this ancient site.

Stonehenge's New Exhibition
Stonehenge’s New Exhibition

The A334 was finally closed in June offering a more peaceful visitor experience and the new facilities of the long-awaited visitor centre, which opened last week, are a world apart from those previously offered.  Modern but elegant, the grey low-standing building blends in to the moorland landscape perfectly and, located 1.5miles from the main site, it is unimposing and does detract from the atmospheric surroundings of the stones themselves.  Within, guests can enjoy an enhanced gift-shop and cafe but also a stunning range of exhibitions; from a 360-degree projection which catapults you back through the millennia of the site’s history, to an array of genuine ancient and priceless artefacts dating back to the peoples who constructed it.  A highlight is the 5,500 year old skeleton, and subsequent facial reconstruction, of a man excavated from a nearby barrow burial mound – was this Stonehenge’s first ever visitor?  And all this before you even make your way via the shuttle transfer or a stroll through nearby woodland to reach the majesty of the Stonehenge itself.

The new centre means an increase in admission and that pre-booking a slot for your visit is essential but we think it’ll be worth it for the enhanced experience – it may have been several thousand years in the making but, it seems, visitors to Stonehenge are finally getting the treatment they deserve!

Remember, remember the fifth of November…

No, it’s not my Birthday –  this is actually the line of a rhyme that all children in Britain know well.  But why should we remember November 5th? I hear you ask.  Well, it’s actually a very important date that could have changed British history and the cityscape of London as we know it today…

Palace of Westminster - Parliament
Palace of Westminster – Houses of Parliament

Renowned in Britain, “Guy Fawkes night” or, as it’s sometimes known, “bonfire night” falls on November fifth each year – it was on this cold and misty November day back in 1605 that Guy Fawkes and his co-conspirators attempted to blow up British parliament by planting kegs of gunpowder in the cellars of Westminster Palace. It was a plot to “destabilise” the protestant government of King James by the English Roman Catholics following his savage verbal attack on them previous year.

Fortunately, the plot was foiled; Guy Fawkes was discovered guarding the hoard of explosives which, had they been successfully detonated, could have destroyed much of the Palace of Westminster which was later extended to include Big Ben itself.  Following the failed plot, bonfires were lit across London on the 5th November to celebrate the fact that the King was safe and an effigy of Guy Fawkes was usually thrown on top for good measure.

Bonfire night in England
Bonfire night in England

This slightly grisly tradition endures today; in early November you will often see children asking for a “penny for the Guy” as they assemble their own effigies of old clothes stuffed with newspaper or straw to be thrown on to the local bonfire.   Fortunately however, in recent decades the celebration has become more of a social event with families coming together to attend the huge bonfires of their local community and to enjoy the spectacular organized fireworks displays which accompany  them.

Tradition is something the British do well and to this day when the Queen enters Parliament on her once yearly “State Opening of Parliament” her Guards will search the cellars of the Palace of Westminster just in case there’s a keg of gunpowder down there.  So if you’re here in England in late Autumn, remember the fifth of November and pop down to a bonfire near you!

Pride and no Prejudice! Jane Austen to appear on new ten pound note.

It was confirmed last week that Jane Austen will be the controversial new face of the British ten pound note when it is launched in 2017.  Why controversial you may ask – Austen seems a natural choice as one of England‘s most renowned authors whose works are enjoyed to this day and whose stories have been reworked for the television and movie screens time and again.  Indeed, she would seem to sit well in the long line of famous British historical figures to appear on our currency from William Shakespeare right through to Scottish inventor James Watt and nature scientist Charles Darwin.

How the new Jane Austen ten pound note may look.
How the new Jane Austen ten pound note may look.

However, the announcement takes on new significance when you consider that Austen will be only the third female ever, apart from her Majesty the Queen herself, to appear on a banknote of Great Britain.  And that the only other woman – prison-reformer Elizabeth Fry – to currently appear on our banknotes is due to be replaced in 2016, by a male figure (Winston Churchill).

It was this announcement of Fry’s replacement earlier this year which caused a storm of debate – an online petition demanding more female representation on our nation’s cash, aside from the Queen, gained 35000 signatures and there were even threats of court action against the Bank of England on grounds of equality and discrimination.  Austen had been suggested as a potential female figure and a social-media campaign of support was quickly galvanised.

Bath Abbey, Bath, England
Bath Abbey in Bath where Austen lived for much of her life.

Fortunately, last week’s confirmation that Jane Austen will indeed appear on our new ten pound notes has quelled some of the controversy.  The new Governor of the Bank of England seems to be more than happy with the selection saying that Jane Austen clearly “merits” a place amongst the other historical figures and that her novels are both “enduring” and with “universal appeal”.  And in response to the online petition he has also announced a review of the selection process for who appears on our bank notes to ensure improved diversity in the historical figures portrayed.

So soon it will be with great pride that we see Jane Austen represented on our banknotes and hopefully we won’t see this type of prejudice again!

Interested in Jane Austen, why not visit the Jane Austen centre in Bath or the museum set in her former home at Chawton near Winchester.

Andy Murray – Wimbledon Champion!

Few of us thought we would see the day; and once it arrived few of us felt we would survive it!  In a breathtakingly dramatic final, yesterday Scotland‘s Andy Murray clinched championship point to become Britain’s first male Wimbledon single champion in 77 years – and Britain couldn’t be prouder!

Wimbledon Logo
Wimbledon Logo

I blogged last year about our annual obsession with tennis during the Championships and this year was no different.  After seeing Andy Murray reach Wimbledon final in 2012 only to lose in straight sets to the ever dominant and seven-time champion Roger Federer, Brits were holding their breath yesterday when we had a second chance to see a Brit once again lift the trophy in London.  And the feat was to be no easier this year as he faced world number one from Serbia, Novak Djokovic.  The win was, on paper, a straight-forward victory with a 6-4, 7-5, 6-4 straight sets score-line; not a tie-break or fifth set in sight!  However in reality it was a tight tussle with Murray twice having to come back from a break down once in each of the second and third sets.

Andy Murray - Wimbledon
Andy Murray with Wimbledon Trophy

However, it was in the final game that the drama really unfolded; for the last few weeks we have cooked in one of our warmest Summers in a long while, but yesterday, in London‘s blistering heat, Andy Murray made us sweat for a whole new reason.  Coming out to serve for the match Murray made it to 40-0 and held three consecutive championship points only for the Serbian player, with a combination of bravery, skill and a hint of luck, to edge his way back in to the game.  Equalling at deuce all of a sudden what had seemed like a certain victory now hung once more in the balance.  The tension was tangible in the stadium, on Henman Hill and on sofas up and down the country from the highest of the Scottish Highlands to the tip of Cornwall in England as Djokovic enjoyed three break points before Murray steadied the ship and his nerves finally clinching the victory on his fourth match point.

As Murray roared in celebration so did the British public.  More than 20 million people in Britain, almost a third of the population, tuned in to watch the final –  a sign of just what this historic win meant to the nation!  Well done Andy Murray!