We’re back in France, to rather strange mid-January scenes. Our local skiers’ playground at Mont d’Olmes appears to have only a dusting of snow, though it claims to have 5 pistes open. Our garden’s full of marigolds flowering alongside the snowdrops, and on a walk yesterday afternoon, dressed in light pullovers, we heard birds singing ceaselessly, apparently to welcome the spring as they busily seemed to be putting winter behind them.
And so it was in England too. We rarely wrapped up warmly, and enjoyed being out and about in the balmy conditions.
Best of all was our trip to the part of the country that includes parts of South Gloucestershire and Witshire and Somerset, to stay with my daughter-in-law’s family. They took a dim view of our lack of knowledge of their end of the country, and set about putting things right.
Everyone knows Bath as a Roman stronghold and as a wonderfully intact 18th century city much visited by Jane Austen. No wonder it’s an UNESCO World Heritage site. We had to be content with a taster session. And we began with a stroll across Pulteney Bridge, which has shops on it, like Florence’s Ponte Vecchio, and along the Avon to enjoy the views of the Abbey and Parade Gardens.
Bath Abbey’s an ancient church, but what we see today- a light graceful building soaring upwards to spectacular stone fan vaulting – is largely the work of the Victorian Gilbert Scott. Every wall is covered with memorials: so many people came to Bath to ‘take the waters’ and then upped and died. Plumbers, admirals, sugar plantation owners, soldiers – they’re all here.
Time for a coffee break. Where else but the 18th century Pump Room, where we decided a Bath Bun was a good idea, a sulphurous glass of spa water a very bad one?
We can’t recommend the Roman Baths Museum highly enough. After spending several hours there, we feel as if we’ve had a real taste of the life of a Roman citizen living, working, playing and praying in Bath during that period. The baths themselves have been very sensitively and imaginatively interpreted. If near Bath, just go!
After that, a quick stroll round the 18th century. The graceful symmetry of streets like the Royal Crescent is so impressive: just don’t look round the back, you’re not meant to.
Next day, we were tourists too. England at its most picturesque. Cotswold villages with solid stone-walled, stone tiled cottages.
Back in the medieval period and beyond, Castle Combe used to be a centre for the local woollen industry. Now, more often than not, it’s a film set, the scene of many a period drama on TV or at the cinema. And Lacock is so picture-postcard perfect that almost the whole village is owned by the National Trust. Great for a relaxing visit. I wonder what it’s like to live there.
We’d mooched happily round these two villages for some while. But after all that we needed to step out and stretch our legs. Kennet and Avon Canal anybody? Brian and Sue chose for our walk the Caen Hill Locks, a flight of 16 locks packed tight together, one after the other, with ponds at the side to store the water needed to operate the locks. We thought our walk up the canal banks used quite enough calories. What if we’d been taking a canal boat up the entire flight and beyond, through lock-gate after lock-gate? This 100 mile canal has more than 100 of them in total…..
A wonderful couple of days then, steeped in history and splendid views and countryside. We’ll be back – if Brian and Sue’ll have us.