I don’t have class on Wednesdays so that makes it a perfect time for day trips. My friend Sam and I hopped on a train from London Paddington early Wednesday morning and headed to Bath!
Unlike most of the other day trips I’ve taken, Bath has been on my list since before I came to London. I love Roman history (thanks to my decade of Latin education) and I couldn’t resist the chance to see such well-preserved Roman baths from so long ago! Upon doing further research, I also found out that there is a Jane Austen Centre, as Jane once lived in Bath and based two of her books in the city: Persuasion and Northanger Abbey. Needless to say, I had to see that as well. So off we set to Bath, with nothing but these two destinations in mind, knowing nothing else about the city or what to expect from it. We were pleasantly surprised.
Our first stop was, of course, the Baths. We didn’t have to queue (probably because it was a Wednesday) so we got our tickets and our free audioguide and headed straight in. I was basically expecting the tour to centre around the picture of the baths that we always see in photographs (see below) but we spend a good two hours wandering around the massive bath and temple complex, seeing all of the rooms and artefacts that I had no idea would be there. I was geeking out. I also finally got a chance to put all my years translating Ecce Romani stories about baths to good use!
We first walked on the terrace, which overlooks the Great Bath. It wasn’t built until 1897, when the Baths were opened to tourists. In fact, they hadn’t discovered the Baths until the late 19th century. Unbelievable! The statues you see around the terrace are those of old Roman emperors.
We then walked by the Sacred Spring (pictured below). 240,000 gallons of water the temperature of 115 degrees Fahrenheit have risen into this spring daily for thousands of years. In Roman times, this phenomenon was believed to be the work of the Gods, so a temple dedicated to the goddess Sulis Minerva, a deity with healing powers. When you’re there, you can see bubbles forming on the surface, not from the boiling of water, but from the gases in the water.
Below is the original Roman drain that carries surplus water from the hot spring through the original Roman pipes (complete with sluices) to the River Avon, which is 400 metres away! Mind. Blown.
There were so many artefacts in the museum part of the tour that gave insight into the people who visited the Baths and the history surrounding them. The earliest inscription from the baths is from a small monument that dates to 76AD, meaning that the baths must have been fully built by then.
This is what the complex would have looked like back then.
There were two temples, and the circular one you see is the
only one known to exist in Great Britain and is largely Greek
Below is the pediment to the temple of Sulis Minerva. It is one of only two truly classical temples from Classical Rome. The head in the centre is thought to be the Gorgon’s Head, which is a powerful symbol of the goddess Sulis Minerva.
Some more artefacts:
Some of the first representations of Britannia
This is the bronze head of Sulis Minerva, one of the best known objects from Roman Britain. Only two other bronze fragments are known to exist in Britain, making it incredibly rare. It probably would have stood in the Temple beside the Sacred Spring and could date from the 1st century AD.
A fountain would have gone here
We then ventured to the different rooms of the baths. Here is where my Ecce Romani knowledge came into good use!
The swimming pool
Apodyterium – Changing room
Caldarium – Hot room
Hypocaust of a heated room: the pillars of tiles supported the floor
of this room. Hot air would pour through the holes and warm
the floors and rooms.
The baths were much bigger and better than I was expecting, well worth the admission fee. It was incredible to see such a well-preserved aspect of history and brush up my Latin and Roman culture skills.
We were starving so we grabbed some lunch and tea at the West Gate Public House, which had the best pub ambiance by far. So many comfy chairs and cool tables. I wish I could have something like that close to me in London!
Next stop: Jane Austen Centre! If you know me, you know I’m obsessed with Jane Austen. My favourite work is Pride and Prejudice and I could probably tell you the script of the whole 2004 movie… #noshame. I had no idea what to expect from the centre, I only knew that there was one, but I was pleasantly surprised. It might not be worth the admission fee for someone who isn’t a diehard fan, but it was interesting! We started off at a short talk about Jane’s family, which was informative as I feel like we only ever hear about her. They also mentioned that she was buried in Winchester Cathedral, which I happened to visit the previous weekend, so I was on top of my game! After the short talk, we headed downstairs to the exhibition room, which had information about her time in Bath and her books Persuasion and Northanger Abbey, both of which were set in Bath and were based on her time in Bath. They also had some free biscuit samples and allowed us to play dress up.
The of the museum (in my opinion) was the fact that I got to write with a real quill. It’s a slightly strange obsession but I finally got to experience one of the stranger things on my bucket list (maybe it has something to do with my love for old-time things as well as Harry Potter?). Whatever the reason, it was so cool and just made me want to buy one even more when I get back home.
“Anything is to be preferred or endured
rather than marrying without affection”
Tea was a big part of the culture in Bath while Jane
Men’s fashion back then. Sexy.
We also found out that there is a Jane Austen Festival in Bath and strangely enough, the largest gathering of people dressed in Regency costumes was achieved by 409 participants at said festival in 2009… A portrait of Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy sold for £12,000 that year as well…
We of course had to make our way to see the Royal Crescent, one of the greatest examples of Georgian architecture. It now includes a hotel and a house museum as well as some flats and offices.
After seeing the Royal Crescent, we headed back to the centre of town to see Bath Abbey, first stopping to see some beautiful views of the river and countryside!
Like something out of a fairy tale
Bath Abbey was beautiful. It has been the site of Christian worship for well over 1000 years, but has naturally changed drastically over time. In fact, three different churches have occupied the site since 757AD. There was first an Anglo-Saxon monastery, then a massive Norman cathedral (the foundations of which can be seen underground in one part of the Abbey) and then the present abbey church from the 1600s. The first King of England was crowned here in 973 which set the precedent for the coronation of all kings and queens of England.
Doors are the best.
Vaulting is so cool.
By the time we finished, we were pretty tired so we decided to relax in a coffee shop until it was time to leave for my train. If you are in Bath, you must stop at Jacob’s Coffee House, which is right by the entrance to the Roman Baths. It looks small downstairs, but you walk upstairs to sit and it is basically room upon room of tables and couches and gorgeous hardwood floors. I would be there every day if it was in London. It had such a cool feel and I could easily spend hours studying and never getting bored because I could just change rooms over and over!
Bath is a great little city. You feel like you step back in time when you enter it. It has a lazy, relaxed feel and all of the buildings match incredibly. It definitely had a sort of retirement age-vibe about it. But that could’ve been just the day we were there. I definitely recommend a visit!
Train tickets to Bath can get incredibly expensive if you don’t book them far enough in advance. If you do book them in advance, they are very affordable. So just make sure you have a date picked out and book them online several weeks before you go.
Trains depart from Paddington and are a little over an hour.
Admission to the Baths is £12.25 for students and £14.00 for adults (£14.50 if you come during the busy months of July & August) and includes a free audioguide which is really helpful!
Tickets to the Jane Austen Centre are £7 for students and £9 for adults. Probably not worth it if you’re not a diehard fan, but if you love Jane and want to know how her time in Bath influenced her writing and want to purchase some Jane Austen souvenirs, then stop by! There is also a tea room upstairs.
Admission to Bath Abbey is free but they encourage a donation. Individuals weren’t allowed to enter until after 3pm when we were there because of all the school groups visiting, so keep that in mind if you are there on a weekday.