I've been hiking around my Cotswold valley, getting to know my new surroundings. My goal was to find a Roman villa that lies in the middle of some woods relatively undiscovered (in the sense that nobody has thrown up a fence and started charging exorbitant entry fees to look at some rubbish illustrations). I suppose that I should have bought an Ordnance Survey map immediately, as this would have greatly improved my chances of discovering the ruin. Unfortunately, I have always equated people with Ordnance Survey maps with the sort of types I wouldn't leave alone with my children.
I love walking, but I loathe the professional rambler look, with their silly floppy hats, stay-dry trousers, ski poles, and laminated maps. They tend to move in herds, or in colour co-ordinated couples. I loathe them so much that I will dive into a nearby thicket rather than have to say hello.
This has left me in a couple of awkward situations in the past, when I've been forced to explain my presence in the thicket when sighted by a sharp-eyed landlord or birdwatcher. But I digress.
I led my family on two, gruelling three-hour walks, in which all they heard was my saying, "I'm sure this is it", every time I spotted a thick copse of trees. They would watch as I hopped over a fence and ploughed into the thick undergrowth shouting "It's here, I can smell it …" before returning defeated, bleeding profusely from lacerated legs. I even tried to train my beloved Labradors in the art of Roman villa fetching, but they were sadly disappointing.
I finally gave in, and accepted the kind offer of a detailed map from a friend, who is far more organised in these matters than I am. He carries a little backpack when he walks, that contains sweets and water for his kids. I carry nothing but a bad attitude and grim determination.
I laid the map out on the kitchen table and realised immediately that I'd been in completely the wrong part of the valley. To groans from my family I announced that the third expedition was to leave immediately. We set out with much resistance from the troops but I, like Caesar, was not to be deterred. We were going to veni, vidi and vici.
I did wonder, as we headed off down yet another steep hill, whether my recent growth of beard, and now this obsession with walking and maps signalled a serious descent into cranky middle age?
Soon, though, we found ourselves in an enchanted forest, magical in its silence. I heard the sounds of a running stream and then, all of a sudden, we were there, in a breathtaking glade, standing in the ruins of what had once been a sizeable Roman villa. When I say ruins, I mean the bare foundations, and my kids were not quite as excited as I was by the find. Even they, however, had to express astonishment when we found a three-metre-square mosaic floor, lying where it had for over 1,800 years.
It was oddly moving, and we stood and thought about our ancient Roman neighbours for a second before there came a question from my son: "Dad, did you bring any sweets?"