A Weekend in Bath
are hot springs adorned with
sumptuous splendour for the use of mortals.
Minerva is patron goddess of these,” wrote a third century Roman visitor
to Bath. From their scale as well as their splendour
we know the baths, like the city itself, were built for visitors.
Into the sacred spring they threw jewellery, coins and
messages inscribed on lead sheets imploring Minerva to main or blind their
enemies. All of these are displayed
beside the reconstructed facades and mosaics at the Roman Baths, a starting
point for any visit today. The statues
around the Great Bath are Victorian, but the lead lining built by the Romans
remains watertight, and you can see their drainage system, still working after
In the Georgian pump room you can sample the water with its
delicate flavour of petrol, take tea with entertainment from a string trio and
imagine the city in its heyday as the social centre of England.
The last spa closed in 1978, but this year, thanks to £8m
from the Lottery, the new Thermae Spa will open for
those with £19 to spare for a two-hour dip.
Bridge is one of only four bridges
lined with shops in the world. Its
opening in 1773 enabled the city to expand across the River Avon into the new
town of Bathwick.
Jane Austen, who moved here in 1801, would still recognise many of the
places she described in Northanger Abbey and Persuasion. Royal Crescent and Great
Pulteney Street are
classic examples of the Palladian architectural style, with its grand facades
and Corinthian columns.
Bath’s days of
grandeur were shortlived. When George IV decided he preferred the
seaside at Brighton, Bath
went out of favour. Its economic decline
left one positive legacy. Much of the
surrounding countryside survived until the 1960s when the National Trust
acquired nearly 500 acres. This has
given Bath something quite unique
for a city of its size. 200 yards down Bathwick Hill from the hostel, less than a mile from the
city centre, you step off the main road into a valley of roe deer and
woodpeckers, stone barns and apple blossom.
Below you unfolds a panorama of hilltops and
spires, Georgian terraces and the late gothic abbey – pure magic.
Further round this ‘Skyline Walk’ lies Prior
Park Landscape Garden,
the most spectacular of Bath’s many
parks. Names and dates elegantly carved
on its famous Palladian Bridge date back to 1809, when the city clearly hosted
a better class of vandal. Leaving the
park you descend through Widcombe, which still feels
like a Georgian village, until you reach the Kennet and Avon
canal and realise you have never left the city.
In Jane Austen’s day Bath
was becoming a place for genteel widows, “a dreadful multitude of ugly women”
as Sir Walter Elliot complained. Today,
with over 17,000 students swelling its term-time population, Bath
has become once again, a young city. It
has 6 nightclubs, scores of pubs and restaurants offering cuisine from all over
the world, and every May, the City is host to one of the largest fringe
festivals in the country. Now is the
best time to visit, as the city prepares for Britain
in Bloom, people return to the café and restaurant terraces, and the hordes of
mid summer have yet to arrive.
Pick of the Pubs
Pulp, Monmouth Street
Chic latin-american bar, specialising in cocktails made
with cachaça made from their own sugar plantation in Brazil.
The Star Inn, The Paragon,
Traditional pub, licensed 1759, with wood-panelled nooks and
real ale served from jugs.
The Raven, Queen Street,
Tucked down a sidestreet with a
tiny main bar and smoke-free upper bar
White Hart, Widcombe Hill,
Pub/restaurant with lovely enclosed
good for teas/coffees at lunchtime.
Las Iguanas, Seven Dials Centre, 01225 336666
Latin American and Spanish cuisine with a
covered terrace in an old courtyard.
Demuths, North Parade
Vegetarian, mainly organic, meals from
around the world. Believed to be
haunted by a monk - see the cross carved on the basement wall,
ZaZa, Walcot Street, 01225 471371
Italian restaurant in a beautifully
converted old chapel. Very smart and surprisingly reasonable prices.
Cultural High Spots
Roman Baths and Pump Room, Stall
Street, 01225 477 785 www.romanbaths.co.uk
Ralph Allen Drive, 01225
has information about the park and the Bath Skyline walk.
Bath Abbey, Cheap Street,
01225 429990 www.bathabbey.org
Begun in 1499, one of the last great gothic churches in England,
with 52 windows, one for each week of the year.
Theatre Royal, Sawclose,
01225 448844 www.theatreroyal.org.uk
One of the country’s most beautiful old theatres, celebrated
its 200th anniversary last year
Jane Austen Centre, Gay
Street, 01225 443000 www.janeausten.co.uk
All about Austen and her connections with Bath. “Live” talks from
knowledgeable guides, and small museum.
Centre also organises the annual Jane Austen Festival in September.
of Costume, Bennett
Street, 01225 477752
Fashion through the ages, and the chance to try on a corset…
Literature Festival: 4th – 12th March
Various Venues, Tel: 01225 463362 www.bathlitfest.org.uk
Annual Bath Spring Flower Show: 29th April – 1st
In Victoria Park,
Organised by Royal Bath & North East Somerset Council 01225 477010, www.visitbath.co.uk
International Music Festival: 19th May – 4th June
01225 463362 www.bathfringe.co.uk
Fringe Festival: 26th May – 11th June
01225 463362 www.bathfringe.co.uk
Good Days Out
Two picturesque and flat cycle routes link Bath
to Bristol (13 miles) along
an old railway line, and to Bradford-on-Avon
(8 miles) along the Kennet and Avon canal. Bikes of different types and sizes are
available for hire at the hostel. A good
rail service links Bath to both
towns if you don’t feel like riding back.
Alternatively you can hire a boat or take a boat trip along the Avon. Cheddar Gorge, Glastonbury
and Wells with its famous cathedral are all within easy reach.
The Youth Hostel
This nineteenth century Italianate mansion in its own
grounds on Bathwick Hill sleeps 121. It offers meals, a bar and internet access.