Bath: Happy birthday to me

My fortieth birthday arrived with fine weather to accompany it. When we organised this trip, it seemed as though everyone we talked to had been to England and had an opinion, yet this is our first visit. The story behind why it took us so long to get here is a long one, and probably for another day, however, we are here after twenty years of waiting. What better place to commemorate forty years on this planet than in Bath. Beautiful Bath, a gorgeous town with every building created from the same golden hued Bath stone. Apparently, it sits only a metre of so under the soil, and could be easily mined and shaped, hence why the entire town is built using it. The light glares off the buildings giving it a different quality of light to London, a sunnier, warmer glow to the air. Either that, or we were just lucky with the weather. The whole township sits in a deep valley with the river Avon flowing through the centre – terribly picturesque, and with the warmth of the light, it is no wonder that the ton came there for their health.

From our campsite, we walked along a little woodland trail towards a large park and ride. For only a nominal sum (although multiplied by six it always seems much larger), we took public transport (a green double decker bus) into the middle of Bath. Naturally we did the Roman Baths first – it is the reason Bath is famous, and the two thousand year history appealed to the history dorks in the family. Entry tickets included entry to the fashion museum, and the local art gallery, as well as free audio guides for everyone, including the children. The audio guides had a kids trail too, which the kids listened enthusiastically to.

Of all the museums we have visited on this trip, the Bath roman baths had an excellent balance between shuffling a eleventy million visitors through their exhibition space and giving plenty of information. We could linger in the sections that interested us, and zoom past the boring bits (not many), and the well designed spaces ensured the main bath could be seen from most places. The building itself is a strange mix of the roman ruins, the balcony built in the Victorian era, and the modern museum additions, through which visitors are threaded around like a long tangled piece of yarn. Each sector showcases different parts of the bath, and its history. Mr Engineer enjoyed the sections showing the drainage, and the Roman building styles, while the kids loved seeing the actual water flowing through various drains especially intrigued by the orange iron deposits left behind by the water.

From a regency romance point of view, the baths would have looked quite different then, as the main viewing gallery was built in the Victorian era, however it is easy to imagine groups of ladies in flowing gowns sitting around gossiping. Much of the museum information focused on the roman period, so if you want a regency experience, it must be pieced together with imagination only. The attraction of Bath as a London getaway is obvious when you get there – the city is pretty, and located deep in a valley sheltered from the weather. After the London smell and smog, Bath would have appeared to Regency and Victorian visitors as a clean oasis.

Visitors are not allowed to touch the waters. Such a shame. But your trusty cheeky Australian guides dipped our fingers into the inlet drain – technically not the main bath – to test the temperature (same as a nice warm bath) while no one was looking! A warm, almost mediocre, pleasant temperature, the appeal of the waters continues.

At the very end of the museum, there is an opportunity to taste the waters, along with a panel that outlines the scientific analysis of the water. They are very comprise of sulpher, salts and iron, and taste, as expected rather salty, not particularly pleasant to drink, perhaps the waters gave the Regency ill a good purge and made them feel as though they were doing something useful to their bodies? and not that nice. The water leaves behind a mix of sulpher and iron deposits, leaving the inlet and outlet drains painted in orange, slightly more yellow than the rich burnt orange of the iron rich water of Perth, WA.

After blowing a small fortune in the shop (mostly on books in the shop,), we climbed the hill steep road up to the Circle, then walked along the ridge to the famed Royal Crescent. Built in the 1750s, the Royal Crescent is a collection of apartments set in a semi-circle with each overlooking the township and valley. In front of the apartments is a large park, where the kids lay on the grass, soaking up some vitamin-D, while the kids and raced each other around and around.

Assembly Room Grand Ball Room Ceiling

From there, we walked to the Assembly Rooms (yes, those ones that feature in many a novel) for lunch. However, as gorgeous as the rooms were, with the and sighted the very Grand Ball room featuring Ballroom with five chandeliers. We had hoped to eat lunch here, but the food options were dull (reminding me of many a rake complaining about the food at Almack’s). Entry to the Assembly Rooms included the Fashion Museum, an eclectic collection of 100 garments representing the history of fashion from the 1600s to 2015’s futuristic think-piece by some local (spoiler: it was ugly). This collection does a good job of walking visitors through history quickly, and the best portion was the dress-ups, where you could dress up in Victorian clothes, stand beside a painted village scene, and take selfies.

By now it was almost 2pm, long past lunch time and the kids were incessantly informing us of their hunger. Even the old dad joke, “I’m hungry. Hi, Hungry,” didn’t get the usual outraged response “My name is not Hungry!”, only a repetition that they were about to perish with starvation. We wandered back to the main town centre, going downhill a few blocks, past a shop selling ribbons and trimmings that I was far too hungry to linger inside. Probably good for my wallet that I couldn’t go in. Good fortune struck when we entered the Canon; a nice pub with quirky décor, but best of all, an amazing burger menu. The burgers matched the promise on the menu, by far the best burgers we’ve had on this trip to date. Full of flavor, and huge portions, they matched well with the local beers on offer. My southern style chicken burger had plenty of heat, a nice change from places that cater towards blander tastes, and great value to boot.

With our stomachs bursting, we meandered towards the art gallery, conveniently located near walked to Pulteney Bridge – an, a 18th century bridge construction with actual shops built into the structure. Next door to this is the local council art gallery. We stopped by quickly to look at the dragon exhibition, a collection of original art works from children’s book illustrations of books about dragons, aka an excuse to buy more books. From there we wandered across the bridge, window-shopped the bridge shops, then turned down some a steep set of stairs towards the Avon river. We followed River Avon foreshore (a concrete pathway several metres above the river) until we crossed the next bridge and boarded to the bus back to our campsite. After such a huge lunch, we only had room for a summer salad for dinner in our camper-truck, and home. An excellent birthday celebration.

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