A little breathless from the walk, I stand on a wooded hillside, gazing down at a Roman mosaic floor and what remains of the villa that once surrounded it. There are no hordes of tourists and I’m not in Greece or Italy. I’ve driven 20 minutes from my home town and wandered along a few miles of cool, green footpaths to reach this hidden marvel, housed within an unremarkable corrugated-iron shack. It’s a poorly kept local secret, mentioned by Bill Bryson in his book Notes From A Small Island, and I’ve wanted to see it for ages. And, since I’m the only walker on this particular day, it feels like a discovery for me alone… I’m the Christopher Columbus of Gloucestershire – and it’s thrilling!
The idea of something hidden and precious coexisting with everyday life; just waiting to be discovered is one I’ve always found exciting. As a child, The Secret Garden was one of my favourite books, a novel that beautifully evokes the joy in a moment of discovery – the way it makes impossible things feel possible. Children have a knack of viewing the world as one protracted exploration; stumbling from one wonder to the next with a spirit of constant awe.
But as we grow up and the steady, adult routines of our lives take over, it’s tempting to view this capacity for adventure as something to be confined to rare foreign holidays, with a guide to lead the way or, worse, as something only other people do – those willing to pack a bag for the North Pole, sail the Atlantic single-handedly or hike in the Sahara Desert.
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