As a World Heritage site, Bath offers unparelled architecture, museums and historic churches. Of course, firstly, Bath is known for the Roman Baths, but there is much more to this beautiful city. The Abbey, built 500 years ago in the classic Perpendicular Gothic style, is remarkable inside and out, the gorgeous vaulted ceilings are unlike anything we have ever seen. The Circus (means circle or oval in Latin) designed by architect John Woods the Elder reflects Georgian style. The curved segments of townhouses surrounding the circle was a new concept at the time of its design in the 1750's. The Royal Crescent, designed by his son, John the Younger, provides a sweeping lawn, perfect for hanging out or picnicking. It's considered one of the iconic spots in Bath. In addition to the Baths and phenomenal architecture, quite a number of visitors come to the city because of the Jane Austen Centre. Even though Jane, reportedly, didn't really like the city, they commerate her with an annual festival and walking tours, in addition to the Centre.
Driving north to Bath, we had rain for the full day. Staying in nearby Bradford-on-Avon, we unpacked our car and headed into Bath, hoping the rain would subside. It didn't. Having planned to buy a 24-hour ticket for the hop-on/hop-off tour bus, we drove around in circles for a while, and then returned to the hotel. The following morning we drove in once again, blessed with beautiful, clear blue skies. What a difference a day can make!
Our time was now limited, since we needed to fly out of Gatwick the following morning, and wanted to drive to nearby Horley that afternoon. We secured our car in one of the many parking garages in town. Utilizing the info of Rick Steves, we headed to the Pump Room, next to the Abbey, for a 2-hour walking tour of the city. The tours are conducted by voluteer Bath residents with extensive knowledge of the history and architecture of their home. The walk is free, and they ask you to not insult them by offering a tip. Quite a number of people had gathered in front of the Pump Room at the 10:30 morning walk time, but 3 guides appeared, the group was split up, and off we went. These walks were started by the mayor of Bath in the 1930's, and luckily for guests to the city, the tradition has continued.
Our guide for the morning was Ralph. Starting at the Abbey, and continuing in a loop around the interior of Bath, he provided a knowledgable narrative about the city with historical anecdotes thrown in for our amusement. Bath may have been started as early as 863 BC, after Prince Bladud was cured of leprosy. He had been banned from court due to his illness, but while tending pigs near the spas noticed the pigs skin ailments were healed by the mud at the springs. Deciding to follow their lead and wallow in the mud, he was cured, and went on to become king, and father of King Lear. It is uncertain if this is truth or legend, but in any event, the Romans did start building baths here as early as 60 AD. The true medicinal quality of the waters is questionable but stories of their curative powers have continued since the first legend of Prince Bladud. With the springs pumping 240,000 gallons at 115 degrees, they provide plenty of natural hot water for the city's spas.
Bath has had a tumultous history, politically and economically. In the 1800's the economy became increasingly stable due to the influence of Beau Nash, the city's Master of Ceremony, known as the "King of Bath." He established rules for suitable activities, dress, and a code of behavior. The city's fortune continued to flucuate over the next few centuries but tourism is the primary draw to the city of the Roman Baths and Georgian architecture. Now almost 4 million tourist a year visit Bath.
We're departing England soon, moving on to Pisa, Italy.