Norfolk centre recreates a time long ago

Rob GarrattIt is the Third Year of Boudicca and the Roman army is preparing to push on with its invasion of Britannia and slaughter the native Eceni tribe.Rob Garratt

It is the Third Year of Boudicca and the Roman army is preparing to push on with its invasion of Britannia and slaughter the native Eceni tribe.

It is the year we would call 60AD, a time before shops, money and taxes, where men and woman are treated as equals and lived off the fruit of the land.

Within 12 months the Eceni people will be defeated, with 60,000 men, women and children slain, and the area we call Norfolk will fall under Roman rule for more than 300 years.

On the cusp of its annihilation one native Eceni farmstead, near what we would call Wells-next-the-sea, is inviting curious travellers and weary warriors to visit, relax, and experience the way people lived in Norfolk nearly 2000 years ago.

This unique, turbulent moment in history has been recreated in painstaking detail by a group of fanatical historians who have built their very own conjectural reconstruction of a typical village belonging to the tribe, who were known to the Roman's as the Iceni. However the name 'Ecen' appears on the tribe's own coins.

Walking around the village you won't see a sign of modern invention in sight. Sheep graze on the turfed roof of the shepherd's house, women weave clothes by the barn and men roast meat over the communal hearth at the farmstead's centre.

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Tribe members gather to worship at the Temple of Taranis, an Iron Age blacksmith bangs at metal tools in the smithy, water is collected from a natural spring and waste is discarded at an authentically noxious muck heap.

The recreation is the work of Steve and Jo Parish, who live on the site and have spent three years constructing the farmstead, which opened formally to the public yesterday.

Visitors to the village are treated as members of the tribe, with youngsters taught to spin a yarn and authentic food dished out to anyone around at feast time.

Mr Parish, 56, a practicing Druid who dresses in wolf's skin, has previously crafted themed Medieval and Tudor villages in Northamptonshire. He said: 'As we're in north Norfolk we thought we should give a voice back to the Eceni because that's where they last where, and at one time they were the most powerful tribe in Britain.

'We go into it in great detail; no one else in the country is doing what we're doing. We're trying to show how people could and did live in those days without any shops, any trade and without any waste at all.'

The village lies around 40 miles northwest of Venta Icenorum, the Eceni market town we call Caistor St Edmund, near Norwich. To find it, take the Warham Road out of Wells, which is believed to be part Britain's oldest trade route, the Icknield Way Trail.

While Escape - the Eceni Study Centre and Permaculture Experience - welcomed guests for a period of weeks last summer, from today it will be open as a fully-fledged tourist attraction, for five days a week until September.

But rather than a finished artefact, the village is an ongoing project which will grow to include more buildings in coming months.

Mr Parish added: 'In those days all your food was free, the gods gave you everything you needed. They didn't have a shop because they didn't need to buy anything, and they didn't need to trade because they used everything they had.

'We want people to take away the feeling that they have seen something totally different. An alternative lifestyle which has lots to teach modern people.

'People will think we're barking mad, but it's a way of life for me.'

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