A third-time visit to Bath
There are a few places in the world where you are more likely to return to than to others. For me, Bath is one of those places. My last visit dates back to 2012, during the time that I was an intern in London.
Five years later I returned on a remarkably warm Sunday in October. Again from London, but by coach this time rather than by train like I had done previously. The day started in Victoria Coach Station in the heart of London, where our National Express coach departed at 9:30AM. The total journey took about three hours (of which we spent over an hour getting out of London!).
We arrived around midday after which we dropped off my heavy rugsack and we went to find something for lunch. After walking the beautiful streets lined up with limestone buildings and past Bath Abbey, we ended up at ‘the smallest pub of Bath.’
Once we had filled our belly’s with a proper pub lunch, we set out for some more exploring. Our first stop was the Roman Baths. This was an easy choice, as the Baths form the heart of the City of Bath World Heritage Site. It draws over a million visitors a year, and is one of the best-preserved religious spas of the ancient world.
Tickets to the Baths include an audio guide in 12 languages, which can be used during your visit. During our visit we liked to switch between the standard audio tour, the narrations by Bill Bryson and even the children’s version. The latter two simply, because we found these much easier to follow and more captivating than the original.
The complex is much larger than I initially thought by seeing the exterior alone. However, a simple explanation for this is that most of the Baths are below street level. One of the most impressive features I found to be the Great Bath, which you see right as you enter the museum.
Other notable aspects of the collection are the head of Gorgon, which used to sit on the decorated pediment of the Roman Temple, and the gilt bronze head of the goddess of Sulis Minerva. We were also impressed by the large amount of artifacts that were discovered at the site, including a massive collection of Old Roman coins, memorial stones and personal possessions of the people from the Roman era.
At the end of our visit we sampled some water from the original source. This tasted quite salty, probably because of all the minerals it consists. We also noticed an actor in Roman costume roaming the complex, but she left by the time we came close. I would have liked to hear some more from her about life in Roman ages. Just fascinating!
We spent quite some time at the Roman Baths, but of course there is more to see in the town. Therefore, we headed towards the Gardens of Bath, right next to the river Avon. Once we arrived to the Gardens, my friend (also Dutch) and I both uttered a cry: ‘ALKMAAR?!’ The name of the famous Dutch town was written in a flowerbed in the gardens. I assume that Bath and Alkmaar must have some sort of twinning association.
From the Gardens it was only a short stroll to Pulteney Bridge, which was completed in Palladian style by Robert Adam in 1774. It looks absolutely lovely with the rolling hills of Somerset in the background and the countless of shops on either side of the structure.
Bath has also plenty of cute boutique shops, restaurants and cafes, besides high street brands. We took a short break at the Society Cafe for a delicious hot chocolate before we headed off for some shopping.
We walked passed the square surrounding York Street, Abbey Street and Church Street that hosted an adorable little market with stalls selling antiques, food and more. The fact that the large trees in the middle of the square already boasted their brilliant autumn colours made it even prettier.
The next morning when I returned to Bath, I visited covered Guildhall Market which had been closed on Sunday. This is the oldest market of the town, and has been trading for over 800 years. Stalls sell everything from bags and luggage, to second-hand books, and artisan bread and coffee to pet food.
Jane Austen’s Bath
One of England’s most famous authors, Jane Austen, lived in Bath in Georgian times. Two of her novels: Northanger Abbey and Persuasion are set in Bath, and describe life in high society Bath in the early 1800’s. Jane herself actually had mixed feelings towards the spa town. As a country girl, she initially loved the ‘vibrantcity’ that her family moved to. However, later on it was the society lifestyle that clashed with her character. People who would like to learn more about Jane Austen and her years in Bath, can visit the Jane Austen Centre.
The Circus & Royal Crescent
Not far from the Jane Austen Centre you can find two noticeable designs in the shape of streets. The first one, the Circus, was designed by John Wood the Elder, and completed in 1768 by his son. The design: a circular shape aligned by luxurious townhouses, was inspired by the Roman Colosseum, and many of the stonework features emblems, such as serpents, acorns and nautical symbols. The attractiveness of the Circus drew many famous people to this part of town. Nicholas Cage for example bought a property here once.
Only a short walk down the street from the Circus, you can find the Royal Crescent, built by John Wood the Younger (son of…) between 1767 and 1775. This is another prime example of Georgian architecture, and it’s not hard to imagine this being the setting of plenty of periodic TV and film dramas.
Bath Skyline Walk & canals
I decided to stay overnight at YHA Bath which is located on a massive hill overlooking the town. It was already dark when I arrived, so it was the next morning when I went out to explore this part of Bath, or Bathwick more accurately.
The location of the YHA is unique, due to its proximity to the Bath Skyline walk, a National Trust walking trail surrounding Bath. The total route of this walk is 6 miles and takes up between 3-4 hours to complete. Since I was headed for Bristol on Monday, I decided to only walk a short part of the route and headed to Bathwick Meadows. From there, I enjoyed a spectacular view over Bath and a sense of tranquility that is oh so welcome sometimes in comparison to life in London.
Walking down even further, I stumbled upon a canal, a few locks and narrow boats. Something I didn’t expect to find in Bath! A thought I would read later on one of the information signs along the canal. A real hidden gem that I wouldn’t have found if I wouldn’t have walked down from Bathwick Hill down to the city centre. No tourist in sight!
After a quick coffee from Guildhall Market, my time in Bath was up. I headed for the railway station to catch a train to Bristol. My next stop on this quick weekend break from London.
My visit to Roman Baths Bath was kindly supported by the museum. However, all opinions and views are my own.