"Denise and Mike met on an Andante Travels tour to Pompeii and the Bay of Naples. Mike had been looking for this book in vain, so we decided to write it."
So begins the acknowledgements page of our brand-new book, ‘Roman Britain and Where to Find It’, a guide to all the visible and accessible remains of the province of Britannia, including sites and major museum collections. I did indeed meet Mike Bryan and his wife Heather on a Pompeii tour about 4 years ago, and the plan was hatched. Mike had loved Roman history since he was a boy, and had then had a successful career in publishing, realising the lack of a modern popular and accessible guidebook. His idea was to give sites star ratings, using Simon Jenkin’s ‘England’s Thousand Best Churches’ as a broad model. I was just about to leave the Andante office, having spent nearly 20 years designing, setting up and leading tours, and one of my favourite tasks had always been writing field notes for the tours I led. It seemed a good way to spend a large chunk of the time I was going to have at last.
We set about revisiting every site between us, to review them in their current state and make the star ratings fair. These are based on how much Roman material is on view, as well as the quality of the remains. Tintagel, therefore, which is undoubtedly a spectacular site, gets a 1* rating, reflecting the two inscribed Roman stones and other bits and pieces here.
Starting slowly at first until we had a publishing deal, we divvied them out between us, with frequent chats and occasional meetings to make sure we were in accord. This took three years, fitting around seasonal closures and other commitments, and was amazingly good fun – each persuading friends, family and anyone who was willing to come on long journeys to seek out chunks of Roman walls, villas and bath-houses both gorgeously and idiosyncratically displayed, museums with famous and obscure treasures and inscribed stones in country churches. It was as much an eye-opener about the state of modern Britain as Roman, and a reminder that every site owes its visibility to the enthusiasm of individuals who cared enough to make a fuss and raise the funds. These include wealthy 19th century landowners, energetic and devoted archaeologists, and indefatigable amateurs who have ensured that these important parts of our past have remained accessible to everyone.