I began my second day with the free breakfast at that the youth hostel offers and over breakfast I had a nice conversation about a baby ape with an engineering professor from Chester; which goes to show that hostels are great places to meet and talk with fellow travelers.
Once done with breakfast I set out. I set out before anything would be open (which wasn’t until 10), so with over an hour wait I decided to do my own self-guided walking tour of historical Bath. The walk, without stopping, takes about an hour. Of course I got off track and took longer.
The tour began with the Abbey Churchyard, located at the heart of historical Bath. This medieval Abbey, built by King Alfred and the Saxons, has been a place of worship for over a thousand years. And right next (or left next) to it is the world famous Roman Baths. Not much is left from the Roman times in Bath because when King Alfred and the Saxons took over they ended up building over the Roman foundations.
As a fun side note: many think that the Romans founded Bath, but there is an ancient British myth about King Bladud as the founder.
Bladud was the legendary founder of Bath and the sacred temple of Aqua Sullis. He is mentioned in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain and The Life of Merlin, written in the twelfth century. The source of the original legend is obscure.
Lud Hubibras (Bladud), was a British Prince in Celtic times. While at court the Prince contracted the dreaded Leprosy, and was banished and disowned by his father. Before he made his way out of the kingdom his mother took him aside and gave him a golden ring. This was to be the key to his return if he could ever cure himself of the disease.
Everywhere the Prince went he was shunned, he meeked a living as a swineherd until some of the herd also caught the disease. To hide this from his employer, he fled across the river Avon (at a place now called Swineford), and into the land where the city of Bath now stands.
He wandered the area until one day one of the pigs seemed to go crazy and rushed headlong into a black bog in the marshy ground. Bladud struggled to pull the pig from the bog and became covered in the foul smelling mud. When he had finally freed himself and the pig, he found that the pigs skin lesions had disappeared, and where the mud had touched his bare skin he was also cured. He immersed himself fully in the warm mud and became fully cured of the disease.
Finally Bladud returned to Court, where he was welcomed with open arms by his mother, who recognized the ring she had given him so many years before. Bladud ruled wisely as King for twenty years. He founded the city of Bath, and created the temple of Aqua Sullis dedicated to Minerva.
He was said to have been a man of great learning, he studied in Athens and brought much Greek wisdom into Britain. He was killed when a magical experiment went wrong; he built himself some wings, and was flying over New Troy when they gave way and he crashed to the ground.
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The next stop was only a few steps away at Bath Street, which put you in front of the Roman Baths and Pump Rooms, which was once the center of Bath society. Walking down Bath Street you reach the next stop, the Thermae Bath Spa and Cross Bath. These were key venues for taking the waters in 18th century. Today there is a beautiful and new working bath house that visitors can enjoy. Behind the Cross Bath is St John Hospital which was the first building in Bath built by John Wood the Elder, who would be the main architect in building the Georgian city that we see today.
Turning left and moving up Saw Close and Barton Street you reach the fourth stop, Queen’s Square. Queen’s Spare is famous for its obelisk and was also built and planned by John Wood, and demonstrates the Palladian style architecture which Wood is known for.
And then the guided tour takes you to the most recognized Georgian area, King’s Circus and the Royal Crescent. These are two different stops on the tour but their designs work off one another. The Circus is made to represent the sun and the crescent the moon; they were also the homes of the wealthiest of Georgian Bath society and where they would gather to promenade.
The King’s Circus is made up of three buildings and if you stand in the center you almost get the feeling of being in a Roman Colosseum. On the other hand, the Royal Crescent overlooks the Royal Victoria Park and has a sprawling front lawn, which gives the idea of a green city.
Once I reached this point I ended up moseying on down to Royal Victoria Park to take a lovely walk among the flowers in the botanical gardens.
But all too quickly I moved onto Bennet Street and the Assembly Rooms, which brought to mind images of Pride and Prejudice. The Assembly rooms are now home to a fantastic fashion museum, but once they were one of the key venues for social entertainment for polite society in the 1800s, like the Pump Rooms.
The next stop on the tour was Paragon Row. Paragon Row is a line of 21 Georgian town houses, and the main entrance and exit for the London Road. In the past if you were incredibly wealthy you would send a servant to pay the Abbey to ring the bells as you made your grand entrance into the city. Next was Milsom Street, where you would do your shopping, and where General Tilney lived in Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen.
One of the main architectural spots in Bath is Pulteney Bridge and Great Pulteney Street; which were designed by Robert Adam. The bridge was built for William Pulteney by Robert Adam, the bridge was an attempt to connect central Bath to the land on the other bank of the River Avon and make Pulteney’s fortune. Pulteney Bridge, together with the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, is thought of as one of the world’s most beautiful bridges. Like the Ponte Vecchio it is one of a handful of historic bridges in the world that has shops built into it. Pulteney Bridge and Great Pulteney Street show the rise of neoclassicism in Bath. At the end of Great Pulteney Street lies Sydney House which was famous for its pleasure gardens, promenading guests, and evening entertainments. After this I went off route and took steps down from Pulteney Bridge to the river walk. This gave great views of the bridge, River Avon, and Grand Parade Park. I also saw what I think is a duck egg.
The last stop on the self-guided walking tour, which can be found on the Bath visitor’s website along with audio guides and maps, was Grand Parade. There is also a tour for Jane Austen’s Bath. Most of the route is the same, but the information has a different focus and there are a few stops added in.
Once I was done with my tour it was well past 10am, and it was time to go back and do the museums.
The first one I went in was the Roman Bath House. The Roman Baths were an incredibly important prat of Roman society. Houses were taxed according to the size of pipes that provided water supply, so for personal hygiene people went to the local bath houses. However, the bathing complex was more than a place to clean yourself; it was a place to gather, meet others out in society, and hear the latest news. There were also multiple baths. A visitor could use a cold bath (frigidarium), a warm bath (tepidarium), and a hot bath (caldarium). People would go to all three before leaving making it a luxurious experience for guests and a trying one for the slaves. There was also an exercise area (palaestra), swimming pool, gymnasium, sauna, scared pool, rooms with heated floors and massages.
The Romans viewed these baths as sacred and would throw in valuable items to please the gods and send “prayers” (curses) to catch thieves. An alter was also built so that priests could sacrifice animals to the gods. Because the waters in Bath were considered sacred and healing many pilgrims throughout the Roman Empire would travel to the city to take the healing waters and give their respects to Minerva, the goddess of Bath (aka Athena to the Ancient Greeks).
At the Baths I also was given the opportunity to drink some of the scared water. It was the most disgusting water I have ever drunk. It tasted like I was swallowing hot pennies. It was comparable to the time I drank fruit punch Gatorade that was left in the car for hours on black leather seats when it was over 90 degrees Fahrenheit outside.
Next up was the Jane Austen Center. I am a huge Austen fan, I read my first Austen book in sixth grade and I have been in love with her work ever since. At the Center you get to learn a bit about Jane’s life, her family, and how Bath influenced her novels such as Northanger Abbey and Persuasion. The tour was enjoyable; I had a nice chat with the tour guide about the books and I got free biscuits.
I then went to No. 1 Royal Crescent, one of if not only places you can see what a real Georgian townhome looked like. The inside was just as grand as the outside and I learned some interesting and some slightly disturbing facts that make me very glad to live in the 21st century.
The Things I learned:
- Dinner began at four so that that the kitchen had enough daylight to prepare and serve the meal. Fashionably late was not expectable for dinner.
- When dessert came out it was usually dark so the desserts were made to look beautiful by candlelight.
- When it became dark the table cloths would be taken away and mirrors would be put down in order to reflect the candlelight.
- Women did not drink wine unless a guest offers it to them, which the woman would then be extremely grateful and savor their one glass of wine
- Men drank as much as they wanted. It was okay to drink throughout the day, at dinner it was okay to have a couple pints, and once the women withdrew the men would pull out the fine liquor and drink some more. There was a good reason why the dining rooms had no carpets.
- The most important lady would enter first on the arm of the host.
- The most important gentleman would sit to the left of the head of the table and there was a pineapple in front of him.
- Pineapples were expensive, so many would rent them from a grocer for the night.
- Pineapples are a sign of welcome.
- Sugar was incredibly expensive, so it was the main ingredient in all the desserts of the wealthy.
- Rotten teeth became fashionable because the wealthy had rotten teeth from eating too many overly sugary sweets.
- The poor would blacken their teeth with black led paint (a poison) to make themselves look fashionable.
- After a while people found the fad of rotten teeth silly and dentistry became a practice. And the only solution for rotten teeth was pulling them out or getting a new pair. New teeth (ranked from cheapest to most expensive) were made out of wood, ivory, or taken from hung criminals and dead soldiers (because they were not wealthy enough to buy sugar and have rotten teeth).
- The most ornate room in the house was the withdrawing room where the ladies would gather after dinner.
I have seen castles, palaces, manors, mansions, and grand plantations but this was different because it was so dedicated to this one time period, and only this period, I felt like I got a true view of what life in a well-off home would have been like in the Georgian era.
The last museum I went to was the Fashion Museum at the Assembly Rooms. This offered a look at men and women’s fashion in Britain from the late 1700s to the present, and I even got to try on some gowns, bonnets, and fake wigs.
My day was filled to the brim and I finished all before 5 o’clock in the afternoon; which allowed me time to look in shops (one of the main reasons people come to Bath). The weather during my stay was beautiful, and I have no complaints on my time here because it was simply a wonderful second day of spring break.
Helpful hint: You can see the main points in Bath with just a full day, so if you have extra time in the area I recommend going to Bristol or Stonehenge which are close by.