Baths and Bath

The name Bath had been bandied around, even prior to my leaving Australia, as a place to visit. Superlatives such as ‘must see’, ‘beautiful’, ‘really beautiful’ were applied liberally. Since moving beyond primary school, the word ‘bath’ has ceased to fill me with dread and fantasies of remaining dirty for the rest of my life and has been replaced by connotations of calm and relaxation, of books and champagne and little edibles on plates. So one afternoon, I leapt aboard the train in Bristol and fifteen minutes later I was there.

The ubiquitous red sightseeing buses beckoned. There was no way I could walk their two tours – one that winds up the hills overlooking the city, the other which focuses on the city itself – in an afternoon so I gladly paid my money and was on my way.

Magnificent views, little anecdotes, historical facts – it’s all there on tour. I wonder: do the guides have a certain spiel they must give and to which they can add, or is their output strictly controlled? Do they pour over books, boning up on their geographical area, longing for a chance to impart further information to the curious tourist?

One of the things that made Bathso appealing for me was its aesthetic consistency. It is built from the local stone which formed in the middle Jurassic period, 135 million years ago. It’s prized for its durability as well as its ability to be cut in any direction.

My informants and I are not the only ones to consider Bath noteworthy. The whole of the city, not just its historic core, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site which means it is “of outstanding universal value to the whole of humanity”. That’s a big call.

The main factors were its Roman baths, the 18th century town planning and architecture and Bath’s social role as a destination for pilgrimage and for the fashionable spa culture that created it. The deal was clinched by the hot springs (the only ones inBritain) and the “landscape setting”. It contains nearly 5,000 listed buildings so don’t rush off to buy a property thinking you’ll do a little remodelling.

Many well-known people, including Jane Austen have made it home (or, in her case, homes). Apparently one celebrity, discounting the general public’s facility with the Hindu-Arabic numerical system, removed the number from his door in a bid to prevent them from locating him.

Apart from celebrity-hunting, for which Bath is reputedly a fertile field, there is much to do. No chocolate massage in the Thermae Bath Spa, but the Kraxen Stove / Alpine Hay Chamber sounds worth a whirl – even if only to discover what it actually is. Museums, including the Jane Austen Centre, abound. One can sink one’s teeth into a Sally Lunn bun (I saw them in my mother’s Country Women’s Association cookbook as a child but never got around to making one. What better than to have one in the country of origin?)

And, of course, when in Bath, do as the Romans did. Have a warm dip – even if they won’t let you in with champagne and a plate of hors d’oeuvres.

Related posts in Tales of a Travelling Porridge and I Spy, I Hear, I Smell, I Taste.

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