An archaeologist abroad

Well, sort of. London certainly feels like a country all of its own sometimes! After so much manic socialising at Christmas, the fiancé and I decided on a Bridget Jones-style mini-break as a change of scene, and thanks to Groupon, we got it half price with dinner slung in (always a winner). I’ve been obsessed with going to the Cotswolds ever since I read Sophie Kinsella’s The Undomestic Goddess (showing my academic side here…) so obviously I picked Blockley in Gloucestershire. And obviously it rained the entire time.


Broadway in deep, rainy mist

Still even in rain the Cotswolds managed to be beautiful; we even went on a bit of a hike! This was distinctly out of my fiance’s comfort zone; particularly since he refused to buy wellies…. This blog does not recommend trainers as floodwear. Halfway up what turned out to be a tramp up a long hill I remembered why I don’t like hiking, out of breath with only more uphill ahead of me – I prefer walking to GET places- but when we got to Broadway folly with the Cotswolds all spread out below us I decided it was, on balance, worth the short walk. I think we must have been the only walkers out that day using umbrellas however….everyone else was in true hiker gear, anoraks and walking sticks included. No thank you!

Broadway Folly

Broadway Folly

I loved the Cotswolds for its honey-coloured stone buildings, some thatched (a feature I’m only a TINY bit obsessed with) and most in the smaller villages all smushed up together to the extent some were partially underground. Thanks to growing up in a cottage I get particularly fond when I see latticed windows too….all to the dismay of the fiancé, who would feel like an elf in Bilbo Baggin’s den if I miraculously came into money and bought one.


Gorgeous AND chocolate containing!

However the archaeologist in me got particularly excited when, perusing the local maps to decide on our mini sodden hike, I noticed the spot of ‘Upton (abandoned) medieval village’. Why no one else I asked was even remotely interested in this is beyond me. 

Apparently there are thousands of abandoned villages in Britain – Stephen Fisk has set up a website to record and display photographs of these quite haunting places, see to take a look, although Upton is not currently included. I imagine this is because all  that remains of the village is earthworks. Excavations by the School of History of the University of Birmingham between 1959 and 1968 revealed 29 buildings. In 1973 what apparently is known as a watching brief (you learn something new every day!) was set up for 20 days as a pipe was built through the area, and this confirmed the Roman origins of the village through sherds, walls and hearth remains, as well as possible timber footprints. Excavators theorise that the site may have prehistoric origins, although a substantial modern excavation would be required to assess this thoroughly. The Trans Bristol Gloucestershire Archaeology Society 102 (1984) has full details of the observations made here.

Villages have been abandoned through our history for myriad reasons; disease, war, forced resettlement – I have a vague memory of a village in the North which was flooded by the sea and a nearby resident stating that the church belltower was still visible at low tide, but can’t for the life of me remember its name, so if any of you have any clues do let me know! Upton is thought to have been a victim of forced resettlement by local elites, who wanted the area for sheep farming.


Wharram Percy's abandoned church: one of the best known abandoned villages in the UK. Photo courtesy of

Wharram Percy’s abandoned church: one of the best known abandoned villages in the UK. Photo courtesy of

Even though my interest was piqued by Upton, and we did try to find it, I actually couldn’t. We drove to the area we assumed it was and attempted to get down a byway, but this turned out to be private land, and the torrential rain put me off getting out and trawling the woods and fields, possibly squashing a half-flooded potato field along the way. In the summer I have every intention of tramping over the whole of the Cotswolds if necessary to find the damned place, but it’s a shame there’s no sign to distinguish one field from the next….I’ll have to get my archaeology glasses on and scour the ground.

Meanwhile, I’m back in the Big Smoke, standing outside border control in a mini hurricane, wearing evidently not waterproof boots. Unfortunately, wellies are not considered appropriate office wear.



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