Unrivalled heritage, surrounded by a breathtaking scenery and iconic landmarks. The city of Bath has it all.
We are staying in a unbelievably picturesque spot 12 miles from Bath and have the luxury of a couple of weeks to explore the area. It is hard to tear ourselves away from the gorgeous countryside here, but I feel I must visit Bath – after all it is recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and tourists flock from all over the world to see the famous Roman Baths and the beautiful Georgian architecture.
Following in the footsteps of some very famous current and ex-residents, we have decided to explore this compact city on foot.
Walking up from the train station we head straight for the Abbey. The very first King of all England (King Edgar) was crowned on this site in 973A.D. and a stained glass window shows the coronation service which set the precedent for all future royal coronations. Our first view is the West side of the building with its unique (& slightly bizarre if I am honest) carved stone ladders of ascending angels. The interior – especially the Sanctuary is stunning – the fan vaulted roof is so good people are getting cramp in their necks gazing upwards – stonework carved in the 15th century, would you believe. Although the numerous memorials seem to be the attraction for a number of artists busily sketching away. It is possible for £6 to take a guided tour up the tower and out on to the roof of the abbey. It sounds really great but I am not sure we have a spare hour as there is so much more we want to see. Next time.
Next stop, and practically next door – the Roman Baths. It is one of the best preserved Roman remains in the world. Constructed around 70A.D. it is amazing to think that 2,000 years on, over 1M litres of thermal water still fills the bathing pool every single day. The natural thermally heated water reaches a steaming hot 46deg and contains 42 minerals. Its possible to sip the water but not bathe here – bathing is up the road at the Thermal Bath Spa.
Heading across Victoria Park (watching out for the lions of Bath on the way), we see the majestic sweep of the 18th century Palladian mansions that make The Royal Crescent . Widely regarded as the best examples of Georgian architecture and certainly elegant, it is possible to view a genuine Georgian interior by visiting the museum at number 1. Brock Street connects The Royal Crescent to The Circus, where the Georgian townhouses are built in a circle. On these buildings are some odd stone carvings of ancient symbols – acorns, serpents, nautical and masonic symbols. The architect died before starting work on this, (it was his son who completed the build in 1768) and the symbols are all things that interested the original architect.
Famous people of Bath are an interesting mix of creatives (artists, musicians, comedians, authors, actors). The artist Thomas Gainsborough lived at No. 17 The Circle and the adjacent Gay Street leading us back toward the Abbey was home to the author Jane Austen (No. 25). The Jane Austen Centre is also in this road and is a highlight for many Bath visitors. Two of her novels – Northanger Abbey and Persuasion – were set in Bath.
Actually, Bath contains more museums per square mile than any other city in England. I love the idea that Bath was the place from which the first ever letter was posted and that a musician-turned-astronomer living in Bath (William Herschel) discovered the planet Uranus from his garden using a homemade telescope. Both locations are now museums (Postal Museum and the Museum of Astronomy).
It’s time for some refreshment back near the Abbey and what could be more fitting than a Bath Bun – or a Sally Lunn Bun. The shop is still in the original building, one of the oldest houses in Bath. it comes as no surprise that there is a museum here too – head downstairs to see the preserved original kitchen used 300 years ago (free entry for customers/less than £1 for all others).
We peppered our sightseeing with some Christmas shopping – our route took us through the shopping lanes of Bath and was one of the nicest shopping area in one of the nicest cities. We had lovely bright crisp December weather and enjoyed the buzz around the wooden chalets that make up the Bath Christmas market. So much to look at and so little time!
Finally, we planned a stop to see ‘the most beautiful bridge in England’ according to the Bath Tourist Office- Pultney Bridge over the River Avon, but we must get back and apparently it’s best seen first thing in the morning when the sun hits the stonework. So hop on the train back home and put it back on our list for “next time”.
My favourite oddity of the day was the Lion spotting – they are all over Bath if you look closely, from sculptures to door knockers. The City of Bath Coat of Arms features a lion, reflecting the royal heritage of the city. The lion has been a symbol of royal England since Richard I (aka Richard The Lionheart) carried a shield with three golden lions during the battle of the Crusades 900 years ago. I never knew the origins of these traditional lion door knockers before.
I am perplexed as to why we have not explored enough of our own country to date and this is why we have picked a few lovely areas to base ourselves in over the next few months. Clive worked in London next door to both The Tower of London and the Houses of Parliament at different times and has never has been inside either as a tourist. I am no better, having worked next to St James Palace and by St Paul’s Cathedral. It is only recently we visited some of the better known London museums despite previously living so close by for many years. If we had visited London as tourists, these top spots would certainly have been on our itinerary, so it is inexplicable why we miss out on what is literally on own doorstep. There can be no more excuses. Is anyone else guilty of this?