The day after my excursion to Brighton I took a train to Bath. Navigating trains in England is such a breeze compared to getting around in Asia. Firstly I can read all the signs, and secondly if I get stuck I can ask literally anyone for help. After all the travel that I’ve done it’s funny to think that this is my first real trip to an English speaking country (unless you count Australia, which I don’t).
If London is the home of Dickens, then Bath is surely a Jane Austin town. Originally a Roman settlement, Bath was frequented by the rich and royal who are responsible for the impressive architecture during the 18th century. I even saw the underwear store where the Queen Mother used to shop. The entire city is classed as a UNESCO heritage site, one of only a few in the world, which makes walking around a real feast for the eyes.
My first day there was snowing, so naturally I decided to join a walking tour. The tour was completely free (donations not accepted), and run by lovely retirees. The friendly guide walked us around the town and told us stories. I finally discovered why buildings have fake windows, something I have always been curious about. Apparently the British government used to tax buildings based on the number of windows, so windows were filled in, or made to be fake for aesthetic purposes. Window tax obviously no longer exists, but because the buildings are now considered historic, they aren’t allowed to unblock the windows. I like to think this is the government having the last laugh.
Most impressive was Royal Crescent: Five story apartments, built in crescent shape by some famous architect. The rich would holiday in Bath for months at a time, and bring their servants with them, who would tend the apartments and sleep in the attic. Apparently John Cleese owns one, and they’re said to be worth around 10 million pounds today. It was a truly impressive structure, with a lovely lawn for me to sit and read a book on in the sun (yes, the sun came out about 20 minutes after the snow).
The next day I visited the Roman baths which were only rediscovered about 100 years ago. It’s so utterly impressive to see how the Romans built their structures, especially the plumbing. The baths sit ontop of a natural spring, which flows down from nearby mountains. The water takes 4,000 years to reach the baths after rainfall; I think it’s pretty cool to know you’re witnessing water meet daylight for the first time in 4,000 years. You can taste the water from the spring, which has a very strong iron flavour – not something I’d go back for.
A lot of English cities seem to have been built ontop of medieval towns, which were built ontop of Roman settlements. As such people still find Roman artifacts when they excavate below street level. I went to a tea shop called Sally Lunn’s to try the ‘world famous Sally Lunn bun.’ Unfortunately it was just a normal bun at an exorbitant price. The wee museum in the basement however was a real treat. Being one of the oldest buildings in Bath, they had decided to excavate under their cellar, and had on display the original medieval kitchen from which you could look up through a grate to the current street level. They also had marked each level of building, based on artifacts found, from the Roman level, through 7 different levels of medieval to current day. The part that was under the road had formed stalagmites and stalactites – a man-made cave!
Bath was exactly how I imagined England to be. Tea shops, small pubs, 18th century buildings, cobblestone streets. You could definitely class it as a tourist town, but I thoroughly enjoyed it none the less. I think it’s a little like how being in New York makes you feel like you’re in a movie. In Bath I felt like I was in Pride and Prejudice, or Persuasion – something 18th century British. In any case after two short nights I was back on the train again, with Scotland in my sights.