Bath is a delightful city in England, and the words ‘charming’ and ‘quaint’ don’t quite go far enough to explain how lovely this place is.
Bath is the inspiring setting for many a Jane Austen novel, and it is also home to the Roman Baths, one of the best preserved signs of the Roman Empire outside of Italy.
Today I went on a tour of Bath, offered by the City of Bath every day of the year for free(!) by the Mayor of Bath, and many of his associates. The group was incredibly large today, so we broke down into smaller groups of about 20 people, so that everyone could hear what the guide was saying.
We started by visiting the UNESCO world heritage logo which is a feature built into the streets of Bath. The city was designated a World Heritage site both for its ingenuity in designing and planning the city, as well for the natural area that surrounds the skyline of Bath.
We strolled along the streets, stopping occasionally to look at a beautiful garden, or for our guide to point out interesting spots, like the section of wall that is the last remaining part of the original Medieval part of the city, or the Royal Mineral Water Hospital from when those in the Georgian era who were invalids would come to take in the hot spa baths in an effort to heal themselves.
Then we arrived at a series of homes that demonstrated the Georgian style, though according to our guide, the homes no longer look authentic, because the Victorians loved nature, and planted many trees and shrubs around the square. This is not authentic to the Georgian style, though I much prefer it.
Interestingly, the house on the left hand side with the ivy covering it, has been the subject of a great deal of modern debate. The owner maintains that the ivy won’t cause any lasting damage on the buildings because the vine only clings, it doesn’t make cracks, but there have been many angry letters sent by citizens to city council, demanding the ivy be removed. Their claim is that not only is the ivy damaging, it makes the facade of the houses look asymmetrical.
As well, though the houses all present the same facade on the front side, on the back side of the house, owners are permitted to do whatever they want, so the houses can look incredibly different from the back, even though they present a united front.
Then we headed over to the Royal Crescent, which used to be a series of 30 homes. Now, there are still some flats, and homes in the crescent, but also a luxury hotel. Number 1 Royal Crescent has been taken over by the Bath Preservation Society, and turned into a museum.
There’s a carnival in Bath today, so it was incredibly crowded at the Royal Crescent. I was able to get one photo without too many people in it, but I’m planning to come back another time, in the morning when there are (hopefully) fewer people around.
Down the street is the Circus, another series of homes designed in the Palladian order. It was created to be a home for arts societies and the professions. Its builder, John Wood, was highly mystical, and believed reverently in the Arthurian Myths. The proportions of the Circus are the same as the circle that surrounds Stonehenge.
We arrived then at the Assembly Rooms, and were very lucky that no events were taking place, because we had a very unencumbered exploration of the old assembly halls where public dances and events like weddings used to be held. You can even still use the rooms for such events; there was a wedding scheduled for this afternoon, and we got to see the Tea Room all set up for the wedding.
The Assembly Rooms are a prominent feature in many Jane Austen novels, and it was amazing to see how large and beautiful they are.
The chandeliers are original from the 18th century. During WWII, several art historians and preservationists went on a tour of England, and decided which artifacts they should keep and preserve in case of an incursion against England.
This was most fortuitous because this area of Bath was badly damaged during the bombing raids of 1942, but thankfully the chandeliers were preserved in a bunker deep below ground, for us to enjoy now and into the future.
We ended our tour on the Pulteney bridge over the river Avon. The buildings on the other side of the bridge were supposed to be another extension of the Georgian style that had taken over the city, but unfortunately, history got in the way – the French Revolution and the subsequent Napoleonic Wars imposed heavy costs, and increased taxation on the people of England, making them less willing to invest their money in public projects, so the planned extension was never completed.
After the tour was over, it was just past lunch, so I went to the grocery store to pick some things up, and then headed back to where I’m staying. I very much enjoy all the delightful little shops I get to see on the walk back!