UK Trip XI: Bath

This was Bath day!  We drove to another park and ride, which was again a great and inexpensive way to get into town.  We got dropped off on Milsom Street--where the Tilneys lodged in Northanger Abbey--and walked south to the Roman Baths and the Pump Room.

Roman Baths from street level

The Roman Baths now has a giant underground museum, showcasing parts of a temple/bath complex that is largely a fairly recent discover; much of this was not known even 20 years ago.  They are discovering more all the time, which is really exciting.  When we went down to the large Roman pool, we found a docent about to give a tour, so we joined him, and he turned out to be incredibly knowledgeable.  I think we listened to him for nearly an hour.  My poor 13-year-old was less fascinated than the rest of us, but he talked about how the baths were used and what was happening at the time and the latest was really neat.

Model of Roman temple/bath complex--what they know so far

These blocks were the front of the temple; light showed the whole thing

The water still streams through these tunnels

All the Roman stuff was pretty much buried in mud, under the current ground level, and totally unknown until Victorian times, when the large bath was dug out.  So Jane Austen and other folks in the Regency era wouldn't have known about it at all.  When it was excavated in the 1800s, they built that sort of balcony thing that you can walk around, made the pillars tall again, and placed Roman-style statues of heroes and emperors around.  That's what you see today.

We walked through the large (and crowded) underground museum complex, which goes right through the old ruins, over the source of the waters (tons per day!) and over the original brick tunnels built by the Romans, which are still channeling the water.  There were signs warning us not to drink or even touch the water, though I couldn't tell why I shouldn't touch it once it wasn't boiling hot.  Somebody said something about toxicity, but it didn't make a lot of sense to me.  So if anybody knows why we shouldn't touch the water, I'd like to know!   Anyway, it was all pretty wonderful.

Another pool; the source possibly?  (Can't remember now)

After the museum, you go up some stairs and end up at the back of the Pump Room, which is currently a rather fancy restaurant.  Tourists can go in and sample the waters, which issue from a fountain with fishes.  I would like to know how old the fountain is; could it possibly be the original?  Or is it a modern replica?  We tried the water, which is very warm, smells like boiled eggs, and tastes pretty terrible, just as I expected.  It was kind of awkward standing around this posh restaurant, dressed as the tourists we were, but I certainly wasn't going to miss out.

Pump Room, full of people eating, and a music quartet

Neat fishy fountain!

Bath Abbey, a very large church that is no longer an abbey, is right next door to the baths.  Once again, it was full of flowers and flags for the Queen's birthday that weekend.  It's a beautiful church and the girls and I particularly liked how there were grates in the floor so we could see the Norman pillars underneath, holding the place up.  There was also a very beautiful display along the walls, diptychs of calligraphy and textile art illustrating scripture verses from the life of Christ.  We thought the Abbey must have a very talented embroidery guild and calligraphy group, but it turned out to be only a part of a larger series produced by one woman, the artist Sue Symons.

Bath Abbey

We then walked up to the Assembly Rooms, which is where public balls were held in Jane Austen's day.  You have to imagine Captain Wentworth walking around, or Catherine Morland dancing with Mr. Tilney.  There are three major rooms: the ballroom, the tea room, and the octagon, where older folks would play cards.  We could peek into these elegant rooms, but we couldn't enter, because there was a wedding scheduled for 3pm and the rooms were full of chairs, tables, and so on.  So we just looked around for a bit, and I couldn't take many pictures.  There is also a fashion museum in the basement, but we didn't visit it; there was too much else to do that day.

Ballroom, ready for wedding

Young ladies feeling the Austen groove
Looking around Bath was interesting; it's obviously still a fairly upscale place, with a lot of very posh shops and classy restaurants.  There were a lot of people out for a party kind of a day, and several groups of women wearing 'hen party' sashes (a hen party is the English version of a bridal shower, only I think more like a bachelor party really, a night on the town) as well as groups of men that just had to be bachelor parties.

We walked across the Circus, a circle of road edged with curved row houses, and went to the Royal Crescent, which is a long row of more elegant curved row houses.  They were the fanciest residences in town, and I expect they still are.  One has been turned into a museum of late 18th century life, and while my mom and older daughter wanted to go in, my younger daughter did not.  So I went with her into the park and we rested and enjoyed the park for a while before joining back up again.

Royal Crescent--very fancy houses!
The next thing to find was William Herschel's house, which is now a museum.  It's not too far away from the Royal Crescent, in a very ordinary street.  Herschel was an astronomer and scientist, and his sister Caroline was his assistant, and became a respected astronomer in her own right.  In this house, William built telescopes, discovered the planet Uranus, and used a prism and a thermometer to discover infra-red light.  It was really neat to see the workshop, the garden where Uranus was first sighted, and even the very prism that revealed infra-red light.  The rest of the house was also neat to see, and I liked seeing a dress that belonged to Caroline (who was very tiny).  Caroline made comets her specialty and discovered many of them.

While we were at the Herschel house, I kept up a steady stream of photos to my long-suffering husband, who would have loved it.  I hoped it was fun for him and not tortuous!

In Herschel's garden

Teeny garden, but the first spot on earth where someone saw Uranus

Workshop flagstones all cracked from lab explosions

Workshop so tiny you can't believe it could hold anything

The prism and thermometer that proved infra-red, and lenses Herschel made.

By now the day was almost over, and we were hungry and tired.  Snacks perked us right back up, though, and we didn't want to leave yet.  We found a Waterstones in Milsom Street, and then wandered over to St. Michael's Without Church.  Without what?  my 15-year-old had wondered, and while we thought it might have been without the city walls (yep, it was), we decided to go see.  An older man and a young guy were hanging out on the steps by the open door, and when we thought we might go in, they said it was actually closed.  They were bell-ringers, and they were going to ring a quarter peal for Her Majesty's birthday, and they were just waiting for the last member of the group to arrive.  I asked what they were going to ring, and the gentleman told me (of course I can't remember now) and asked if I knew anything about bell-ringing.  I said not really, but I'd read The Nine Tailors, and he lit up--when he'd read it at age 12, he'd been inspired to take up bell-ringing.  (He said that Dorothy Sayers didn't really know anything about it from personal experience, but she'd done a very good job with the book just with her research.)  Then, he invited us to go up and see the bell-ringing chamber!
St. Michael's Without

Up the stairs!

Of course we were very excited about that and accepted.  We climbed up a steep, narrow stair (not spiral, but tight enough that it had a rope instead of a banister) and popped out into the chamber, which had spot rugs under each rope and a few chairs in the corners.  We sat out of the way as the ringers very kindly explained how it all worked and demonstrated with a peal or so.  They also had a nice little working model of a bell that answered some of my questions.  Eventually the last ringer arrived, and we went off to catch a bus, but not before sticking around to listen to the bells for a while.

On Milsom St, across from Waterstones

When we got back to Chippenham, it was about time to get some gas.  This car was so big and so efficient that we actually hadn't managed to use a whole tank yet--we still had about 3/8 left.  British gas stations turned out to be a little daunting at first.  I couldn't figure out how to pay and the attendant explained that you pump first and then go pay in the shop...which I remember doing 20 years ago, but it's been so long since everybody switched to paying first that I had forgotten!  Also, this car took diesel, and the color coding system is different; in the US, green means diesel, but in the UK it means regular gasoline.  Diesel is black.  (And red means premium.  I couldn't believe the octane; UK regular is 95 and premium is something like 97 or 98.  At home, I buy 87.)  I also thought to ask the attendant why my German car in a country that sold liters of petrol was telling me my gas consumption in miles per gallon, just like at home.  I was quite pleased, of course, because it was easy for me, but it was kind of puzzling.  He explained that it just became the international standard, despite the fact that nobody was ever too sure what it meant!


  1. I'm trying to imagine using the bath back in the day. I can't believe they are still discovering more. I guess I shouldn't be, but it's all so fascinating.

    I imagine the row of curved row houses was quite a sight to see in person. I think I'd want to go inside myself. :-)

    What a great opportunity to see the bell ringing chamber! That was really nice of the bell ringer to offer.

    That's too funny about the gallon gauge on the car despite the country using litres.

  2. So you would, on balance, recommend Bath? My mother and I are considering a possible UK trip for next year, and we want to do a day trip to either Brighton or Bath. Much controversy over which it will be. :p

  3. Whoa, tough question! I thought Bath was great. I was sad, though, to miss out on Brighton and would have loved to go there (I mean, you have to go to the bridge to do the witchy dance and think about Polly, right?). I would recommend Bath, but no way am I weighing the two against each other!

  4. We adored the Roman Baths and spent several hours (more than I planned) enjoying the provided audio tour. It fascinated me to think about all the people who loved Bath during the Regency Era and had no idea that this existed.

    We had Afternoon Tea, as a late lunch, in the Pump Room. It was relatively expensive for a meal in Bath, but quite inexpensive compared to Afternoon Tea in London, so I thought it was a good experience for the price.

    How did I miss the Herschel house? Fascinating.


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