Tourist information: Bath and beyond

England, Travelling in Europe

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.

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8 thoughts on “Tourist information: Bath and beyond

  1. Aah, memories …. used to live in Bath: great place to visit, NOT a great place to live in the summer (just too many tourists; felt like a theme park). And that was before the baths were restored …. We considered buying a flat in Royal Crescent for – I seem to remember – about £18,000 (this was 1979), but were put off by its parlous state and by having to paint the front door a certain colour :-0. It’s probably worth nearly a million by now …..


    1. We decided exactly that. January visits on bright sunny days are definitely the answer. I remember loving Portsmouth throughout the winter months when we lived there, and thoroughly resenting the summer-time tourists. The baths are SO changed. I went from school once, and a darker dingier place I’ve yet to see. They’ve done it so well, so you can go round at your own pace in the order you choose. It’s expensive, sure, but worth it. Royal Crescent doors? White. But there turn out to be many shades of white. And just one door, mysteriously, was brown.


  2. We also used to live in Bath, actually near Bath but I worked there and it was our going out base. I can remember flowers, a fabulous toy shop, theatre and good restaurants. I have no memory of tourists but as I live i a tourst hot spot now perhaps I just don’t notice them. As for Lacock I last went there at least 32 years ago and it seems to be exactly the same; I think I would hate to live there.
    Worrying news re the snow, I hope there’s more further south or that it snows (only on the mountains) before March.


    1. Yes, I didn’t even mention Bath’s gardens, parks, shops, eating stops. Definitely worth exploring I think. Laycock did appear to have lots of ‘normal’ things going on, but we tourists must be an irritant. Snow further south? Dunno. Even the more snow-covered mountains have a glossy look, as though the snow is melting. Don’t hold your breath for March


  3. Welcome back, er bienvenue. It’s been frosty here the past few days, so I envy you the mild weather. The Roman baths reminded me of a brief visit to England in 1971 as a barely-teenager. My host took me to Fishbourne in the south, which made quite a big impression.


    1. I would actually like a bit of cold, sharp weather. Contrary, eh? How your Swiss escapade went well: It looked an interesting visit.

      Fishbourne? Good place. At that time it was curated by a good friend, and I’m reminded we’ve now lost touch. He doesn’t spend time on the internet, you see……


  4. Voilà un couple “d’anglais” très ouverts et très sympas, vivant dans le Sud-Ouest de la France, qui nous emmène en voyage dans leur pays d’origine ou ailleurs, toujours avec autant de curiosité, d’intérêt pour l’Histoire, le Patrimoine, la Nature… C’est chaque fois une belle surprise et une belle découverte, que ce soit en Angleterre ou en Ariège en France, on a toujours plaisir à partir en voyage et à la découverte avec vous deux. Un grand merci à Margaret & Malcom.
    Sylvia de l’Association Découverte Terres Lointaines.


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