Meet Dr. Andy Souter – and join him on tour!

7th January 2019
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If you've been keeping up with our blog posts, you'll know that we want you to support the World Guide Awards by nominating Guide Lectures you've enjoyed travelling with for a prize. With that in mind, we are dedicating 2019 to bringing you more content, interviews and features both about and written by our very own roster of experts – whom you may very well see on tour!

We recently sat down for a chat with Dr. Andy Souter, who you can accompany on our Spain & Portugal | Roman Lusitania tour (departing in both April and September), and filled us in on his academic journey, passions and interests.  

Hi Andy, tell us a bit about yourself!

Hello there! My name is Dr. Andrew Philip Souter. I’m a lecturer and researcher within the field of Roman Archaeology and for the past six years I’ve been teaching at the University of Reading. I’ve also recently started leading tours with Andante, including those in Italy, Spain and Portugal. I really enjoy the responsibility of the role and find it challenging and rewarding – I’ve personally found it particularly interesting to learn how to lecture while “on the move” rather than standing next to a big PowerPoint screen! The tours provide a great opportunity to explore some amazing archaeology and see some fantastic material - we visit many different sites, primarily from the Roman era, and also prehistoric and medieval!

When you’re not leading our tours, what can we find you doing?

Much of my time is taken up with lecturing and preparing new material – although time consuming, I really enjoy the background research and deciding how to present in a creative and meaningful manner! My main teaching passion is that of the archaeology and architecture of ancient Rome, from its earliest beginnings through to the 4th century AD – we certainly pack in a lot of material but it’s fascinating to focus on certain historical eras of the city and to discuss the impact of specific emperors and ruling regimes! Apart from lecturing, I’m currently working on a new book, based on my thesis on Roman Portugal. Although this has taken a while to get moving, I’m looking forward to seeing it published! I’ve also recently worked on a number of local heritage projects in and around Nottingham – I spent considerable time last summer driving around the countryside visiting churches, exploring graveyards and climbing very tall ladders to see inside the steeples and bell towers!

What is it about Roman archaeology that first sparked your interest?

My first passion was actually that of ancient Greece, both the material culture and Homeric epics! My interest first initiated at Bedford Modern School in the 1990s, primarily through studying Classical Civilisation. One of the most important and influential aspects of my learning was a very inspiring tour of the Peloponnese including visits to the famous sites of Mycenae, Olympia, Pylos and Delphi (complete with a trip to the Castalian spring for some divine inspiration!).

I then pursued my interest in the ancient world at the University of Nottingham where I was taught by some great academics specialising in Roman and Greek archaeology. I had an excellent group of friends and we felt very much part of our department – I couldn’t have hoped for a better learning environment and to this day I am very grateful for the experience! Many summers were spent excavating at amazing sites including Nicopolis ad Istrum in Bulgaria and Kouphovouno near Sparta. These were great experiences and helped us learn about archaeology in practical contexts – getting up at 5.30am most days took a bit of getting used to, but it was well worth it! It has been great to see my contemporaries (class of 2000!) go on to professional careers within the heritage sector and also academia.

The real game-changer that “converted” me to all things Roman was my participation on a 2 month intensive postgraduate study programme at the British School at Rome – expert-led site visits throughout the city, regular seminars and the requirement to conduct and present dissertation research provided a fantastic academic experience that still inspires me to this day! Since then, I’ve been fortunate to join in excavations at Portus near to Ostia, and also much further afield at the UNESCO site of Felix Romuliana in the beautiful countryside of Serbia!

What’s your favourite destination around the world and why?

Visiting Rome is always exciting and inspiring, I never tire of the Eternal City! There’s so much to see from many different historical eras, and the atmosphere is fantastic - no visit feels complete without a trip to the Pantheon or a stroll through the Forum! I particularly enjoy venturing out to Ostia Antica – it’s such a beautiful and well-preserved site and has an important story to tell. Although I’ve been a regular visitor and have taught modules on Rome for many years, I sometimes feel that I’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg, but this is something that drives me to keep discovering!

Narrowing down just one favourite destination is impossible however – the famous sites of Pompeii and Herculaneum are quite simply astounding given the level of preservation and the profound insights offered by the remains. It’s great to hear that new excavations are taking place at Pompeii, this is very exciting!

To help switch off and take a break I enjoy visiting Quinta do Lago in the Algarve, one of my favourite places in the whole world. Natural beauty abounds here, with lovely beaches, dramatic cliffs, nature reserves and pine woodlands, spending time here always works its magic! There’s also a lot of interesting heritage in the area including the museum in the old quarter at Faro, the Moorish castle at Silves, and Henry the Navigator’s sailing school at Sagres, opposite the dramatic Cape St.Vincent. Much of the inspiration to pursue a doctoral thesis arose following visits to the local Roman villas at Milreu and Vilamoura, both of which are a definite “must-see” if you happen to be in the area!

What do you hope that guests walk away with after touring with you?

On any tour I hope that guests feel that they’ve been able to explore, to see and learn something new and to feel inspired to keep on discovering - it’s always lovely to hear from guests after my tours and to hear about their other travels! For many of the sites in Spain and Portugal, I particularly enjoy showing guests a range of fantastic sites and museum collections, especially those in Merida – here, the impact of Rome was of profound importance, and much of the material definitely has a wow factor, especially the beautiful theatre! I would also hope that tours provide guests with a sense of wonder and give rise to reactions such as “I’ve always wanted to see this!” or “I never knew this was here!”. On a recent tour I was particularly flattered to hear that guests really enjoyed sites such as Paestum and Herculaneum and that, from their point of view, I helped to bring the archaeology “to life”! That in itself is a huge compliment and lets me know that I’ve delivered an excellent touring experience!

What excites you about visiting archaeological sites?

Being able to explore the ruins and get up close to the archaeology simply can’t be beaten! Leading tours with guests from many different backgrounds and walks of life is really useful and rewarding – everyone will see and notice different details, and accordingly, will raise different questions! In some cases, it’s not always easy to answer, but, through shared observations and discussion, it’s interesting to suggest ideas and thoughts based on the archaeological reality! I also love the sense of adventure and discovery – even for those sites that I know relatively well, there’s always something new to see! I particularly like the general setting and atmosphere that prevails, for example, the rural tranquility of Roman villas to the urban splendour of Imperial Rome! To see these once-grand sites as they are today creates an interesting sense of abandonment and faded grandeur – you only have to stroll around the Roman Forum or the Baths of Caracalla to experience this! Equally, visiting famous sites such as Hadrian’s Wall and Vindolanda really places the extent of the Roman world in context and helps us reflect on what it must have been like to be stationed out on the periphery, very far from Rome. Learning about the lives of people here is fascinating – the fact that Roman soldiers wrote home to their mums to ask for extra socks to be sent to the northern frontier speaks volumes!

What’s your favourite “off the beaten track” destination to visit?

The Outer Hebrides! Well-worth the long journey, these islands are simply stunning! The Caledonian MacBrayne ferry from Oban takes around 5 hours, but seeing the dramatic islands of Mull, Eigg, Rum and Lewis gliding by is superb. Particular favourites are South Uist, Eriskay and Barra – natural beauty, pristine beaches, huge open skies and lovely seascapes! There’s also some interesting archaeology from the Iron Age, in addition to crumbling heritage in the form of the black houses (some of which have been converted into holiday homes!). There’s also a great museum on South Uist reflecting the social history of the islands, ranging from daily life and rural industries, to the story of Bonnie Prince Charlie and the role of the islands in WWII!

Another favourite destination, much closer to home, is the beautiful Peak District – any visit to Hope Valley or Edale always leaves me feeling refreshed and relaxed! I’ve recently explored several “scramble” routes in the Peaks, which involve leaving the designated footpaths and clambering up boulders and navigating steep streambeds all the way to the top! Although the routes can look quite forbidding from the distance, they’re not too difficult and are good fun! In addition to the rugged beauty of the Peaks, there are some interesting ancient sites that I always enjoy visiting including the remains of Iron Age ramparts at Mam Tor and Arbor Low stone circle and henge, complete with a Bronze Age barrow nearby!

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