Saturday started out overcast and gloomy — rather foreboding for a trip out west to Bath, which is typically colder than London this time of year. Bria, Benjamin, and I hopped the train from West Dulwich to Victoria and from there to Bath by way of Salisbury. We quickly found out we were in the wrong train car, as only the last three would be going all the way to Bath Spa Station! You really have to stay on your toes to successfully navigate the English transportation system. You can be on the right train in the wrong car and end up (for example) in Weymouth far to the South if you don’t watch out. With buses, you can be on the right number but on the wrong side of the road, going in the wrong direction. It’s dizzying at times to keep up. We moved back to car #7 with all the other folks en route to Bath. In the picture you see Bria showing Benjamin the view out the train window. As you can see, the sun did come out! The clouds burned off outside of London, so I had high hopes it would be more pleasant in Bath than in London. The ride from London to Salisbury isn’t exactly beautiful (you see a lot of building backs and grafitti), but the ride from Salisbury to Bath is really lovely. We were, unfortunately, too far away to see Salisbury Cathedral, but we could glimpse the steeple from our seats.
With all the stops, the journey out took 2.5 hours, but it seemed to go by very quickly. We arrived in Bath at 11:45, and I hailed a taxi to drive us up to the Jane Austen Centre for lunch in the tea room there. The sun was still out, but the wind had picked up, and it was very chilly. I didn’t want to attempt an uphill walk to Gay Street in the wind with the stroller, and taxis are much less expensive in Bath than in London, thankfully. We arrived at the Centre just before noon and went straight up to the charming tea room on the third floor. Bria ordered a Bath Special (including a sweet Sally Lunn bun), and I ordered the Lady’s Afternoon Tea, which featured cucumber and cheese sandwiches, a scone with clotted cream and strawberry preserves, and a pot of Darjeeling tea. It was all absolutely delicious, and the service was friendly. Below is a picture of our table with all the treats!
After this luncheon break, Bria and I browsed the Centre’s gift shop, which is (of course!) crammed to the ceiling with all things Jane Austen. We oohed and ahhhed and made some purchases for friends back home. The Centre actually carries my Regency patterns in its online store, so I introduced myself and told them I looked forward to being a part of the costumed promenade in the fall.
After putting Benjamin back into the stroller, we walked down the hill, around Queen Square, and up Crescent Gardens, which contains practically a whole row of B&Bs in Bath. I’d already made an appointment to meet with one of the staff at Brooks Guest House, which is where my group will be staying during the Bath Extension in September. The B&B easily deserves its four-star rating, having been recently refurbished from top to bottom. The rooms retain their traditional charm but include very modern amenities. I thoroughly enjoyed the tour I was given by Michael from reception, who was obviously a bit “house proud” about the place!
We headed back around the corner to Queen’s Square toward the city center. By now, the sun had disappeared behind the clouds, and the wind had picked up a bit, so it was chilly. Oh, well…. I had to stop to photograph this beautiful blue door. Those who know me know my passion for the blue front doors of England. And, yes, I know they have greens and reds and golds, too, but I just really am keen on the blue ones! By the time we got down to the Pump Room, there was a huge crowd there. Lots of market stalls were crammed into the walking areas, and street performers called out to people to stop and watch their antics. Right through the collonade into the Abbey yard stood a bronze statue of an elderly man in a trench coat. As Bria and I watched, he turned and reached out to someone passing by. A living statue! This was so much fun that I stopped and shot a video. If I ever figure out how to post it, I will, because he was so incredibly good at what he did. He stood stock still until someone dropped coins in his bucket, and then he’d beckon to the person, shake his hand, and slowly go back to his original position. Our host family later told me these actors cover themselves in a very thick latex kind of paint that becomes basically a full-body mask. They can’t wear it for long, as it blocks up the pores. Sounds like something very unpleasant to get out of, but it was so much fun to watch! The most fun, though, came when a teenaged girl walked up who didn’t know this was a man rather than a real statue. She walked right up to him, presumably looking for an identifying plaque or card, and he reached out to pull her hair. She shrieked and jumped a foot! Bria and I got a good laugh out of that, and I only wish I’d caught it on film!
We decided to tour the Abbey first, as I’d not been in last time I was in Bath. It was so cold outside that we were more than ready to get into the warmth, so we headed into the breathtaking cathedral. There must be more stained glass in Bath Abbey than I’ve seen in one place before. It is positively everywhere and amazing to look at — just the sheer scale of work is enormous.
Bria and I spent a lot of time looking in nooks and crannies, and I was very surprised to find a memorial marker for a Cromwellian soldier and his wife (in an Anglican church, of all places!) This gentleman commissioned the memorial for his beloved wife and had himself carved into it so that he is looking into her eyes, and she is gazing up into his. The detailing of the clothing is amazing (true of a lot of effigies). Check out the detailing of his armor below.
These two infants are on either side of the adult effigies, but the plaque doesn’t name them, so I’m not sure if they are meant to represent the couple’s children or are just decorative.After browsing through the Abbey shop, we crossed the churchyard to look into the National Trust store and pick up a few more gifts. Then we crossed over again to the Pump Room and Roman Baths for a tour. Very few people were there, so we had an easy time getting in. Turns out we hit the ticket line just right, as we saw the entire room jammed with tourists as we were leaving! The Roman Baths are interesting, though I confess it’s hard to get worked up about a pagan temple where people used to go throw curses into the water or leave gifts for the goddess in the hopes of receiving favors in return. The smell of sulfur is pretty strong, and the water is a very unpalatable brackish green. Bria bent down to test the temperature, surprised at how warm it really was.
I was surprised at just how exensive the baths were. There are over a dozen sub-rooms, making up a rather amazing complex of steam rooms with heated floors, dressing rooms, storage rooms, and more. There are several smaller pools, including a “cold plunge” pool. Much of the original temple to Minerva has been excavated, including floor mosaics and parts of the pediment from the front of the temple (with a gorgon’s head in the center). Many of the curses that people wrote on pewter and tossed into the water have been recovered and are on display. Some are fairly funny — like (roughly) “To the man who stole my second-best robe, may his hand wither and fall off.”
We worked our way through the displays and back up to the main entrance, where we retrieved the stroller. We walked through the beautiful Pump Room so Bria could see it. We paused by the fountain where tourists can “taste the waters,” but, after seeing where the water came from, Bria was not at all tempted to partake. I’d already had my taste in 2006, so I passed it by without a regret, either! Out in the hallway, we found some beautiful sculptures that I’d never noticed before. They were made of Carrera marble and depicted mothers with their children. I especially loved the one below of a mother praying with her child.
After leaving the Pump Room, I was determined to locate Bath Old Books. My husband remembered it being behind and to the left of the Abbey, but I remembered it being up near the Royal Crescent. So I compromised by starting out to the left of the cathedral and working my way up a side street full of shops. I popped into a charming children’s shop to pick up a few more gifts, then asked the proprietor if she knew where the old book store was. She told me it was further up and toward the Crescent. Ah ha! So we continued up the street until I saw a store with gorgeous scarves in the window and remembered my promise to pick up a scarf in Bath for my wonderful cover artist, Anna Lankford. After having my purchase wrapped, we kept going upward and onward through crushing crowds of shoppers. We ended up at the Circus, and continued toward the Royal Crescent. As we passed a side street, I spotted a familiar yellow storefront and surprised Bria by calling out, “That’s IT!” I knew the book store would be up at the end of the street on the corner if it was still in existence. Sure enough, we’d found it, about two blocks away from the Royal Crescent.
I let Bria take a look first, and then I followed. I had a delightful chat with the shop owner (the wife of a husband-wife team who says the shop is just what overflowed from their home, which is every bit as crammed with books as the shop!). I found two treasures to take home and asked the owner if she had heard about the new regulations in America that could outlaw used children’s books. She was appalled and said, “Do they think children eat books? Surely they have parents to prevent them doing that anyway!” I heartily agreed, and we talked about what a terrible loss it would be to ban children from reading antique books.
I finally tore myself away from the shop, and, since we were so close to the Royal Crescent, I encouraged Bria to take just a few more uphill steps so we could stop in at Number One Royal Crescent (the most famous house and the most prestigious in Bath). It was open to vis
itors, so we stepped in and gave ourselves a tour. The rooms are sumptuously decorated (particularly the drawing room). The ladies’ bedroom was fascinating with all its accessories, including a long head scratcher, as ladies often left their towering Georgian updos in place for a month at a time with no washing (ugh!).
By the time we left the house, it was getting darker and was even colder, so we headed back downhill toward the train station, which was about a mile and a quarter away. I’d thought we might grab another taxi, but I never saw one, so we just kept trudging, thankful it was all downhill.
It was a long, cold walk to the station, but we did make it and managed to be there with ten minutes to spare. We boarded our train and got back to Dulwich in time for a late supper. We then collapsed into bed, anticipating a wonderful day of rest on Sunday. Next time I’ll blog about our delightful Sabbath with our host family!