Residential Field Excursion

Participation in the 4-Day Residential Field Excursion to Wales

The Wales Field Excursion is open to all Summer School participants likely to benefit in either a specific (academic discipline-related) or general way. An interest in field-based study and ability to develop the companionship of the group is desirable. The Excursion is a requirement for all Environmental Studies students, for whom places are therefore guaranteed and is optional for all other students. Medieval & English Literature themes also form a prominent part of the itinerary.

The ‘Wales’ Field Excursion was included in the Summer School from its inception over 30 years ago as a field-based extension of the Tutorial Programme ‘Development of British Landscapes 11,700 BP – 1700 CE’ because of its wealth of exceptional environmental evidence of current and past processes operating in the landscape. Students were instructed how to read the landscape – as the text of those processes – and to apply their tutorial, library and literature-based studies to identifying and analysing dynamic processes in the landscape. It draws on the successful experience of field-based education across a range of environmental and humanity disciplines and, from the start was open to all Summer School participants likely to benefit in either a specific (academic discipline-related) or general way. An interest in field-based study and ability to develop the intellectual and social companionship of the group is desirable.

In addition to the 6 credits offered for their Tutorial Course, Environmental Studies participants in the Excursion were offered a further 2 credits, assessed on the basis of engagement with the issues and their contribution to field-based discussion, the submission of an annotated photographic log of the field programme and incorporation of field-based evidence in subsequent tutorial essays. Since this last component for the 2 additional credits was unavailable initially to Medieval Studies and English Literature Studies it has been replaced for them by the option of writing an additional 2,500-word essay on a subject of their choice raised during the Excursion and linked to their tutorial course.

The Excursion was initially a co-requirement for: all Environmental Studies and Medieval Studies students for whom places are therefore guaranteed. From its inception, Summer School participants in English Literature Studies expressed the wish to be able to join the Excursion and they can now elect to do so and are encouraged to discuss this with their advisors, particularly with respect to the additional credit option. IFSA initially recognised the additional credit-rating for Environmental Studies and now IFSA Medieval Studies and English Literature Studies students can elect to join the Excursion and then, once in Oxford elect to register for the additional 2 credits.

Medieval landscapes form a prominent part of the itinerary and there are also strong Literary associations with Jane Austen and the Inklings of Oxford, set out in the accompanying schedule. All other students are therefore encouraged to join the Excursion. Participation for Environmental Studies students fulfils the requirements for the Course’s 8-credit rating and all other students may elect to apply for 2 additional credits, based on writing the additional essay 2,500-word essay as described above. To acknowledge the inter-disciplinary links and encourage wider student participation and institutional approval, Dr Ken Addison, the Excursion director (Environmental Studies), will be joined by Dr Maria Artamonova (Medieval Studies and English Literature Studies) and Dr Catherine Dille (English Literature Studies) in leading the 2023 Excursion.

Core Excursion Sites & Issues linked to….
Environmental Change & British Landscape Development
We explore the meaning and concept of landscape, from its introduction to English language following the 5th century arrival of Anglo-Saxons (the word landscape itself is derived linguistically from the Dutch landscaef, a cognate of Old English landscipe or ‘region’) and its adoption as a tool of geographical, historical and economic description and analysis by eminent geographers such as William .G. Hoskins, Herbert J. Fleure and Frank V. Emery. In essence, landscape includes all the visible features of the land surface embracing its physical origins and features of human occupation, developed over time. Past natural environmental changes and successive waves of human activity contribute to a complex patina of inherited physical and cultural landscape features which are both ‘readable’ and interpretable in the modern landscape. Landscape vistas can also have aesthetic and artistic appeal.
With all of this in mind, we explore landscapes across a full range of geological features, from the 450 million year-old tectonic landsystem of the Cambrian mountains to the more recent ice-age glacier landsystem of Snowdonia in the footstep of Charles Darwin and concluding with the impacts of the climate and biodiversity crises. The human legacy stretches from the impact of Neolithic farming communities, through Bronze Age copper mining, Iron Age fortifications, Roman invasion and occupation and medieval invasions and settlement, right through to the Industrial Revolution and concluding in this post-modern period. A full range of sites visited is covered in the accompanying Excursion Itinerary and we explore how the perceived aesthetic quality of landscapes give rise to the newly-emergent science of scenery.

…. and Climate Change in the Anthropocene
We build on the Landscape Development elements of the Excursion to explore the current and forecast impacts on the Welsh landscape of global warming and future climate change. This includes the various landscape potentials for and development of renewable energy including solar, wind (onshore and offshore), tidal & wave options and bio-mitigation through afforestation, peat/wetland recovery and ‘blue-marine’ means. The 1,680 mi (2,704 km) coastline of Wales provides many opportunities to consider the past, current and future impacts of rising sea-level. The complex mosaic of natural vegetation and agricultural landsystems supported by Wales’ generally mountainous terrain, provides many opportunities to consider the landscape and cultural impact of both climate change and the linked biodiversity crisis, as well as opportunities for their mitigation and the related sustainability of agriculture.

Links with Medieval Studies:

Conquest and Colonisation
The Wales Excursion offers an invaluable opportunity to place the Conquest & Colonisation course (spanning 11th-13th centuries) in context. It is a chance to see with one’s own eyes – and compare – the evidence of subsequent waves of invasion, conflict, and colonisation – from prehistory to the Romans, the Anglo-Saxons, and the Normans – that is still etched into the British landscapes. Alongside hillforts, Roman forts and Norman castles (with different site appraisals), it is also possible to see settlements, burial sites and field systems that allow historians to trace the life of communities across millennia. The visit to Tintern Abbey is tied into a wider discussion of the role of the Church and Cistercian and other religious houses in post-Conquest Britain which forms an integral part of the course (and also connects with the Medieval Margins option). The Forest of Dean is important for the discussion of medieval forest laws and their legacy. In Wales itself, we will visit sites closely associated with the ‘Welsh Wars of Independence’ including Caerffili, the monument to Llywelyn ap Gruffudd at Cilmeri, and the great castles of Aberyswyth, Harlech, Caernarfon, Conwy, and Owain Glyndwr’s 1404 parliament house in Machynlleth. The castles and their fortified medieval towns built by Edward I (Llywelyn’s nemesis) – now UNESCO World Heritage Sites – offer a tangible platform for discussing the Norman colonisation of England, Wales, and Ireland and its after-math that is still felt today, as well as the nature and origins of their architecture, including Edwards invocation of Welsh respect for and links with Roman rule and Roman emperors. The appointment of Prince William as Prince of Wales, by our new king Charles III (and possible investiture during 2023) links him a directly to Edward I’s son and heir (the future Edward II) and also relevant to both Conquest & Colonisation and The Inklings.

Links with English Literature Studies:-

The Inklings of Oxford

Much of J.R.R. Tolkien’s and C.S. Lewis’ work is steeped in their love and understanding of the ancient landscapes of England, Ireland, and Wales. The prehistoric and early medieval sections of the excursion offer a chance to see the traces left by humans whose history is blended with myth and legend: a powerful source of inspiration for the Inklings. C.S. Lewis was a keen walker who had a deep affection for his native Northern Ireland but was a Welshman on his father’s side. His Chronicles of Narnia own a lot to the romanticised view of the Middle Ages embodied today by the great Welsh castles of Caernarfon, Conwy, or Harlech. Tolkien’s love for language invention was spurred on by his early exposure to the Welsh language and Celtic legends, including the Mabinogion, which are deeply embedded in his Middle-earth legendarium. There are also extensive ties linking Tolkien to the English West Midlands and the Welsh borderlands (or Marches): from family history to his work on the crucial medieval poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (included in the Inklings course). The sources of the Inklings’ opposition to industrialisation and their dystopian portrayal of industrialised landscapes also become apparent during the excursion.

Jane Austen
The excursion to Wales allows students of Jane Austen to follow in the footsteps of the picturesque traveller, seeking what William Gilpin called ‘that peculiar kind of beauty which is agreeable in a picture’. Austen was fascinated by this briefly fashionable mode of viewing and transforming the landscape through the imagination and sent her characters in search of ‘picturesque beauty’, though she was equally alive to the comic absurdity of reducing nature to prescriptive rules. The mountain peaks of Snowdonia and scenic vistas of the Wye Valley attracted tourists of the picturesque to Wales with their guidebooks in hand, whilst ruins like Brougham Castle (Cumbria) and Tintern Abbey inspired the poetry of Wordsworth and the brush of Turner and Philippe de Loutherbourg (whose fiery industrial scenes near the world’s first Iron Bridge mark the turn to the sublime). Ruined edifices abound in Austen’s early fictions as gothic features and sites evocative of the historic past. Travellers were equally drawn to the seaside towns of the Welsh coast, like Tenby and Barmouth, where Austen with her family may have visited in the early 19th century: such resorts, popularised by the vogue for sea-bathing, recall the speculative watering places which sprang up as new sites of sociability and feature in Austen fictions like ‘Sanditon’, her final novel fragment, set in an imaginary seaside village.



Built by Edward I from 1283 AD to protect the imperial power of the English state after its annexation of Wales. Its medieval walled town also survives, built on the seaward side of the Roman fort of Segontium. This site shift demonstrated Edward’s dependence on sea power to maintain his castles (10 of which ring the natural mountain fortress of Snowdonia and his clear grasp of the strategic geography of the region) and inability to depend on land-based military power against Welsh guerilla action. Caernarfon’s architecture strikingly resembles the Theodosian wall of Constantinople; Constantine himself is linked romantically with Caernarfon. Implantation of Caernarfon in an alien landscape typified an irrevocable alteration of Welsh society and landscapes in general, whose political drive affords a 13th century scaled version of the problems posed by insurgency in states bordering the super-powers today.

The Field Excursion will examine the complex mosaic of Landscapes and landscape forces generated by changing human perceptions of the utility of diverse and dynamic physical environments, and aided by technological innovations ranging from the use of stone and bone tools thousands of years ago to the contemporary power of nuclear energy and the microchip.

The ability to interpret evidence of past influences on Landscape is invaluable in our assessment of its contemporary forces, now that we are becoming increasingly aware of the fragility of many of Earth’s systems and the ability of human societies to generate inadvertent or deliberate rapid environmental change.

Britain’s small size is misleading. Many tracts of the earth’s surface of similar area (150,000 km2, or roughly the size of Michigan) possess monotonously uniform or poorly developed physical and cultural landscapes. Amongst those forces which have created some of the earth’s richest and most diverse landscapes here, we can list geology, climate, the long time span of human occupation and the wealth of cultural influences which in various historical periods have been imperiously imposed or peacefully diffused into the lives of inhabitants.

Successive waves of human migrations began with the retreat of ice sheets 11,700 years ago and settled temporarily or permanently here, exchanging ideas and artefacts with other societies through diffusion rather than occupation. The strong imprint of late-Mesolithic, Neolithic, Bronze and Iron Age societies (spanning the period 5,000 BC to the 1st Century AD) on British Landscapes is augmented by language, customs, legal and land-tenure systems etc. of later societies from the Roman period through Anglo-Saxon times to the Norman Conquest and Medieval and Modern periods.

All of this will be examined by direct experience of a wide range of British cultural and physical landscapes through a 4-Day itinerary in Wales and west-central England, designed to draw together threads from the Course Options ~ and other Courses in the Summer School ~ and led by an experienced academic.


Principal themes driving the Field Programme for the Environmental Studies and aspects of the English Literature and Medieval Studies Courses (4-Day + single-day excursions based in Oxford) are set out here. A full itinerary & information pack is provided at the start of the Excursion. Actual sites visited depend on travel & weather conditions. Themes are identified in historic sequence, rather than route order, with sites in italics.

Ice Age and Recent Physical Landscapes (125,000 – 11,500 yrs ago & more recently)
The effects of the last Ice Age have been obscured but not lost in the past 11,500 years. Welsh landscapes in particular possess a more obvious physical foundation and Ice Age landscapes survive (Cwm Idwal). Idwal is a National Nature Reserve and site of Charles Darwin’s earliest scientific work. Others are dominated by their record of postglacial environmental change (Mid-Wales Coast, Severn & Mawddach Estuaries, Morfa Dyffryn).

Mesolithic & Neolithic Landscapes (c. 9,500 – 7,500 yrs ago and thereafter)
Mesolithic proto-farmers opened landscapes before the Neolithic agricultural revolution. Early deforestation occurred in the mountainous landscapes of North Wales (Nant Ffrancon, Cambrian Mountains); permanent Neolithic field systems, megalithic monuments and burial chambers are found there (Morfa Dyffryn) and, especially, on chalk downlands of south-central England (Avebury District).

Bronze & Iron Age Landscapes (4,500 – 800 yrs ago and thereafter)
These periods were marked by an enrichment of material culture, although extensive landscape changes probably also occurred as a result of more durable, metal tools. Extensive field systems, burial mounds and fortified settlements are indicative of societies in contact and conflict (Avebury District, Great Orme)

Roman & Romano-British Landscapes 2,000 – 1600 yrs ago)
The Romans made considerable landscape changes over 4 centuries, embracing elements of military conquest, imperial power, peaceful settlement and cultural diffusion. The north-west frontier of the entire Roman Empire lay 50-70 miles west of Oxford and is explored at a number of sites, including the garrison towns of Imperial legions in Wales (Caerleon, Segontium) where Roman settlement was limited, extensively settled agricultural landscapes of the Cotswold Hills with farms and villas, civilian towns in the disputed Welsh borderland (Caerwent) and administrative cities such Glevum (Gloucester) and recreational centres (Aquae Sulis – Bath).

Anglo-Saxon & Danish ‘Dark Ages’ Landscapes & Early Medieval Britain (1,600 – 1,000 yrs ago)
The substantial development of early English villages and the continuity of rural settlement dates from this period. The Cotswold hills and southern chalklands provide extensive evidence, as part of the Anglo-Danish kingdom of Mercia (Bibury, Yanworth, Burford) and Saxon kingdom of Wessex (Winchester, Uffington) whilst frontier landscapes of the Welsh Borderland yield evidence of more turbulent episodes (Offa’s Dyke).

Landscapes of the Norman Conquest & Later Medieval Britain 1,000 – 400 yrs ago)
The Norman Conquest of 1066 promoted major changes in land tenure and management and new politico-economic systems. Domesday Book (1086 AD) is one of the earliest landscape chronicles. Feudal State and Church emerged as Britain’s first multi-national landowners and their impact is evident throughout Wales in its castles (Chepstow, Caerfilli, Harlech, Conwy and Caernarfon) and planted administrative towns (Caernarfon & Conwy). Ecclesiastic power and land management is charted by abbeys, some now surviving as cathedrals (Winchester, Gloucester), or others dissolved by Henry VIII (Tintern). Landscapes were extensively managed (Gwent Levels). Black Death in the 14th Century and institutional clearances led to wholesale desertion of medieval villages (Cotswold Hills). Revival by the Agricultural Revolution and pre-Industrial era, typified by prosperous country towns (Marlborough and Shrewsbury) and country estates.

Industrial Landscapes (300 yrs ago and thereafter)
Industrial landscape evolution is traced from sites marking its earliest development (Forest of Dean, the World Heritage Site of Coalbrookdale & Ironbridge Gorge), through cycles of major expansion, decline and dereliction (South Wales Coalfield). The significance of changing technology and resource potential of a variety of landscapes and the consequential spread of urbanisation is explored.

Post-Industrial Landscapes (from now onwards !)
Landscapes undergoing rapid change today reflect many often-conflicting interests. Upland management responds to agricultural, recreational and conservation pressures (Elan Valley, Brecon Beacons & Snowdonia National Parks, Morfa Harlech and Severn Estuary) whilst urban recycling (Telford New Town) and new business & economic systems alter urban landscapes (South Wales Coalfield) ~ with a strong European Union influence.


The Excursion covers 650 miles over 4 days by private coach (group size 25-35). Maximum distance travelled in one day is 260 miles (return day) with an average of 130 miles on the other days. Full use is made of the long summer days, with Breakfast from 0800 for departure at 0900, and Evening Dinner at 2000. Lunch breaks and other refreshment & comfort stops provide interludes between site visits and travel. Site visits vary in duration and purpose; some are long enough (2-3 hours) to explore in reasonable depth whilst other, shorter, visits may simply mark definitive sites or photo-opportunities. All sites are placed in context through an accompanying illustrated information pack and on-site verbal introductions with points to look for.

Thereafter, participants’ time is theirs to explore actively on impulse or reflect quietly on people and events important to the site. Full use of that time is encouraged. The Excursion spends long periods outdoors. Although there is much walking, including mountain paths, it is not physically arduous. In summary, the 4-Day Excursion aims to balance access to a wide range of interesting and relevant heritage sites with time to assess their character and significance. Participants will see much more on this focused, guided tour than would be possible independently in the same time; you should expect to feel stretched but fascinated by the experience!


Three nights of accommodation is provided in small hotels or guest houses in Chepstow, Mid-Wales and Llandudno. The accommodation is comfortable and in order to keep costs down most students will be expected to share twin-bedded rooms. All meals are provided, including a packed lunch each day.


The Excursion fits into the full programme of the Summer School, departing from Oxford on Wednesday 10th July and returning in mid-evening on Saturday 13th July in 2024. The cost of the Field Excursion is £700 charged as part of the full cost of the Summer School. This includes all costs of tuition, accommodation, meals, travel, meals, entrance fees at Heritage sites etc., resource pack and academic fees. Participants therefore only have to cover their own incidental expenses.


Participants are asked to notify the Excursion Tutor of any particular special requirements (related to diet, disability, etc.) upon arrival in Oxford. They should travel with lightweight baggage and suitable all-weather clothing and good walking shoes. The latter should take account of mean July temperatures in Britain of c. 18o C although temperatures of 21o-28o C (70o-82o F) are common. Evenings may be cool, especially at the coast and on higher ground. A camera and hard-covered field notebook are essential. The Excursion is intended to be enjoyable and not an expedition!


Credits are awarded for the Seminar as follows: Environmental Studies students (including Butler IFSA) receive 8 credits for their overall programme of study, for which they are required to engage fully in the fieldwork and develop issues raised during the Excursion in later papers. Medieval Studies and English Literature Studies students receive 6 credits for their overall programme of study and may simply participate in the Excursion without further credit. However, they can choose to register for 2 additional credits free of charge (8 overall) which case they are required to write an additional c.2500-word paper on a subject of their choice relating to the Excursion and approved by the Academic Director. This must be submitted by 30th September following the Summer School.

Please note: In all cases, the student’s home institution may vary the number of credits attributed to their students bearing in mind the basis of the credits awarded in Oxford. The 4-Day Excursion is a required component for all Environmental and non-Butler IFSA Medieval students.

General Application Form for 2024

Field Excursion Application Form 2024

© Dr Ken Addison, Oxford Academic Summer School Tours Ltd: for 2024