In which two English men are MOOved by cows

Picture this: we’re hiking along, out of breath, legs screaming at us to allow them a rest, and we’ve just passed through a gated area into a field that’s rife with animals. Up ahead, we hear some very vocal cows. What’s going on?

Up here, in the small-town farmland, there are so many places to hike. There are signs posted everywhere, reminding hikers to close the gates, and to keep dogs on their leads. The last reminder is crucial.

Cows are incredibly protective of their young, and this translates to aggressiveness against other creatures. Dogs are supposed to be kept on their leashes during these hikes, so that they can be controlled, and not scare the cows. This did not happen. Enter our stars of the day – two poor English men who happened to be in the wrong field, at the exact wrong time.

From what I’ve gathered, there seems to have been some people walking their dog, leash-less, in the very field that our men were trampled in. While they (and presumably their dog) got away just fine, our two fellas didn’t fare so well. We witnessed one being lifted by a cow, and the other getting knocked over while trying to help. I’ve never heard cows moo quite so loud.

Enter the farmer. He comes roaring up on his ATV, and spends the next few minutes making sure the men are okay, and then herding the cows away from that area. We brave the danger zone, and strike up a conversation with the men. The farmer returns.

So do the cows.

Beth starts screaming “THEY’RE COMING BACK“; mom-mode instantly activated. It takes a few times yelling (and Alex letting out a shrill whistle) until the farmer realizes that she’s talking to him. He guns the engine, and takes off after the cows all over again. That’s our cue to run.

Once we’re safely into another field, we have a chat with these chaps, and get them cleaned up. One of them had blood running all down his face, but it ended up seeming worse than it really was. Thankfully, Alex was prepared with a first aid kit, so we were ready to go.

These guys were champs; after taking a beating from the cows, their only complaint was that one of their cameras stopped working. It was certainly a memorable moment, and the only time something like this has happened during Beth and Alex’s many years of running the field school.

Da Roma in Inghilterra!

Hello dear readers!

Hopefully you’ve been following along our adventures in Rome, studying the heart of the Roman Empire. Perhaps you might have even recognized a few familiar faces on the trip. Just in case you missed the rolling green hills and the rainy weather that you have been accustomed to (except that the past few days have mimicked the Italian sun,) we’ve come back to Vindolanda with a new team.

A beautiful sunset over Hadrian’s Wall

Introductory posts will be on their way shortly, but this year is a little different. Instead of running the field school as usual, we’ve brought along a team of seasoned excavators and researchers to help on site and in the museum. While we’re a bit of a smaller team, we’re excited to share with you some of the exciting things we’ll be doing over the next few weeks.

For those who have been following the blog for a while, you might be thinking, “Wow, he’s still here?” And you’d be right! For those who don’t know, my name is Prem Sai Ramani. I’ve been a student of the field school, a senior student for the past two years, and now I’ve come back for my fourth season to work on  Vindolanda’s Archaeological Leather Project in the museum. As always, I’m incredibly excited to be back and at this point, it feels like I am returning to my second home.

We’ve already hit the ground running by starting off with a good old hike along Hadrian’s Wall. Here’s a picture of the team right at the iconic point of Sycamore Gap:

The team (left to right): Anoop, Me, Meghan, Sarah, and Shereen

Look forward to some posts about the cool things we’re working on this season.

Until then,


Final goodbyes…

Ok, yes, there were actually some tears…but I won’t tell you from whom! This has really been an amazing trip and almost no one wanted it to end. I think that’s a good sign! We’re planning to do the Study Tour to Rome every other year, alternating with the Vindolanda Field School, so keep an eye on this space as another group of students discovers the various corners of the Roman world, ancient and modern.

You saw our final day together but here are some of the great moments when we gathered at the Centro back in Rome to say goodbye and go our separate ways.

Classic group hug always makes a great photo!

Maria and Amanda really do not want to leave! Miss you guys too!

The airport crew heading out, some of whom were catching flights to continue their adventures in Austria, Spain and elsewhere in Italy.

Another sad face upon departure. More adventures await and we’ll report on those as they come up. In 2019 the Greek Study Tour will run again, so keep an eye on the UWO Classics webpage ( for their blog and you’ll find the Vindolanda Field School right here also in 2019. But for now, arrivederci, ciao, buona sera e a presto!!

How has the end arrived so soon?!

The final day of the Rome Study Tour 2018 was not passed without adventure! We made the very most of our bus ride from the Bay of Naples to Rome and stopped along the way for a leg stretch…and a bit of bicycling!

Our final group picture in front of the Villa Vergiliana right before leaving for Rome. Staying two steps from a very ancient amphitheatre was not at all bad! Until next time Villa…

Our first stop was at the 18th-century chateau and gardens of the Bourbons at Caserta. Everyone needed a good stretch so some of us rented bikes in the enormous manicured gardens of the palace and pedalled up to the top of the fountains and through the wooded paths. Lovely!

Next stop: the stunning remains of the amphitheatre at Capua. Like so many places outside the popular spots of Rome, Florence and Venice, we had this place entirely to ourselves. Unlike the Colosseum, you can see the inner construction of the building up close and can have a quiet moment contemplating its brilliance.

Last stop: Rome. It’s almost time to say goodbye folks, until the next adventure!

A day in the suburban villas

Everyone always thinks of opulence and wealth when they think of the Roman villas in the Bay of Naples. There were certainly plenty of those but there’s also what are known as “Villa Rustica”–Country properties that were producing and shipping products, often agricultural, such as wine, olive oil, wheat and other products. We saw both on our tour of the suburbs outside the bustling cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum.

The Villa Poppaea at Oplontis was probably owned by the second wife of Nero, Poppaea Sabina. It was also covered by the same pyroclastic flows that hit Herculaneum and was completely covered until archaeologists found it again in the 19th and 20th centuries. You can see the hardened deposits from which it was freed on the right of the image above.

As you can imagine this imperial property was richly decorated from head to toe with frescoes, mosaics and colonnades.

It appears that at the time of the eruption no one was actually living at the Villa Poppaea. No bodies were discovered and many of the rooms were filled with construction material, suggesting the complex was undergoing major renovations at the time. So we repopulated the rooms with Western students!

The villa at Boscoreale is very much a villa rustica with its wine production business going strong when it all got buried in a single day! But unfortunately for us it is undergoing consolidation right now so we couldn’t get in. You’ll have to enjoy further pictures of the luxurious villas at Stabiae, Villa San Marco (named after the nearby church) and Villa Arianna.

The luxurious and huge atrium of the Villa San Marco

The villa had a waterfront view in antiquity, but after the eruption it was more like half a kilometre from the coast! Now the view looks out over modern Castellemmare di Stabia.

At the end of a long reflecting pool was a fabulous fountain and nymphaeum that was once ornately decorated, but you can still get the vibe in the picture above.

The almost unbelievable wall frescoes of the Villa Arianna and San Marco!

Everyone takes a much needed break at the end of a long day. No better place than the courtyard of a luxury villa perfectly placed to catch the breeze!

And Herculaneum, of course!

For some crazy reason only about a quarter of the people who pour into Pompeii every day seem to also check out Herculaneum, so that left us exploring the site practically alone at opening hour. We got there bright and early in the morning and broke up into groups to explore this amazing city.

It’s easy to forget exactly how deep this city actually is and exactly how much ash, pumice and mud covered this place (20-25 meters!). On the top (pic above) you see the trees on the modern ground level. On the left is the city of Herculaneum excavated from the hardened deposits. And on the right you can see the deep stratigraphy of those volcanic deposits. Unbelievable!

Just like Pompeii the streets, sidewalks, shops and houses were frozen in a moment in August (probably) of AD 79.

Complete with painted columns, frescoes, second floors and marble panels, Herculaneum does not disappoint any Classics student.

Some houses even had their iron window grates preserved!

And wooden partitions that could open or close a space! Prem, Kristina and Massimo provide scale in this house.

We can never get enough of the bars (thermopolia in Latin) even though there are dozens! They just bring to life a city street like nothing else. The students jumped in to recreate a bar scene, serving dorm mice and other snacks to the customers 😉

It’s fairly common to find Garett reading a Latin inscription somewhere. He’s looking a little perplexed here…or is that his relaxed pose?!

Alex and Massimo contemplate the monument of Marcus Nonnius Balbus, who was praetor and proconsul of Crete and Cyrene (a Roman province). He was also Tribune of the Plebs in 32 BC. He was a major benefactor of Herculaneum and had a great seaside spot for his memorial altar and statue.

Thanks for a great visit Herculaneum!

Beach break

Everyone needed a bit of a break from the heat today, so after our visit to Naples we made an unscheduled stop. Bacoli is a little seaside town near the ancient site of Baiae with some perfect swimming spots.

But Classics is, apparently, never too far from a student’s mind as shown by Prem’s sand castle construction skills. An amphitheatre with impromptu Latin composition on display!