Healing hot springs of this fascinating city have always been a magnet to the wealthy. Roman named Aquae Sulis became a prosperous spa 2000 years ago, a realisation repeated centuries later when Beau Nash and two John Woods created a golden-stoned city of polite society with classical elegance. This blend of Roman and Georgian splendour gives Bath the air of a living museum …
… Contrasting life 2000 years with life 100 years ago, the city of Bath is England’s second most popular visitor destination after London and attained world heritage status in 1987. Bath is a town of supreme harmony constructed mostly during the 18th century with beautiful cream-coloured limestone in the Georgian style of architecture. Along with the urban beauty there are numerous historic sites and many quiet lanes containing hundreds of little shops that produces a delightful touring compilation. The town’s centre Georgian buildings and quiet streets are lined with shops and galleries ideal for strolling, all contained in a relatively small area of about 1000 meter radius.
The magnificence of Bath is entwined by the River Avon, where clear waters slide over shallow weirs and best viewed from 11 acre Alexandra park on Beechen Hill together with the 6 mile Bath skyline walk near to the University and golf club, encompassing views the Mendip Hills, Iron age fortifications, 18th century architecture, woodland, meadows and wildlife and even a visit to the American museum.
For period refreshment, Sally Lunn’s tea rooms is one of Bath’s oldest houses, built in 1482, still producing famous buns to Huguenot baker Sally Lunn’s original 1680’s recipe. The cellar here contains a kitchen museum, free to guests and reveals traces of the building’s Roman, Saxon and medieval foundations with a collection of clay pipes on display. The Saracen’s Head in Broad Street is the city’s most ancient inn, a two-storey gabled building, dating from 1713, with sash windows. Once an old coaching inn, Charles Dickens stayed there in 1835 when he was working as a Parliamentary reporter. For the discerning culinary palate, The Bath Priory has Bath’s only Michelin-starred restaurant with an ambitious menu of rich and complex modern British dishes, and there is a spa to relax in after. This Gothic mansion, a 20 minute stroll from the town centre dates from 1835, built with the town’s honey-coloured stone on land once owned by the Priory of Bath Abbey. The Pump Room restaurant is a handsome room lit by immense chandelier, dating from 1796 and supported by 16 fluted columns and has windows overlooking steaming waters of King’s Bath. It also contains statue of Beau Nash, Bath’s Master of Ceremonies from 1704 until his death in 1761, a pair of original sedan chairs, and superb clock, 10ft high and made by Thomas Tompion in 1709. Visitors can sample health-giving Bath water with some 38 minerals from a small fountain, or enjoy Bath buns and coffee while the Pump Room Trio plays classical music. A pediment standing outside is carved with motto ’Water is Best’.
Guildhall Market, a 19th century dome crowned arcade with 25 small shops, craft and food stalls, is open in the High Street in what is the oldest shopping venue in Bath. It’s been in action for the last 800 years on the same location. An 18th century pillar known as ‘The Nail’ is once where market transactions took place and believed to be the origin of the saying ‘Cash on the Nail’. Pulteney Bridge across the River Avon lined with shops that intercepts the view of the river down below. It’s one of only three major bridges in Europe covered in shops together with the Ponte Vecchio in Florence and the Rialto in Venice. The River Avon flows through the centre of town creating a delightful watery ambience with parks along both sides and boat rides on offer, best viewed from Parade Gardens park by the crescent weir. Great Pulteney Street itself was designed by Thomas Baldwin in the 18th century with Classical buildings. 18th century Jane Austin once lived here, as did anti-slavery campaigner, William Wilberforce. Milsom Street behind has an array of boutique shops, and Walcot Street has artisan delights.
A challenger to Hadrian’s Wall as the greatest memorial to Roman Britain is Aquae Sulis, ‘Waters of Sul’; Roman baths built around a hot mineral spring which still produces limestone enriched heated water from the Mendip hills at 46.5 °C (116°F). Sul being name of a local Celtic god, the Roman buildings were about 20ft below present street level and the Romans called it Aquae Sulis Minerva, after their own goddess of healing. Prince Bladud, father of famous King Lear, is said to have been cured of his leprosy in these very waters around 860 BC. The principal feature is 5ft deep Great Bath, a formerly roofed, open air bath, 70ft long, 30ft wide, still fed through Roman plumbing from the hot spring with the pool’s original lead lining is still intact. Roman-looking statues round bath were added in the 19th century. Audio guides and period costumed actors take visitors on an interactive time journey. Artifacts from the Roman period which were thrown into the Sacred Spring, presumably as offerings to the goddess are in a collection and include more than 12,000 Roman currency coins. The gilt bronze head of the goddess Sulis Minerva, which was discovered nearby in 1727, is displayed. The waters of the original Roman baths are considered unsafe, but visitors can enjoy a safe modern bathe in the mineral waters at nearby Cross Bath. A roof top swimming pool gives breathtaking views of the city centre.
The Classical Georgian Royal Crescent opposite the magnificent expanse of grass and trees of Royal Victoria Park is the world’s first crescent built in the Palladian style by John Wood the Younger in the 1770s, comprising of a sweep of 30 monumental houses with 114 substantial iconic columns. Number 1 Royal Crescent is a house museum, restored and furnished in the late 18th century style. The visitor is immersed in the decor and feel of life of a typical Georgian gentleman, with a dining room laid out and card playing drawing room complete with harpischord. Bedrooms have lavish hangings and the kitchen is complete with a turn spit powered by dogs. Nearby is the earlier masterpiece of John Wood the Elder, The Circus completed in 1754, consisting of three arcs, each with 33 houses with façades ornamented with three classical orders of Doric, Ionic and Corinthian columns. Wood taking the Roman Colosseum as inspiration for his design as would be see from the inside. Explorer Doctor David Livingstone and artist Thomas Gainsborough were once a resident here.
Bath is alive with other museums. The Fashion museum housed in the Assembly Rooms, chronicles the story of fashionable dress over the past 400 years and features more than 160 dressed figures; visitors can dress up too. The Grade I listed Holburne museum, with grand façade and impressive gardens, now home to a collection of fine and decorative art. The Bath Postal museum in Northgate Street includes biographies of key figures involved with the development of the Post Office and connected with Bath, and a history of post from 2000 BC to the modern day with a history of the British postbox. Beckford’s 120 foot neo-classical tower and museum on the Lansdown Road, was built for wealthy eccentric William Beckford in 1827 . The tower can be climbed and the museum contains a collection on the first floor illustrating his life & interests.
Bath Abbey, marking the end of The Cotswold Way walk, is built in Perpendicular Gothic style, with a 162ft high tower, flying buttresses and fan vaulting. The tower can be climbed giving great views around. Three different churches have occupied the site of today’s Abbey since 757 AD. The Abbey was begun in 1499 on site of‘original abbey founded by local king Osric, in about AD 680. Each West front turret is decorated by carving of angels ascending and descending a ladder reaching to heaven, commemorating a vision that led Bishop King to build it. The first King of all England, King Edgar was crowned on this site in 973 and set the precedent for the coronation of all future monarchs including Elizabeth II. The ten bells restored in 1957 are heard regularly throughout the town, the heaviest weighing 33 cwt, and arranged unusually in the tower in a curious anti-clockwise circle.
No itinerary is ever complete unless you have planned a visit to the heritage enriched uniqueness of Bath. It’s worth noting that Visit Bath works closely with over 200 Bath accommodation providers, giving you access to the very best hotels, B&Bs and self catering properties that the city has to offer.
In our next blog, we visit York.
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These places and many others are listed as markers on the map on our home page. Places to visit in the UK and Ireland. www.touring-britain.heralded.co.uk