I'm sitting in Paddington station waiting for the train to Bath. Apparently I went there when I was a little kid but I can't remember a thing about it. (I can't even remember what I did last week.) So this is like the first time for me.
The train journey wasn't the greatest. I wish they would bring back British Rail. At least with British Rail you already knew it was useless, so you weren't disappointed. But they promised me two things on this train and I got neither. First of all I booked a window seat but they stuck me next to the window partition (that big plastic strut between two windows) so the only way to look out was with x-ray eyes. But that didn't matter because someone else was sitting in it anyway! I paid for a seat number but they didn't bother to put a card in the back of the seat, so by the time I got on it was already taken. Half the carriage was full of people arguing about who was sitting where. Nobody wants to move once they are settled, do they -- so you are stuffed. Ah well... that is life. What do you expect for a seventy quid ticket. (I'm serious! That is how much it costs for a return ticket to Bath.)
I ended up sitting next to a woman doing her makeup. She was at it the whole way from London to Bath applying about ten different coats like she was waterproofing an exterior wall. First of all came the brush and blusher powder, then some shiny stuff and a dab on her eyes, then under her eyes then her eyebrows then her lips then her hair then a touch up on her face again... Jesus Christ I'm glad I'm not a woman! By the time she finished she looked exactly the same as when she started.
The first thing you notice when you pull into Bath is the pretty sandstone houses perched precariously on the side of a hill. That's the first thing I liked about Bath -- the colour of it. It looks like the colour of a beach on a rainy day.
I did a bit of research beforehand (always handy when you're visiting a new town) so I know there are at least three things I want to see... and I headed straight for the Roman Baths. It's right slap bang in the middle of the town so it will probably be the first thing you come across anyway. And it's right next door to the Abbey as well -- so you might as well do them both one after the other.
The Romans really knew how to have a bath. Can you imagine us having an hour long soak before going to work? We wouldn't have time! For us it's a quick five-minute shower and out the door to catch the bus. When the archaeologists dig modern man up in a thousand years time all they're going to find is a stainless steel sink. No murals or mosaics for them. Just a tatty bit of lino and a plastic bog brush with the bristles missing. The Romans had cold rooms, warm rooms, hot rooms, dip pools, massage tables... they really took their time with it.
As soon as you've handed over the money and picked up your audio guide you are straight into the main bath, looking down at the pea green water. I can see a few Roman soldiers down there dressed up in their centurion togs, and some six foot statues of Roman emperors balancing on the balcony. It looks quite impressive standing up here on the balcony, with the Abbey towering up behind. But then you start listening to the audio guide and discover that a lot of it is modern. Everything above ground level seems to have been built by the Victorians (including those brown sandstone columns around the edge). The Roman stuff is basically just the plunge pool and stubs of wall up to about six feet. You'd never know that by looking at it though -- it still looks very old and I almost wish they hadn't told me the truth!
Then you descend down another level... down to the thermal spring itself. The water is falling out of a stone arch and splashing over the rocks, with the steam bubbling up into a mist. I'm not sure I'd want to have a bath in it -- it still seems quite powerful now, two thousand years after the Romans first dipped their toes in it. After that you are allowed to walk around the bath at ground level (and have a chat with that Roman soldier). If you were quick enough then you could probably strip off your clothes and jump in for a swim while he's not looking, but I have a rule: I never jump into anything that is bright green. They've also got the remains of various plunge pools, warm rooms (tepidarium) and hot rooms (caldarium) as well -- they really do have it all in this place: the ruins are huge.
Don't forget the little drinking fountain at the end of the tour (where you hand in the audio guide), because you can have a sip from the miracle spring. The Romans believed that one sip from these waters and you'd be cured of all ills. Obviously I had a taste. It tasted a bit weird to me but I'm going to live forever now so I don't care. I am immortal! It felt like that scene at the end of Indiana Jones when he splashed it over his dad.
Next up... Bath Abbey, which is right next door to the Roman ruins. You have to donate a few quid to get inside but it's well worth it. I'm a sucker for a stained glass window and this place has got some of the best I've seen. Most big cathedrals have just got one at either end and a few piddly ones in the middle, but practically every window in here is priceless. They really are impressive. The ceiling towers up above the boundaries of the sky. You could probably trap the sun and the moon and the stars underneath. I'm still ranking Westminster Abbey and Brompton Oratory as my all-time favourite religious buildings, but this one comes an honourable third. God certainly does have some nice holiday homes.
You can have a climb up the Abbey tower if you want, which gives you a great view across the whole of Bath; but unfortunately my knees were playing up today so I had to give it a miss (there's no lift).
After that I thought I'd have a gentle stroll around town. It's surprisingly big if you try and do it all, so you can spend as much time as you want. I think a couple of hours should be plenty. Pretty much all of the streets around the Baths and the Abbey are worth a look, and especially behind the Abbey near the Parade Gardens. They've got a bridge above a thundering weir that is quite a nice sight -- the Pulteney Bridge. If you are feeling particularly energetic then talk a long walk up Great Pulteney Street to the Holburne Museum. Even if you can't be arsed to walk the entire length then it's still worth having a look from the beginning -- you can see the museum sitting in the distance.
Now head past Queen Square to The Circus. This place will knock your socks off -- it's a big round ring of Georgian houses encompassing a green with two huge trees in the middle, and I thought it was more impressive than the next bit... which is the bit that everyone comes to see: the Royal Crescent.
Whenever you see a picture of Bath on the telly the chances are that they'll show a picture of the Crescent. It's that big semi-circle of houses on top of a hill. But it's not until you actually get up close that you realise they are quite grotty -- I'm serious! I don't mean grotty in a rundown council house kind-of way. They probably still cost a bazillion quid to live in. But they don't seem to be making much of an effort to keep them Georgian. Half of the front doors are bright white and modern. They've all got modern-looking windows too. And if you want a real shock then head round to the back and view them from behind. The phrase "back end of a bus" comes to mind. They remind me of those photographs of models without their makeup on. When you see the Crescent on the telly it's all airbrushed with a bright blue sky, but when you walk down the street you can see the pimples.
If you want to fill up a bit more time then check out the museum at No.1 (the house on the end). They've decked it out with Georgian-era furniture to give you an idea of what it was like in its hey-day. But boy-oh-boy do they need to get rid of the guides! Every time you go in a room you have to stand there for five minutes and listen to a little presentation by the staff... and they have a different person lurking in every room. It goes on forever! You are just standing there politely smiling whilst they do their bit. It would be alright if it was in-situ history, but it's all stuff they've shipped in from other houses. Ten rooms later you are finally allowed to leave.
I filled up my final hour with a sightseeing bus around the city. It was 14 quid a go and lasted fifty minutes, and I thought it was well worth doing. You get to see all of the pretty stuff and best-looking buildings without having to wear your shoes out. (You can catch it outside the Abbey, if you are interested.)
Guest – hi ... a beautiful blog about Bath. Im planning to go in mid june .. was just wondering whether did you prebook your train tickets online or you just bought it on-the-spot?
Admin – you definitely want to book them in advance if you can, because the cost will shoot up if you do it on the day. It could be as much as 3 or 4 times more expensive!
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