“ Address: Yanworth / near Cheltenham / Gloucestershire / GL54 3LJ „
"All right, but apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, a fresh water system, and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us? (Monty Python's Life of Brian ©)"
Well, to help answer this question, one way is to take time out of your busy lives for a trip to the National Trust site of Chedworth Roman Villa, located in the village of Yanworth in Gloucestershire. Here lies the ancient ruined villa that would have been undoubtedly a hip and happening place for certain rich Roman folk way back in the 2nd Century AD before reaching its full splendour by the 4th Century AD. It looks like there were no real records on the ownership of this villa meaning much of what can be seen at this ancient site is based upon pure conjecture from modern day understanding of the Romans and also what archaeological discoveries have been made since a) the Victorians in 1864 first uncovered fragments of pottery and paving and b) many exciting remnants have emerged since the NT took over in 1924, so ultimately, as is probably the case with most ruins, much of what you will take away from the experience depends massively on your own imagination. So really, if looking at grassed over broken wall foundations and dug up floors isn't really your thing then I wouldn't overly advise coming here, but if you have an interest in the ancient Roman world and the thought of retracing their steps to delve into a little piece of their artistic and engineering legacy appeals then it's not a bad place at all to visit if you have a spare couple of hours.
==How best to transport yourself to Yanworth==
Address: Yanworth, near Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, GL54 3LJ
Telephone: 01242 890256
Most forms of public transport like the train (the closest being Cheltenham station some 14 miles away) and buses don't seem to really pass to close to the villa and you would probably have to live quite close by to make walking or cycling a viable option which leaves driving (or a taxi) as the best way to transport yourself via either the A429 or A436 whilst following those convenient brown National Trust signs. Alas, as you near the destination you are forced to take on a maze of sometimes steep, winding single track roads with limited passing places so you will need to keep your wits about you on the last leg of your journey where you can park for free in the main or overflow car parks available.
Type: Gift Aid / Standard
Adult: £9.40 / £8.50
Child: £4.70 / £4.25
Family: £23.50 / £21.25
Group: n/a / £7.95
From March: 10am-4pm
From April - October: 10am - 5pm
From November - February: CLOSED
Well, after surviving the rather treacherous driving obstacles and locating a parking space in the rather busy and multi-tiered car park, there was but a short, yet uphill, stroll to the visitor centre. Unfortunately, we didn't get off to a good start as there were several members of staff hanging about that, judging by their nervousness, were interns in training and whilst being eager to help they were ultimately useless in the face of there being no receptionist to meet and greet us. Some minutes later the receptionist finally reappeared with no real apology but despite this was friendly enough in giving us admission information and supplying us with hand held audio guides if we didn't fancy the tours they offered. These were some pretty high-tech guides that were clearly in the style of a touch-screen smart phone app so were highly intuitive, allowed for high quality pictures and video clips, were easy to navigate and definitely enhanced the whole trip around the villa...which I fear would have been tediously dull otherwise. They also had a nice set of menu options for kids to make them family friendly.
Stepping outside, the site to explore looked potentially a little small (considering the maximum price of £9.40) with only a giant tent in the middle of the grassy courtyard set aside for a private club, a very modern looking wooden lodge that may well have suited a Scandinavian country better, which was built to protect the now famous mosaics and baths from the savage English elements and a lot of wall foundations dotted around outlining where all the good stuff used to be some 1,600 years ago, plus a small museum housed in an attractive Tudor-like building, so despite the gorgeous views of the surrounding Cheltenham landscape my initial feeling was of being slightly underwhelmed. Anyway, you start the tour with a small model of how the villa would have looked with lots of information available on the audio guide delivered in a very scholarly tone and if you go through all the available options you will end up loitering near the entrance for quite some time. Passing where the latrines would have been on your right you can stop and listen to some more informative chit chat where you may end up loitering for quite some time...alternatively, you can move straight on into the conservation lodge to get your first look at the now famous mosaics, which were rediscovered in 2010, with work still going on today to complete their re-emergence into the world.
The mosaics are intriguing to look at despite being in an expected state of disrepair, especially with added information / story telling from the audio guide with speculation as to how they would have been put together with such intricate designs and what the reaction may have been by guests, with particular attention shown to the obvious patterns surrounding ebbing away from what would have been a seated area to allow the guests the most comfortable way to enjoy the splendorous sight. Moving on you go into the ante room which has been stocked up with some pottery from around the period and a few fun games and puzzles on some tables to sit down at and have a play either by yourself or with friends. Again there is some useful information to be had on the audio guide about recreation during Roman times but you will linger a while to take it all in so it is all very stop/start.
The next part is quite interesting, but to be honest it's been done before on a grander scale at the Roman Baths in that unrelatedly named town of Bath, and that is a look at one of the things the Romans were most famous for - their heated bathing complexes. You can see how all the different bathing areas were laid out from the changing room, the warm room, the cool room and the cold plunge room and can learn about the fascinating feats of engineering that made such a civilised custom possible, such as under floor heating for the warm (sauna) rooms through the use of cisterns, furnaces and flowing hot water. On a darker note, you can also learn how slave labour was utilised to allow these Roman bigwigs to live so comfortably, which adds fuel to their stereotypically brutish portrayal in the history books. Outside into the fresh air / inevitable rain you can visit the water shrine...or what's left of it which is basically a fairly meek spring surrounded by a partial stone wall, but through the audio guide and pictures you are given a good idea of how awe inspiring it must have been with the need to appease the Gods at any one time plus wildlife nuts can appreciate the amphibious creatures now inhabiting the area.
That's then pretty much it for the grounds; all that remains of the rest of the villa are the stone foundations which are labelled accordingly with great pains made by the audio guide to make it as interesting as possible by doing some re-enactments of visiting snooty guests though there's only so much that is humanly possible to make stones interesting. However, do look out for a cool looking section which shows the stones used to raise floors to allow for under heating which sort of looks like a mushroom field on steroids. This leaves the Tudor style museum which holds many of the Victorian finds from the first time the site was discovered which has a few interesting pieces like iron keys and games / gambling items as well as your bog standard broken bits of statues and pottery. The NT gift shop will try to trap you on the way out with all the usual books, wines and confectionary but isn't too unreasonably priced.
So to sum up, this is a nice place to visit with some lovely views, particularly if you are interested in history, but you will either have to go on the guided tour or get your own audio guide otherwise I suspect you will be a tad bored. The tour, even with the lingering and loitering to hear the various talks probably will take no longer than 1 hour, so I struggle to understand the entry fee, although as a free NT member I can't argue with the value for money. It looks like there are some fun events offered throughout the year, such as watching the conservation at work, weaving demonstrations and family activities like mosaic and badge making so maybe something to look out for if such things are of interest to enhance the experience, but these are not readily available on an ad hoc basis so would need to be carefully planned. I'd say it's nice to visit if you're already a member, otherwise a it's little overpriced for what you get which are some dressed up ruins.
* Toilets are available in the main reception area, with baby changing and disabled facilities, which are well signposted, but I didn't require the use of them so cannot comment on their cleanliness, though I suspect they are comparable, if not superior, to the facilities back in ancient Roman times.
* There is a small café available with a small amount of inside seating areas that sells hot and cold drinks plus decent snacks like pre-packaged sandwiches and highly naughty looking cakes, but from what I saw there is no kitchen so you wouldn't be able to get a substantial meal here, and it looked incredibly busy around afternoon tea time, so getting a seat looked like a bit of a minefield too, so may not be suitable for a proper lunch. There is a family picnic area outside for those that pre-planned.
* There is a car park 15 metres from the entrance and an overflow car park 250 metres from the entrance which seems to get a bit jam packed with cars hindering manoeuvrability a little and the exit was not clearly signposted so could cause a bit of confusion as we ended up going back out of the entrance which was just plain wrong and could have caused a major catastrophe if meeting head on traffic. There is separate mobility parking 10 metres from the entrance.
*It doesn't seem ideal for coaches either as there is but one space for pre-booked coaches and ones over 12 metres long will find turning a nightmare.
* Only assistance dogs are allowed onto the actual site.
* Pushchairs and baby carriers are allowed, but walking through the actual villa could block your fellow patrons, and the outside walkways are most uneven so could cause a few problems.
* Likewise, there are ramps and lifts available to allow wheelchair users (with one being available for loan on a first come, first serve basis) access to all areas apart from the museum which has stairs leading up to its entrance, but the uneven terrain may make life a bit difficult.