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Time for another visit to The Newt in Somerset. I’d done the Cyder [sic] Tour there a month previous, and had come away with samples. I’d then taken the opportunity to walk down to have a quick look at the exterior of the new Roman Villa Experience (they’re all ‘experiences’ these days, aren’t they?) and back along a vast new area that the enterprise had opened up.

A few days ago, I met Mary off her – delayed – train at Castle Cary station. Arrived at The Newt, we started with the obligatory coffee, and did a bit of setting the world to rights – it’s a big job these days.

This merged seamlessly into lunch.

We were booked in to the Roman Villa for 3p.m., so set off an hour earlier to make our way there via the newly opened area. This involved setting off from the pergola and its many different members of the gourd family.

Going ‘the long way round’ it was about a mile to the Villa, but there was plenty to entertain us on the way, including The Grotto with its Wyvern. The difference between a dragon and a wyvern?

First of all, dragons have four legs, while wyverns have only two. Their front legs are fused to their wings, so they cannot move their wings as easily as dragons. Dragons are also a lot larger than wyverns, and they are believed to be the most powerful creatures in the world. Indeed, it’s very impressive: dragons are very hard to kill and, unless they are killed, they will live for thousands of years.

Still, wyverns, who are considered to be one of the breeds of dragons, can’t be called harmless in any way. Though smaller, easier to attack, and with fewer powers, wyverns can move around a lot faster than dragons, thus making them a big advantage. So, you can never underestimate a wyvern: due to the fact that it’s so swift, it might attack and kill even more efficiently and effectively than a dragon.

When I’d visited in July I had heeded the advice below. I really am too literal-minded – children were actually being encouraged to be disobedient, when they would have had a flaming surprise!

Sadly, by the time of this visit, the Wyvern had no head – some children had been too violent. Safety, electric wires and all that, had led the management to remove it entirely. (It is to be replaced.) But here’s a picture I had taken of it on my previous visit.

We moved on, and were amused by these parallel sheep, all moving towards our right.

Even on my first visit to The Newt, in January 2020, I had seen, in the inaccessible distance and from another angle, what looked like a dovecot. Now we were able not only to approach it but to go inside.

Through the, evidently unglazed, windows, were several views, including this one of the Roman Villa for which we were heading.

Reception and the museum

The Newt’s website said to allow 90 to 120 minutes for the tour of museum and villa. Reception said not to linger too long in the former, as the house alone would need at least an hour to be appreciated. We only had two hours before they would close – and we had ordered Roman food for the end.

We were issued with GPS-guided headphones. In the museum, one pressed a lit ring by an exhibit to learn more. In the house, commentary was stimulated by proximity to any given area. I love audioguides – but there is a huge disadvantage in that you have to rely on your memory a few days later … So there are many lacunas now …

The reconstructed Roman villa is by the site of a real one, burnt down in the 4th century, and first re-discovered in the 19th. Part of it is incorporated into the museum and part of it has been returned to the ground.

More historical information is here and here. The latest archaeological excavations took place after Koos Bekker, the South African billionaire owner of The Newt in Somerset, had acquired the property in 2013.

I was frustrated not to be able to tell which exhibits were originals and which reproductions. (But these surely were all the latter.) Only on examining some of my pictures have I realised – I think – that there were symbols by the captions which would have told me. (Next time – which is soon.)

The villa, seen from the museum
This was the spa/bathing area.
These light fittings are made up of small shards found on the site.
From the games exhibits
Part of the food and cooking exhibit

More time would have allowed a more in depth perusal of the exhibits, (and outside the holidays would have perhaps avoided some rather noisy children, but they were having enormous fun). We moved on to the villa, through vineyard and orchard.

We were welcomed to the ‘Villa Ventorum’ by Diana, in Roman dress. She explained that this room is the furthest most visitors would have been allowed, a place where business transactions would have taken place. From then on our visit was led by the audioguides.

They told us the route to take. There were no stewards, no barriers, no ‘do not touch’s (though our headphone commentary made that polite request) and no – conspicuous anyway – CCTV. And I should mention that the visit is entirely free once entry to The Newt is paid, either by annual membership, or as a guest of a member.

I wondered whether a 21st century person had modelled for this portrait. Indeed, could it be Karen Roos, joint owner of The Newt?
Recognisably the British Isles, though Scotland’s round the bend.

No detail has been missed in the development. The Villa has only been open to the public for a couple of months. My assumption would be therefore that this scorched effect has been added artificially.

We met this cheery fellow in the peaceful rear garden.

A child’s bedroom, and a child’s collection

Parents’ bedroom, and parents’ jewellery

The ‘bibliotheca’ was always in a mess, we were told through our headphones.

The route from Villa Ventorum to London and beyond

Next, to the linked music and entertaining rooms

I cannot imagine how one could eat recumbent, propped up on one arm.

Round to the front of the villa again, and down to the lower courtyard to be served our Roman street food.

This young man told us that the stall was totally authentic, apart from the stainless steel serving pots. We each had what could be described in modern terms as a vegetarian wrap – containing broad beans, asparagus, coriander and a few other lovely things – delicious. I had cider with mine and Mary a sort of cold mulled red wine, the name of which I couldn’t retain.

View from the room in which we ate

We walked back the direct way to the hub of The Newt, still about a kilometre, wondering whether we would see any of the deer.

We certainly did, and they seemed, untypically, to be herded to an area which was inaccessible to the public (possibly because the rutting season is coming up?).

I had never seen so many of them together.

This beech tree fell during Storm Eunice on 18th February this year. As the panel beside it says, it is being left there to become a home for fungi, beetles, and bugs, and, in due course, to become compost. Such shallow roots for such a tall tree!

We had some time before Mary’s train back to London, and, since all refreshment facilities had by now closed, we sat for a short while on a conveniently placed bench, with Newt Lake and the young apple orchards ahead of us, and Hadspen House, the Long Walk and the kitchen garden at 2 o’clock.

In due course we made our way back to the car park.

Just yesterday, when a friend called to offer me some plums from her garden, I was telling her about the Villa. We have arranged to go together in about a month’s time, when I will hope to fill in some of those lacunas, and indeed to observe more.

Footnote: Never – £500, £600, £700 and rising per night! – will I be in a position to take photographs of those parts of The Newt reserved to guests in its hotels, Hadspen House and The Farmyard. But here is a short article by those involved in the interior design, which will show a little of how the Other Half lives!