England Travel Guide: The Roman city of Bath
One of my favourite weekend breaks on my home island (the United Kingdom) has to be Bath. Before I came here I only been here once and that was on a cold, dreary January Saturday afternoon to watch my football team Stevenage drew 0-0 at Bath City. It was horrible, exposed to the wind and after this experience, that was my image of Bath. A few years later Olga and I decided to spend a weekend down as a birthday treat (for Olga of course) and the weather in early October was a lot better than it was on my first experience. After walking around and checking out Bath, this has now become one of our favourite cities in the country. This is what we checked out whilst visiting and we hope this will help visitors planning a visit here.
Top of our list was the Roman Baths. I love Roman history and always wanted to visit the baths here. Did they meet my expectations? Yes they did. They were absolutely amazing. The baths were built around 70AD as a grand bathing and socialising complex, and have managed to stay really well preserved to this very day (and out of all the Roman Baths I have come across on my journeys across Europe and Northern Africa, these are one of the best-preserved Roman remains I have seen). On an average day, 1,170,000 litres of hot spring water fills the baths. Temperatures can get up to 46C! I would love to take a plunge in that right now just to chillax. Walking around the baths, we got to see some other ruins, treasures and walk on pavements which were built in Roman Times. We even explored the historic chambers which housed the changing rooms and plunge pools. An interactive museum is also located here and tells visitors what life was like in Roman Times and the lives of the Aquae Sulis people who were based in these parts.
If walking around the Roman Baths made you feel like that you are in need of a relaxing spa day, then say no more. Check out Britains original natural thermal spa nearby at the Therme Bath Spa. This is one of the main reasons we came to Bath, to have a relaxing afternoon here. I love the decor here. There is a lot of stone, light, water and glass here, creating a special fusion. This really did add to the experience in our two hour slot (which includes the spa session, towel, robe and slippers). There are two baths to choose from which are fed by naturally warm, mineral-rich waters. The largest one of the two baths is located inside and is called the Minerva Bath which is named after the Roman Goddess of Health and Wisdom. I just love getting under the massage jet, checking out the whirlpool and speeding through the lazy river.
The other pool is located on the rooftop and the views overlooking the city and looking across to the surrounding hills is a memory I will take home with me. Afterwards we had a meal in the restaurant, however the only thing we didn’t do was book some treatments up (as the place does get quite busy at weekends). To find out more information and book a visit, check out Therme Bath Spa here.
Bath is the only city in the United Kingdom to be designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Walking around the cobble streets of the city, seeing the buildings built from many moons ago and adding that with a bit of Roman History, I can see why it is on the list. One of my favourite places in the city is checking out The Royal Crescent. The buildings here were finished in 1775 and designed by one of England’s finest architects at the time, John Wood the Younger. The 30 terraced houses are arranged around a green overlooking the Royal Victoria Park and they are probably the best example of Georgian period architecture I have come across on the island. There is also the five star hotel called The Royal Crescent Hotel and Spa as well as the Museum of Georgian Life which is located at number 1 on the Royal Crescent. The rest of the buildings are private housing (so don’t go up to each house trying to get in!). I have known about these buildings in my younger years from films, the most recent I remember is the Duchess (2008) which starred Keira Knightley (I might have to rewatch that now for memories sake!). On researching the street, there was a dark moment in time back in the 1970s when Miss Annabel Wellesley-Colley who lived at number 22, painted her front door yellow instead of white like all the houses in the Royal Crescent. It was shocking. She had to fight off two orders from the city council and defend herself at a public enquiry but she got her way and was allowed to keep the door yellow (and it still remains like that till this very day).
Near to the Royal Crescent is The Circus (which was originally called the King’s Circus) and was designed by another fine architect John Wood, the Elder and the road with all its buildings was completed in 1768. The Circus has three curved townhouses, forming a circle with three entrances. When checking out the stonework on the buildings, there are a few symbols like serpents and acorns on the facade. This was because Mr Wood loved the Druids (they are the people who created prehistoric stone circles like Stonehenge) and thought that Bath was the centre of Druid activity on the island. So Mr Wood studied Stonehenge (probably didn’t find out the answer why Stonehenge is there) and designed The Circus with the same diameter.
However (again, during research), Mr Wood is a clear man and joined the Circus to the Royal Crescent by a ley-line (which I had to find out what the hell that meant and basically means a straight alignment between two historical sites) and the design represents the sun and the moon. I found a photo of this online and it does look like The Circus is the sun and the Royal Crescent is the moon!
The Circus over the year has had many famous people living here such as Thomas Gainsborough (the artist) and Nicholas Cage (American actor) but again, don’t go knocking on each door hoping to find a famous celebrity. However, do stand in the middle of The Circus by the tree where you get to see the grand scale of the area and take in the beautiful architecture but here, try and find the exact spot and when you scream, it will echo all around! Can you find it? I didn’t.
If you are screaming for more amazing Georgian architecture, then check out Great Pulteney Street. The buildings overlooking the wide street are impressive. Thought I chuck that in there.
At the western end of Great Pulteney Street check out Pulteney Bridge which reminds me of bridges I have seen in Northern Italy. I was right when I thought this as the bridge when it was built was inspired by the bridge Ponte Vecchio in Florence (which I have seen and can see the similarities) and has shops lined up on both sides. This type of bridge is only one of the four such structures in the world. Bath, Florence, do you know where the other two are?
Across the street from the Roman Baths is Bath Abbey. The Abbey has stood here for more than 1,000 years and King Edgar, the first king of England, or as England as we know today, was crowned here in AD973. Inside the abbey the interior is Gothic which was created in Victorian times which is a must to check out.
One of our favourite things to do here is to check out the quirky shops and taste the food in the many restaurants here. However we feel we would like to give a big shout to The Bath Stable in the centre of Bath. This was the first (and the only) cider bar we’ve been to and whooooaaaaaa, there is so much cider to choose from. We were wasted here after trying a few ciders. The food is good here also and the staff were a blast. If you want to try cider or different varieties of it, then come here, they are more likely to have what you are looking for. I am pretty sure all the ciders are from the local area or at least the South-Western areas of the island. The cider here is so good that nine months later, Olga gave birth to our first child, Amelie! So beware! He he.
How to get to Bath
Bath is easy to get to. If driving, the nearest main motorway from London is the M4 (which goes from Heathrow airport to south Wales passing Bristol, Cardiff and Swansea). Arriving by train, then direct trains from London Paddington is the way to go and takes a couple of hours. There are also coach services from Victoria bus station in London.
Bath again, is such a fantastic city that we are already planning a return visit here to do the things we have missed and maybe a return to the spa. The city is also an ideal base to explore the local area, there is Bristol, Wells (which is the smallest city in the UK), the Cotswolds, Stonehenge, Salisbury. This part of England is just simply beautiful and the locals are very friendly. When in England, make sure this is on your list.