Visiting Bath, gem of southern England
There are places that make us feel at home even if we never visited them and often it is countries and cities we got to know through the pages of a good book or on the screen. Thanks to English literature and in particular to Jane Austen’s books Bath is for me one of these places: my holiday home …
In a way, I feel like I’ve always know this quiet town on the River Avon, but in fact I was there only in November, treating myself with a day trip out of London on my birthday.
Fully enjoying the relaxed atmosphere of Bath in 24 hours is obviously not possible, but given the concentration of the old town in just a few kilometers it is absolutely possible to walk around the town in such a short time.
“They arrived in Bath. Catherine was all eager delight; her eyes were here, there, and everywhere.”
Northanger Abbey, by Jane Austen
My walking tour in Bath
Leaving the train station behind me I followed my instinct and instead of walking directly towards the city center I walked along the Avon, following a vessel flying the French flag engaged in tracing the locks.
A beautiful walk through gardens and magnificent mansions that seem enchanted. A corner that makes you want to move there…
Reached the Pulteney Bridge, the British version of the Italian Ponte Vecchio, I left the river for the street level, but I kept delaying the official downtown visit to enter the Henrietta Park, one of the many lush parks in the city, irresistible in November with the warm autumn colors.
Leaving the park, I finally decided to visit the most canonical Bath and headed down to Abbey Church Yard, headquarters of the city tourism board, to ask for a map of the old town and buy a pass to the main tourist sites.
My first unmissable stop was right on the corne, at the Bath Abbey, a beautiful abbey built at the end of 1400 over the remains of the Norman cathedral where the first king of England was crowned.
The white stone, the spectacular arcades and the colorful windows offer a true architectural show and the visit is accompanied by piped Gregorian chants. Very suggestive. If you have time, do climb the tower’s narrow steps to admire the town from above!
Once visited the Abbey I walked a few meters to enter the world famous Roman Baths, built in 70 BC and still impressive. The visit with audio guide is really very interesting and allowed me to discover the history and the daily life of this place through the centuries. I really recommend it. The underground of the spa with the ancient forum and the Roman temple dedicated to Minerva is really amazing and surprising. Do not miss it!
After a quick tea I walked down Gay Street to the Circus, a circular street that seems to be inspired by Palladio, but also to St. Peter’s Square in Rome. The facades of the houses are decorated with bas-reliefs and colored pretty doors and I started day dreaming about a life behind them… Another few steps and I reached the Royal Crescent, an imposing Georgian complex, designed by John Wood the Younger as the Circus and built between 1767 and 1774. It seems that the architect was fond of occult and Masonic symbols and that when seen from above the two projects form the Masonic symbol “soleil-lune” (ie the Sun and the Moon). I really do not know, I simply loved them!
I got lost fantasizing of nineteenth century thermal winter season spent in these apartments, then left empty for the summer to move to the country … Jane Austen oblige 😉
A visit that I heartily recommend is to the Number 1 Royal Crescent, now a museum run by the Bath Preservation Trust. This house tells a glimpse of daily life of the rich owners of the time and it’s impossible not to be fascinated.
My last stop in Bath was at the Masonic Museum hosted in the Theatre Royal in Old Orchard Street. The building is beautiful and was the first real theater outside London, then occupied by a Catholic chapel used during the ordination of bishops and now, or rather from the mid nineteenth century, home to one of the most important English Masonic lodges. Do not miss it!
Before taking the train back I also had a tour on one of the open top bus to admire Bath by night and dream one last time of customs and traditions that are now gone.
Getting to Bath
From London the most convenient is undoubtedly the train from Paddington. There are several trains a day taking about one hour. The rate varies depending on the time and date of the booking, but dealing with it the night before on the British Railway website I spent £ 37 for a round trip in one day, wifi on board included.
Where to stay
Commitments in London early the following morning didn’t allowed me in Bath, but I have no doubt about my next visit to Bath and I have even less about where to sleep: at the Royal Crescent Hotel, occupying the central units of the Crescent (numbers 15 and 16), and making me dream!
Where to eat
Bath is today a modern city and there are trendy chains such as Starbucks, Pret à Manger etc., but for a real dining experience in pure local tradition I recommend lunch at Sally Lunn’s, a short walk from the cathedral. It is the oldest restaurant in town and it was already mentioned in the town chronicles of 1772!
It is said that Sally was a French refugee arrived in Bath in 1680. Here she opened her bakery (still visible in the basement of the restaurant) and since then people can taste her delicious buns, soft hot loaves, accompanied with sweet or savory toppings and with a thick layer of salted butter. Soooo yummy!!!
The irregular lobbies and rooms following one another made me think of a possible set for Harry Potter …
Another culinary stop you shouldn’t miss is The Pump Room Restaurant, which can be accessed also from the Roman Baths. This Georgian restaurant offers a backslide in English history.
If you go for dinner, you can choose among the finest British cuisine dishes, but if you stop by for an afternoon tea like I did, you will be amazed by the wide choice of scones, sandwiches and appetizers … so British!
Now I just have to organize the next trip to Bath but this time I want to stay a few days to feel part of a world that no longer exists and then I still have to visit a lot of things and maybe also treat myself with a ride on a boat along the Avon.
Till very soon Bath!