Not in the bath. In Bath.
After finishing a three-week contract at an English summer school in Epsom on a Tuesday, and before flying out to France that Sunday, I decided to take advantage of seeing what I could in England. With only four short days, I couldn’t squeeze all that much in, but opted to take a trip to Bath (via Oxford on the return journey).
Bath is an impressive city in the South-West county of Somerset. If you approach by train, you will be struck by rows of big townhouses in honey-coloured stone, Georgian terraces and picturesque parades. It is true that in England, Bath has been an architectural icon, a cultural and fashion trendsetter for the past three centuries and although it oozes gentility and exudes an atmosphere of bourgeoisie (for the budget traveller it isn’t exactly cheap), it certainly seems one of the country’s most attractive cities – in fact, the whole city has been named a World Heritage Site by Unesco. Just saying.
Bath is spoilt with an array of architectural treasures, including the Roman Baths, the Circus and the Royal Crescent. But what are these? You only need see them to appreciate their significance.
Originally established as a spa, the city bore the Latin name of Aquae Sulis after the baths and the temple that the Romans built around the natural hot springs there around AD 60. The Roman Baths is now a complex, which represents several phases in the city’s history. While the buildings above street level date from the 19th Century, the four main features of the Baths are below modern street level and date from the time of Roman occupation in Britain; the Roman Temple, the Sacred Spring, the Roman Bath House and the Museum. You will also find parts of the complex dating from the 12th and 15th Centuries when several other changes took place there.
Visitors can take a guided tour (be it by person or audio guide – you will come away well informed. I did both!) and can see the Baths and the Museum but as the Baths are lined with ancient lead-plating, placed there by the Romans in order to prevent leaks, you cannot enter the water. I learnt a lot about the Roman way of life in England and the significance of the Baths over the years – they have played a long and interesting social role over time, playing host to Emperors, market places, feasts, Kings and their courtiers, the ill and ailing, prostitutes, orgies… In no particular order.
The Circus and the Royal Crescent kind of go hand in hand. An aerial view of the city shows that together, they form the shape of a giant question mark. Whether this was a kind of rhetoric on the part of architect, John Wood the Younger on whether Bath was not the most gallant city in terms of Georgian architecture, or whether he was just simply making a statement, I can’t be sure… but to the former, I’d say yes and the latter, he certainly did.
The Royal Crescent is a residential road of 30 houses in the shape of a crescent. It is renowned for being among the greatest examples of Georgian architecture of its time and is a grade 1 listed building. The houses have been home to some very famous faces since it was completed in 1774, more recently the likes of somebody called, Johnny Depp…?? 🙂
Similarly, the Circus is a ring-shaped street, whose inspiration came from the Roman Colosseum. It faces inward and also has been home to many well-known people over time.
Actually according to the sound and 100% trustful Wikipedia, when viewed from the air, the Circus, along with Queens Square and the adjoining Gay Street apparently form a key shape, which is a masonic symbol similar to those that adorn many of Wood’s buildings. So there you go.
During my two-day stay in Bath, I also managed a trip to the Fashion Museum – which although it sounds completely girly, I insist it was insightful. There was an exhibition of Royal Costumes used in theatre and film over the years, displayed in a manner that gave you an entire run-down on the history of the Royal family in England in very digestible, bite-sized pieces.
I also visited the Jane Austen centre. The was undeniably very girly. Lovers of her literature, this is for you only. The guided tour was very short and although I found it very interesting, for the £5 (student fare… shhhh!) I paid, I wasn’t convinced it was worth it. However, I did enjoy my book and sweets in the park.
Finally, while I was in Bath, I was lucky enough to have my first Couchsurfing experience and it couldn’t have been better. I had heard so much about the forum, and after some kind encouragement from friends who were members, I signed up, set up my profile and away I went. I stayed with a lovely couple in Bath who really looked after me and I enjoyed getting to know them and their knarly little pup, Nigel. Thanks J and F!
I’d like to dedicate my last few words of this post to English food. I don’t care what foreigners say, you’re fab.