Bath, Somerset, UK
Bath is a spa town steeped in Roman history and much favoured by well-to-do Georgian, Edwardian & Victorian society for its curative waters and pleasant surroundings.
It also blossomed for many years as a retreat for the rich merchants of nearby Bristol, a port city that thrived driven by the abhorrent slave trade. Bath itself was an important centre for the wool trade.
Nowadays Bath is just a lovely place to visit (Bath was inscribed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 1987), so when we were looking for somewhere to spend the New Year break, it was the Somerset city that won our vote.
The journey started at London Paddington train station with a 90-minute ride on the iconic Great Western Railway to Bath Spa Station costing £40 return.
The railway is a well known great feat of engineering that was largely designed by the celebrated engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel. How fitting therefore that we spent our break at the Royal Hotel that first opened its doors in 1846.
The Royal itself was designed by Brunel to act as a railway hotel to accommodate train travelling guests.
The Buildings of Bath
One of only four bridges in the world to have shops across its full span on both sides, Pulteney Bridge spans the River Avon and was designed in 1769 by Robert Adam. When it opened in 1770 it was a revelation of futuristic design.
A temple was constructed on the site between 60-70 AD in the first few decades of Roman Britain, leading to the development of the small Roman urban settlement known as Aquae Sulis (modern day Bath) around the site.
Today the spa waters and ancient buildings are preserved as a museum, with a guided tour costing £14.40 if booked online.
There are a few other spa orientated buildings dotted about, including the The Royal Mineral Water Hospital.
The Pump Rooms
The practice of drinking the thermal waters of Bath only began in earnest in the later seventeenth century when it became necessary to install a pump to allow patients to have access to the water directly from the spring.
The Bath Corporation erected a building adjacent to the baths where the drinkers could be sheltered. This is the origin of the first Pump Room completed in 1706. As the popularity of the spa grew in the 18th century the Pump Room could no longer accommodate the fashionable crowds and invalids so extensions and improvements were made to the building, with the current building opened in 1795.
Today the pump rooms are a very nice tea room serving the full monty cream teas and meals. Booking is essential as we found out to our cost.
Very close by is Bath’s most significant place of worship, the former Benedictine monastery that was founded in the 7th Century.
In keeping with the rest of the city, the building is majestic inside and out. Guided tours are available for £8, when you get the opportunity to climb 212 steps to the top of the tower, visiting the bells & clock on the way. The views are fabulous on a clear day, the tower providing the best vantage point in Bath.
The Royal Crescent
The lovely row of 30 Georgian terraced dwellings were built between 1767 and 1774 to a design by John Wood. The fine architecture is a Grade I listed building and one of England’s most desirable residences, including a luxury hotel which will set you back about £340 per night.
Number 1 Royal Crescent is now a charity run museum with the house decorated as it would have been in the late 18th Century. Admission costs £12 per adult.
The nearby Circus features houses of a similar design only this time arranged in a complete circular formation around a spherical park area.
The best thing to do in Bath however is to just wander, admire the architecture and relax in a pub, restaurant or tea room.