In the midst of a rainy summer, I had my first chance to visit the famous spa town of Bath. I knew I would be familiar with this building, the Royal Crescent, as it has appeared in numerous films – and several recent streaming series.
What I had not expected, however, was to find a walkable city with so many activities and locations to enjoy.
Bath is located on either side of a deep valley. Facing toward the center of town from the Royal Crescent, I could look over the gardens that lead back down the valley toward the River Avon.
On the way are canals and rail lines that connect Bath easily with London, and points further west toward the coast.
Bath is picturesque, and a mix of time periods, none of which overwhelm the present joyful, lively city.
The Historic Hotel
There are all styles and types of accommodation in Bath, so I’ll have to go back to try out others, but for my first visit, Radisson’s Henrietta House was a blend of typical Georgian architecture and updated comfort, with a park just down the street.
Thankful for a building with a lift to help move suitcases, I was also delighted to see the original staircases and rooms were still in use.
The updates included air conditioning in one side of the hotel, along with colorful paintings and comfortable furniture throughout.
Delicious meals were served in this re-envisioned main floor room. I never skipped breakfast. It was too relaxing to have a slow morning here before heading out for the day.
Walking the City
A little way from my hotel, Great Pulteney Street is a great place to start wandering. We could go uphill, toward the Holbourne Museum, (Lady Danbury’s home in Bridgerton), and after a walk over the canal and through a park way, we found ourselves at the Royal Crescent.
The other option is to head downhill, toward the center of town and a unique bridge.
Shops line the Pulteney bridge. Designed in 1769 by Robert Adam, construction of this Georgian style bridge began the same year.
It was completed in 1774, and has become one of the “must see” spots in town. Shops on the bridge have the added benefit of a beautiful view of the Avon River.
As I walked the bridge, I wandered in and out the Bath Ruby Shop, the Bath Stamp & Coin Shop, Hampstead Bazaar, Nigel Dando Jewellers, and Pulteney Bridge Flowers, just for a start.
The Pulteney Bridge Restaurant is just one of many options for delicious food while on a walk about near the bridge.
Looking down from the bridge, the Pulteney Weir, an overflow dam used to ensure the river does not flood lower parts of town, is a focal point, and a great spot for walking the river banks.
There’s lots of activity here, both of people and animals that are drawn to the river. There are a number of river cruises to enjoy through the day, with some evening sailings in the summer season.
The Jane Austen Museum is a great place to get a closer look at the famous author’s time in Bath. She used Bath as a major location for two of her novels, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, both published posthumously in 1817.
The Jane Austin Museum can direct visitors to locations that appear in the books, as well as sites that appear in the many film adaptations of Austen’s novels.
And there is lots to savor for those who want to learn more about Austen’s life in the city.
Roman Baths and the Abbey
In the heart of the downtown are two buildings that reflect the long and complicated history of Bath. For those who want to see the layering of history across structures, the Roman Baths and the Abbey are a must see.
The town of Bath takes its name from the springs that the Romans enjoyed. The series of formal baths they built are still in place, though I wouldn’t ask to jump in these days.
The original structure exists, and a comprehensive museum, with displays and materials to experience has been added.
The baths also have actors in roman costume to interact with visitors, bringing a sense of how the Romans used the space to life.
Right next to the Roman baths is the Bath Abbey. An active Christian Abby, services and ceremonial events continue today.
When I was visiting, there were university graduations taking place, so the square was filled with graduates and their families celebrating. I was not able to tour the building, so I will add that to my “must do” list for my next visit.
The original Christian structure, most likely built on the site of a Roman temple, appeared in 675 when Osric, King of the Hwicce, granted funds for a convent to be built, and later, in 781, a monastic church was added.
Major modifications and rebuilding occurring in the 10th and 12th and 16th centuries. It was a cathedral with a bishop until the reformation, when the structure was stripped of lead, iron, and glass. Later, in 1574 Elizabeth I encouraged the restoration of the building.
There is always something fun happening in Bath, and the weekend that I was there was a two-day lawn bowling festival.
Participants were welcoming and jovial, as long as I stayed out of field of play, so I walked about and joined the cheering bystanders.
The game seemed to be a variation of formal lawn bowling, but everyone was having such a good time, I didn’t want to interrupt with questions about rules.
At the least, it looks like I may have a new sport to play. Perhaps I can come back with a team for the next festival.
Walking Back Up to the Royal Crescent
The next day, fortified with a substantial breakfast, I walked up Great Pulteney Street, past the Holbourne Museum and up the gardens toward the Royal Crescent.
I’ll have to return to see the museum next time, because today my friends and I were headed all the way up the hill.
On the way we passed over the rail line that leads to London, and the canal that runs west to Bristol and east to Reading, the Kennet and Avon Canal.
When chatting with people who live in Bath, they spoke of the easy connection to London on the train. It is not uncommon for people to work in London, finding the hour train ride manageable so that they may continue to live in Bath.
And there were quite a few boats passing on the canal, suggesting another side trip for my next vacation in Bath.
And up through the gardens, which is a bit of a walk, we came to the large grassy space just below the Royal Crescent. Year ago, pastured animals grazed here, kept from wandering up to the homes because of the “ha ha wall”.
The stone wall keeps cows and sheep on their pasture, but when viewed from above, because it has been recessed into the hillside, it is not visible. Just like the Ha-Ha Wall that can be seen at Beningbrough Hall in Yorkshire.
The name comes from the unfortunate few who walk out to the pasture area, not realizing the wall is there, and take a tumble. Today, the grazing animals are gone, but the wall remains.
In more recent times, the pasture area doubles as a space for daily enjoyment, and on special occasions, as a concert space.
Royal Crescent No. 1 Museum
Once at the Royal Crescent, my friends and I toured the museum in Royal Crescent No. 1. The end home has been restored to its Georgian finest, so visitors may walk through the home to understand some of the fineness of the furnishings and expensive fabrics in beds, clothing, and hanging coverings.
The library, the private rooms, the dining room, all are contrasted with the back stairs and servant’s areas at the top and bottom of the home.
Afternoon Tea at the Royal Crescent Hotel and Spa
At the center of the Royal Crescent is a spectacular hotel, the Royal Crescent Hotel and Spa.
Famous and important visitors to Bath often make this this their choice for accommodation, so my party and I enjoyed the lobby before being ushered to the back garden for our afternoon tea.
The tea was spectacular, with especially fancy pastries and sweets on the top plate.
The apricot mousse, resting in a light pastry with a tiny pansy flower for embellishment was a standout on a plate filled with delicacies.
We also had a chance to taste Bath buns, sweet yeasted rolls with a plentiful sprinkling of large crystalized sugar to ensure a smile with the first bite.
Tea was a fine way to finish my first visit to Bath. There is so much I have yet to explore that I am already planning my next stay.