We’d intended to spend the next two nights at Blois, but when we arrived at the freebee campsite in the heart of the town the gates were chained and it was clear that the site is no longer used. Our fall-back position was a much smaller site at St Claude de Direy, a rural community about four miles from Blois and about a mile from the Loire. In many ways this was a much better outcome as for much of the time we were the only occupants of the site and once again the authorities had been thoughtful enough to provide a bright and shiny, self cleaning, stainless steel, fully automatic loo.
We initially parked the van in the car park of the village Salle de Fetes but later moved a hundred meters or so to the official camp site when we realized that there was a wedding reception taking place in the Salle that evening. As the wedding guests started to arrive we couldn’t help but observe that most were dressed in clothes that the local charity shops had quite clearly rejected as being sub-standard. Whatever happened to French style and chic?
On a more positive note, at some point in time some local official had been thoughtful enough to put up a number of informative signs around St Claude de Diray telling the history of the village – they even had English translations. One particular sign explained that the large wooden barns that are still to be found around the village were originally built for tobacco drying. Well, you could have knocked us over with a couple of feathers! Tobacco growing in western Europe, who’d have thought it? Now, Google is a wonderful thing, but once you start looking into these things you just never know where you’ll end up – for example, did you know that the centre of the 17th Century English tobacco growing industry was ………….. Winchcombe in the Cotswolds. Who knew?
One of the many things that the Romans did for us was to leave us with a great many souvenirs of their 400 year occupation of Britain. Some have been discovered and made accessible for visits by those of us who take an interest in such things, others lie beneath the earth awaiting discovery in years to come, and a very few have been discovered and, well ……….. just left!
One such site is Spoonley Wood Roman Villa which sits in the grounds of Sudeley Castle near Winchcombe in Gloucestershire – about 15 miles from home. Discovered and partially unearthed in the 1870s it’s largely been left for nature to once more reclaim and is sufficiently remote and inaccessible that it now receives very few visitors. In fact you could quite easily walk within yards of the site and never know it was there. Having been alerted to its existance by a mention by Bill Bryson’ book ‘Notes from a Small Island’ we decided to take a look.
The walk from Winchcombe is just over a couple of miles and on a fine day you could probably do the return trip in not much more than two hours – unfortunately, whilst the day we chose was bright and sunny, the ground underfoot was extremely wet and in many places the path (such as it was) was a quagmire. When the mud starts to go over the top of your walking boots you know its wet!
When you eventually get there the site itself is at first a little underwhelming. You can more or less make out the outlines of some of the buidings (partialy reconstructed by enthusiastic Victorians) but the woodland has largely overwhelmed their efforts at conservation and the structures that they erected to protect some of the finds have, in the main part, long since disintegrated. There is, however, one small ‘lean-to’ structure doing its best to protect a small patch of floor and beneath a piece of rather grotty plastic sheeting is ……………….. a wonderful roman mosaic! Lift the sheet and there, covered with mud and definately not looking its best , is a floor that was apparently laid by a Roman workman some 16 or 17 centuries ago. Who said the Romans never did anything for us?
….holiday blogs, motoring obsessions and an occasional account of goings-on in the Ewbank household