Sunday, 11 December 2016

Bath - that most elegant of Georgian cities

It is often said that you should never return to a place which holds special memories for you however there are always exceptions to that rule.  I jumped at the chance to revisit Bath when a friend of mine, now living in England suggested we meet there.  I have a deep fondness for Bath, firstly because I am a great fan of Jane Austen, one of the city's most famous daughters, who, ironically, lived there for only five of her 41 years and, by all accounts, hated it. She preferred the country and her family's impoverished circumstances made life in the town difficult. I love Jane's satirical wit and her keen eye for the foibles and pretensions of Georgian society which are the mainstay of her novels. Another reason to love the city was memories of the happy time spent there with my late husband.  He loved New Zealand with a passion but I remember him getting all misty eyed in Bath and telling me "I could live here"  I was amazed, that was the only time in his life he ever said that about anywhere other than home.  Interestingly, it was only after he had died that I researched his family tree and discovered his grandparents had come from Bradford-on-Avon, a beautiful village close by.  He never knew that but I wonder if  there was, perhaps, some sort of ancestral pull.
Shops, including a very fine ice cream shop, line either side of the bridge
Bath Abbey aglow in the sun
Sally Lunn's shop dating from 1680

I had a hugely enjoyable first day in Bath hanging out with my friend and her three lovely children.  Catching up on news we wandered the streets, admiring the timeless architecture, slurping on ice creams, visiting the original Sally Lunn's shop and marveling at the devils and angels on the carved stone ladders fronting Bath Abbey. The warm sun shining on the Cotswold stone gave the whole city a golden glow.  All too soon, though, it was time for Sarah and her family to leave for home so I climbed the hill up through town to check into my delightful hotel, The Queensberry.

The timeless view from my hotel room

Bust of  Goddess Sulis Minerva, Roman Baths
Later I decided a warm swim at the new Thermae Spa might be just the thing but when I saw the queue stretching up the road and around the corner gave it a swerve and went to the Roman Baths instead.  What a happy change of plan!  I had been there as a 14 year old and again in 1998 with my husband but I still enjoyed it as if it was my first visit. At 7pm in the evening it was almost deserted so I spent a long blissful time soaking up the atmosphere and history of the place, enjoying the vastly improved displays, happy as could be. 

HINT: go to the Roman Baths very late in the day (check opening times, they change with the seasons) by then the day trippers have gone and other tourists are at dinner.

To complete a fantastic day I treated myself  to a fig and honey julep cocktail in the hotel bar. The view from my room looked over Georgian Houses and chimney pots with a mellow moon gleaming over all.  So romantic, so story book, so unchanged for hundreds of years.  I tried to capture it in a photo, unsuccessfully, sadly.
Inside the Roman Baths

I was up early next morning, had breakfast at The Olive Tree, the fine, highly rated restaurant at the hotel and then off for a walk around the famous Royal Crescent, the Circus and up and down picturesque lanes. With no cars, no people and my vivid imaginings of how it would have been in Jane's day, I was perfectly content despite the change in the weather to cold and blustery. Next stop was the Jane Austen Centre for a short film and a tour with an excellent guide.  I thought I knew most things about Jane but I learnt a lot more like the fact that that the only, and well known, portrait of Jane was done by her sister, Cassandra, and was said by everyone at the time to look nothing like Jane. As a lover of old costumes and clothing it was a pleasure to see original garments from Georgian times.  It was early in the day and there were only two other people on the tour, New Zealanders!, we're everywhere!
 
The b
The elegant, Georgian, Royal Crescent overlooking the town

Next stops were the very grand Assembly Rooms with their magnificent crystal chandeliers and Bath Abbey, where I was lucky enough to catch the choir rehearsing.

https://youtu.be/0hca5TbDcxc

Video of the choir rehearsing at Bath Abbey - excuse the quality.

I poked my nose into the Pump Room, mentioned in Jane's novels as a place for high society to meet, gather, gossip and flirt.  Nowadays people seem to prefer to take tea from silver tea sets placed on starched white tablecloths than to sip on the sulphurous mineral waters but other than that not much has changed.  Very elegant indeed.
Inside the Georgian Assembly Rooms

The Gin Bar - dark windows on right
Strolling aimlessly but happily for the rest of the day I was delighted to spot the bar I had had a drink in with my husband and where he had become misty eyed.  Now a gin bar it is little changed and I was awash with nostalgia but so pleased to have found it. Then it was off to the train and back to join my family in London.

I know now that I will go to Bath any chance I get.  It is a beautiful place and I understand how my husband was bewitched by it. Revisiting did not disappoint.

HINT: Spend a night or more there to have at least some time without the countless bus loads of day trippers.