“Your head runs too much upon Bath; but there is a time for everything — a time for balls and plays, and a time for work. You have had a long run of amusement, and now you must try to be useful.”
– Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey
Obviously the most famous thing in Bath is…the Roman bath complex! A combination of historic site and museum, it’s well worth the cost of the tour. Like most places in Britain these days, you pick up an audio guide that takes you around the museum and through the baths, allowing you to set both the pace and amount of information you want to take in. There are also options for children who might not want to spend hours staring into collections of votive offerings to the goddess of the hot water spring like, er, some people…
The Baths are right next door to the Bath Abbey. If you love historic cathedrals like, er, some people again it’s worth a look in, but if not you can admire it from outside just fine and move on to other things.
The Baths are still flowing and still heated by the self same spring that fed it in the Roman era. Look closely and you can see steam rising up above he water in certain places.
This is the entrance to the spring itself, with a bit of Roman civil engineering thrown in for good measure.
The thing about Bath that really makes it worth a visit is that it’s just so very pretty. It’s utterly picturesque. The primary building material is the iconic limestone that is quarried from the area that gives a light sort of feeling to the entire city. It rises up out of the dark green hills, with tendrils of creamy stone curling through the river valley. The elegant Georgian architecture doesn’t hurt either.
It’s hard to explain how something like rock can be so alluring but I personally think Bath is at its best in twilight. The stone gives off a warm sort of glow that makes everything look like a Jane Austen mini-series. Ironic since she might be Bath’s most famous resident (and the locals trot her out at every opportunity), but she didn’t particularly like it there.
It’s a very British thing to talk about the weather, but it must be said that the “green and pleasant land” pulled out all the stops for my in-laws’ visit. The weather was perfect throughout the entire trip, and I’m fairly certain I got more Vitamin D in their week visiting than I had in the previous six months!
The other major site we took in was Number 1 Royal Crescent, a Georgian home that’s been restored and furnished to look as it would have in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Everyday items like hair scratchers (necessities for ladies who might have had their hair washed and set once a quarter) and mousetraps are displayed alongside formal dining and reception rooms. You can head up the main staircase, or tromp down the servants’ one to get a taste of life above and below stairs during the period.
Last but not least: FOOD. Sally Lunn’s is a Bath establishment. It’s fairly simple fair, but there has been a bakehouse on this site for centuries (and some excavations have revealed there may have been one in Roman times as well!). The current house dates from the 17th century and got its name from a French Huguenot baker who set up shop who created the “Bath bun,” a large and fluffy roll of white bread. Sally Lunn’s serves all meals, with a side of her famous bun with each portion.
We stumbled across The Circus cafe and restaurant on our way to the Royal Crescent and decided to take a late lunch there. A helpful sign informed us that it was ranked #4 in a nationwide list of “restaurants that only foodies know about,” and I can see why. My lunch of roasted squashes and vegetables with a pomegranate sauce and some magical concoction of goats cheese was easily the best dish I had on the entire trip. The food is locally sourced, season, and excellent–and most importantly, very reasonably priced for what you get.