We park at the church of St Mary the Virgin. Around it ancient yew trees stand with writhing boughs, grave stones tilt. Its spire pokes up to the blue, a modest reminder of heaven.
The footpath leads us around sibilant hedgerows to the broken walls that stretch out in Roman lines across the fields. Their perimeter stretch out four miles under a hot heavy sun that scours the wide blue sky. In some fields cows stand nonchalant in the available shade, in others an archeological dig continues.
This is, or was, Calleva Atrebatum. The walls are Roman, but the town itself existed from the Iron Age until a few hundred years after the Romans left. The name refers to the tribe that occupied the area when the Romans arrived. The most obvious things that remain are the walls1 and a sense of mystery. That and spirituality: the church named for Mary, the wellspring of Christianity, is sited near the remains of not one but two Roman temples. We walked around and wondered what Calleva was like. We imagined villas like the one we'd seen the day before at Butser. Why did it not evolve further into a modern population centre, as so many former Roman towns have done?(I'm not going to answer that question, but if you read the linked article you will get several interesting answers.)
There is also an English Heritage car park, from which you can access the site for free during daylight hours. We parked at the church because our book of walks suggested it as a good starting point. Unfortunately we didn't have time to do all the walk as that required a picnic or a booking for lunch at the very nice Calleva Arms pub in Silchester proper, and we had neither. Instead we chopped off some of the walk and made an afternoon of it, a great way to spend a hot sunny August afternoon.
- I have a nagging feeling that the walls are reconstructions, the sort of thing that the Duke of Wellington would have liked to have stretching out over his land. ↩︎