Bath, England: A ‘How To’ Guide

September 26, 2007 by

Europe, Places to Go, Suggested Itineraries, Travel Advice & Inspiration

Bath is a World Heritage Site for its architecture and history. But it’s also a modern city with a well-regarded university, cinemas, theatres, clubs, pubs, and shopping with excellent rail links. I highly recommend a visit.

Rain is the one similarity between this visit and my last visit to Bath. The big difference between this visit and last is that the famous hot springs of Bath have been renovated and are now reopen, after being closed since 1978.

Roman Baths in Bath - day trip from London
The Roman baths in Bath

England’s only naturally occurring hot springs is in Bath. Using their engineering know-how to harness the waters and build grand baths the Romans stayed for around 400 years. The complex of baths continued to be used by the rich and powerful in England until the baths were opened to the public in the 19th century. Bathhouses with large contraptions were built for people to enjoy the healing powers of the water by complete immersion. Doctors were available for consult and for a while the whole thing was government subsidised – happy days!

I split my bathing over two days not wanting to end up completely waterlogged, but wanting to experience it all. For my first bathing experience, I went to Cross Bath, an outdoor pool in a circular historic building squatting in the middle of a cobblestone square, surrounded by beautiful Georgian buildings. Used as a healing pool for centuries, Cross Bath was visited by people from all over England for its healing properties

A visit to Bath, England
A visit to the baths

When I was there, it was raining, windy and cold, so I was looking forward to being immersed in hot, steamy water. Unfortunately, it was tepid. Only the English could enjoy sitting outdoors in tepid water with a howling cold wind making waves in the pool, thunder rolling around. Well, the English and me, apparently. That I was the only one there bathing should that have been a hint to my madness. But the water really did feel gentle and afterwards I felt clearer and calmer than I had for a long time. Those Romans really did understand a thing or two about bathing and health, after all, “spa” stands for salus per acqua – healing through water.

The other outcome of my visit to the Cross Bath was that I was starving and exhausted. So I sought out the familiar, leading me to Pizza Express, an English chain with actually good pizza. The Bath branch also had flirtatious Italian waiters.

I was staying in a small hotel just outside of the main centre of Bath, across the railways tracks on the hill towards Bear Flat –it’s a little cheaper and an easy walk, although there is a bus too. I had decided to walk because it was a pretty treed path and I liked looking at the houses and the view over Bath as I rose up the hill. But halfway up the steep, steep hill in the pouring rain, as I struggled along, I regretted my choice. And insult was only added to injury as a hardy local in a suit rode past me on a bicycle all the way to the hill – impressive. He did have to zigzag though. But so did I and I was on foot!

The next day I ventured into the main part of the new bath complex, the New Royal Bath. I had the choice of two or four hours or all day; I went for the four-hour ticket. In hindsight I would have been okay with two hours and I am a complete spa addict. While the facilities were nice, there are really only three areas to play in, unless you pay for expensive treatments. In the basement is the indoor pool, the tepid Minerva Pool. The great thing there is the long foam spaghetti to wrap under your arms and legs and float like a princess for hours. In the pool, there’s a jacuzzi area, and a water jet and currents which come on and off (they made it noisy and a bit theme park-esque) but it does seem to be a trend in bathing these days (people seem to need entertainment while they relax for some reason). There are also lots of lounge chairs but I got a bit cold in my wet swimmers and robe. I’m sure in winter they do a better job of heating the whole place (I was there in May and it was unseasonably cold, although you’d think the English might be better prepared for that with their unfortunate climate).

A visit to Bath, England
Georgian buildings in Bath, England

Then there is the open-air rooftop pool. Gorgeous – even in the rain. The views were wonderful, over the rooftops of Bath to the greenest of green fields beyond. The colour of Bath is lovely, all caramel coloured stone and rural light, so different from the dark satanic brick and pollution of London.

I left relaxed, healed but a little unsatisfied. I like my thermal water hotter than that. I guess the size of the pools makes it cool a bit, and this is something I’ve found in lots of European thermal pools. Ironically, the hot water in my hotel was dangerously scalding and I nearly burnt a layer of skin off in the shower.

For me, Bath is one of the ideal travel destinations because, as well as having thermal waters, it is laden with girly romantic fantasies of frocks and dances and barouches from Jane Austen’s books or Georgette Heyer’s rollicking and humourous romances that I am finally discovering thanks to the patient persistence of my mother.

Any visit to Bath is incomplete if you don’t go to the 18th-century Assembly Rooms, the scene of many dances, formidable dowagers and handsome rakes, flirtations and misunderstandings which always turned out right 200 pages later. Of course, Austen’s novels were social satires of the times she lived in, so there really were dances, dowagers and flirtations in this building when Bath was the fashionable place for the rich to spend their summers. Today, the Assembly Rooms are often used for conferences so you might have to peer into the beautiful rooms from behind a rope as I did. And possibly, of an evening, one would find similar rakes, flirtations and misunderstandings, but now in modern day office uniform.

Further up the hill, the Royal Crescent and The Circus were the height of fashionable living in England’s Regency Era and are beautiful examples of Georgian architecture. The Pulteney Bridge (named after the first Earl of Bath) is lined with shops as it reaches over the Avon River. In fact, Bath is a beautifully preserved example of eighteenth century architecture, even if the shops are now all the usual high street chains.

Make certain you pack your swimsuit, camera and copy of Pride and Prejudice as the famous baths of Bath are now reopened.

Philippa Burne

Planning a trip? Browse all of Viator’s day trips from London and things to do in England. If you need a place to stay, check out Hotels in England on Planetware.com.

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One Response to “Bath, England: A ‘How To’ Guide”

  1. Lori Smith Says:

    Wonderful — I was in Bath a couple years ago, but the new spa had not yet been opened. Thanks for the review. I love the city and would love to go back.

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