Bath was the most beautiful town I have ever seen. The photos I took don’t nearly do it justice. It’s the sort of small city in which there is plenty to do, but it’s also tucked away between miles of countryside and perfect English villages. The entire city was made a UNESCO World Heritage site in the 1980s, and it’s plain to see why–the Georgian mansions, all the same in perfect rows except for their entryways (no two entries are the same!); the Roman baths, well-kept and updated through the centuries; and even the more modern buildings such as the huge Spa complex and the train station are well-integrated with the city itself, which is in turn extremely well-integrated with the landscape around it (one of the main reasons the city is a world heritage site in the first place!). You could say for me, Bath is the “marrying type,” as that’s exactly what I look for in a city I’d like to settle down more permanently in.
I arrived in Bath around 10am on a bus from Salisbury. I was admittedly a bit hungover and not exactly well-rested (recall my crazy stag party friends, who on seeing me the next morning said, “So to conclude our conversation, you should really visit Hythe,” Which had been what we’d been talking about in the bar when I first met them), but I pushed through and walked from my hostel near the train station all the way up to the Circus, the Crescent (photos of these & an explanation of what they are further on!) and the Botanical Gardens of Victoria Park, and then back.
Parks are one of my favourite things to explore in new cities; places like Bath perhaps don’t really need municipal (or Royal) parks because of their surrounding landscape, but the fact that they do and that it’s so well-kept and enormous says a lot about the city itself. Most of these photos are from the Botanical Gardens, but these were at the extremity of the park–there was a carnival there, as well as lots of play areas for kids, open fields for sports, performance areas (one pictured below) and many, many people lounging. Parks are often a great place to take the pulse of a city: the nicer and more populated they are, the happier and more well-organized the atmosphere of the city overall. At least, that’s my theory. I’ll have to write my OTHER thesis on that!
I went back to the hostel to have a bit of a lie down after that walk, and who shows up shortly thereafter but my Australian friend, Natalie! We had met briefly in Salisbury and talked a bit about the rest of our travel plans, and we found out we were both heading to Bath next. However, Natalie’s travel “plans” are more like loose ideas of where she thinks she might sleep the next day, so when she met me (neurotic planner who booked everything in advance) she booked the same hostel as me, assuming that I “knew [my] shit.” The hostel was in a great location and was pretty nice, but the staff was all Spanish and seemed put-upon whenever we asked them questions, and were quite rude, which was a shame. It really didn’t matter though because we had such a good time outside the hostel, and with people we met there!
Anyway, Natalie is a great gal hailing from Cairns, Queensland, and is a professional chef. When she arrived I was chatting with a Canadian girl who was staying in our room and as soon as Natalie walked in we were instant best friends–to see someone you know in a place other than where you met them has that effect, I’ve found. We ended up walking around for the rest of the day together, swapping stories and taking photos.
Later that night, we got a group of girls together from our dorm at the hostel and all went out for beers at the best pub in town, the Beau Nash, which we just stumbled upon (and which would figure prominently in Natalie and my adventures the next night!). We also ate some Toffee pudding (yum) on the recommendation of the Canadian girl, Mel, who had been traveling the UK for about three months at that point, and was on her way back to London to fly home. For the record, Pudding is not the gelatinous kind of our American imagining, but rather it’s a bready thing that can be either savory or sweet. It’s a very British thing.
More on the girls Natalie and I were with that first night: Mel is big into horse back riding and working with a stunt team that she was friendly with, she worked with the horses used on Game of Thrones, and in a new production of Les Miserables, both filming in the UK and Ireland. The fourth member of our little party was another American girl (the only time that I was in the majority of North Americans the entire trip!) from Colorado whose name we never actually asked! She was just starting out a backpacking trip with some friends but had come to Bath on her own because she wasn’t quite ready to head back to London after a long camping trip.
The next morning, we said goodbye to Mel and the girl from Colorado, and set out to explore Bath some more. We went to the Building of Bath Museum which was a tiny museum a bit far from the city center, but worth the climb up the hill and the half an hour we spent finding it! As I said in my last post, I’m a huge fan of local history museums, and this one was fantastic as well–it was solely devoted to the construction of Bath, which was largely guided by the hands of two John Woods (the elder and the younger). The Elder was the one who laid the plans for the Circus and the Crescent (two stunning circular formations of Georgian mansions) to represent the Sun and the Moon, and there are all sorts of neat tidbits about the way that these two complexes were constructed with specific lines to be found in this museum. The city rose to some prominence during the 19th century, as a “season” in Bath was taken as a luxurious and noble thing to do. The city figures into two of Jane Austen’s novels as well, and the author lived here with her sister for some time. There is a great model of the city of Bath (below) in the back of the museum which highlights different important buildings and regions of the city, as well as give you a bird’s eye view of exactly how well the city is integrated into the hills and valleys surrounding the River Avon. Houses built on slopes were something new at the time of their construction, and extremely difficult to execute. The museum goes into some detail as to how they were able to achieve this at the time, with their means, as well as all of the building materials (the eponymous sandy-coloured Bath Stone used in all of the Georgian buildings and many others besides) and decorations for the interiors and entry ways as well. It’s a very small museum, but it’s absolutely worth it for anyone mildly interested in architecture or city planning.
What I didn’t get a photo of is that the Circus is completely circular with three avenues that converge on the roundabout that goes around the grassy circle in the center. It’s really only something that could be captured with a Fisheye or panoramic lens, neither of which I have. Rest assured that it’s stunning though, and now I suppose you have to go to Bath yourselves to see it!
One thing my guidebook told me I “had” to do was go see a game of cricket. Luckily for me, there was a game going on at the green of the Crescent! I think I watched for about 10 minutes before I gave up trying to understand.
After exploring that museum for about an hour (completely by ourselves, with the helpful, knowledgeable and extremely friendly staff there to answer questions and just chat), we hopped on a bus up to the University of Bath, which is situated on a hill above the center city and met up with a fellow named Tom. How we came to meet him is an interesting story; Cat went to 2 years of high school with a fellow named Sam, who went to Istanbul with us. I had met Sam before we went to Istanbul and we had been instant pals, and in Istanbul, I’m not actually sure if we stopped talking the entire time, except to eat, smoke hookah, and sleep. Before Sam went to high school with Cat, he had gone to boarding school in England for about 6 years (correct me if I’m wrong, Sam!) and from what I can tell, has friends from all over the country. One of these friends is Tom.
Tom met us under what could have been extremely awkward circumstances (meeting a friend-of-a-friend who you’ve only spoken to through Facebook, and she’s brought along a random Australian Tag-a-long) with more grace and candor than I knew one person able to possess. He showed us around the University and chatted with us on the Green, all while effectively skipping lunch and squeezing us in between two classes. He studies French and Russian, has traveled loads, and is an all-around incredible guy. Natalie and I thanked him profusely, because if we hadn’t planned to meet up with him, we never would have made it up the hill to the University, and in turn never seen the incredible view on the way back down! After leaving Tom to his homework and Russian translation class, we headed back down to the city center on foot, and boy was THAT worth it! Such an incredible view–just like looking at the model in the museum, but walking through it at the same time!–and the houses all along the road were enormous and stunning.
We got back to the hostel after about an hour and a half of walking around and were both pretty exhausted. Natalie was a bit sick, and I just hadn’t stopped walking for days, so we relaxed at the hostel and cooked some Tesco stir fry, and then headed out to grab a pint at the Lamb and Lion, as it looked like a sort of traditional old place. And HERE’S when I realized that the King’s Head Inn in Salisbury was part of a chain–it’s the same exact menu in both places, same logos, same everything except the local beer offering! Happily though, they did have some great beers on tap and all of the cask ales were cheaper than normal because it just so happened that April was a big Beer festival in England. I benefited from that little tidbit for the rest of my trip, that’s for sure! Cheshire Gold was our favorite beer in Bath, although recent Google searches have revealed that it hails from a small brewery near the Peak District! At any rate, it’s a great beer and you should try it if you ever get the chance. We had invited Tom to come get a beer with us to say thanks, but as you know, he was with friends (at the Beau Nash, in fact) and from there, the night went crazy.
The next day, both of us having woken up at 9am for reasons we will never understand, we had traditional breakfast and tea and then headed down to the Bath Abbey. I had a train to catch at 4pm back to London so that I could catch my 10am flight to Barcelona the next day, but we had some time so we thought we’d do one last spin around Bath. We’d contemplated doing the Roman Baths but I was really too short on cash, and I wasn’t sure we’d have time. But I digress! Bath Abbey:
Bath Abbey was still under construction when our buddy Henry was on his rampage of repossession of Church property, so instead he simply had it named an Anglican Abbey when its construction was completed in during the 16h century. There has been an Abbey in that spot since the 7th century, but there have been reconstructions in the 10th and 12th centuries (before another one in the 16th!) and major restoration work was done in the 1860s. What I loved about the Abbey was how light it was inside–using white stone as opposed to grey or other darker colours really helps make the space feel a lot more open and airy. The ceiling was mind-bending, and they actually had a mirror that you could look in and see the ceiling in more detail, but it also sort of makes you dizzy from the pattern.
I caught my train out of Bath and saw THIS:
So this is something I’d read a lot about in the prehistory museums in Avebury and Salisbury, but not had the opportunity to see. These hill figures are carved into the stone underneath grassy hills and I’m a little foggy on the details, but most of them date to prehistoric times. I have no idea whether this particular horse is as old as the one I saw in photos at the museums, but I was just excited to see one outside of a photograph. I suppose careful searching in that first wiki article I linked could help me figure out how old this one is (I imagine it’s a more recent one, based on the bronze age figures), but for now I’d rather it remain a mystery.
I found that train rides around England were half of the fun of being there–they’re always through stunning scenes of bucolic bliss, full of lambs, cows, horses, chickens, and other farm animals. The bus rides are often equally beautiful, but trains can surge serenely through otherwise uninterrupted countryside, where buses require roads and highways, which are often constructed out of the way. And I always feel ill getting off of a bus. Anyway, I got into London around 6 or 7pm, found my hostel and mostly kept to myself for the night, eating porridge and sorting out my train ride to the airport the next day. I did take a few photos though!
The rest of London will have to wait though; next up is Barcelona!