Bath city tour
While plenty of places in Britain have been designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Bath is the only city in the UK where the entire city is a heritage site. Widely popular as a Spa resort in Georgian times, which led to a major expansion, the city boasts a heritage of exemplary Georgian architecture crafted from the local Bath stone.
According to the legend, Prince Bladud was cured of leprosy after bathing in the hot muddy waters. In gratitude, he founded the city of Bath around the springs in 863 BC. Bladud proceeded to become the ninth King of the Britons and supposed father of King Lear. In 43 AD, the Romans started the development of 'Aquae Sulis' as a sanctuary of rest and relaxation, not a garrison town like most Roman settlements. Today, Bath is the only place in the UK where you can bathe in the thermal water that comes directly from the natural hot springs deep beneath the city.
During the 18th century, three ambitious local entrepreneurs set out to make Bath one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. A former mayor of Bath, Ralph Allen, created the beautiful and intimate Prior Park Landscape Garden, Richard ‘Beau’ Nash played a leading role in making Bath the most fashionable resort in 18th century England and John Wood the Elder designed many streets and iconic buildings, such as The Circus and Queen Square. His son, John Wood the Younger, followed in his footsteps and created the Assembly Rooms and The Royal Crescent.
We start from the heart of the city - Bath Abbey and the Roman Baths that are just behind it.
1,170,000 litres of steaming spring water reaching 46 °C still fill the bathing site every single day. The Great Bath that lies 6m below street level can also be viewed from the Terrace, which is adorned with statues and shadowed by the great Abbey. The chambers to explore include the remains of the ancient heated rooms and changing rooms as well as tepid and plunge pools. After your exploration, take a sip of the spa water in the Pump Room, which is included in the admission price. Containing 42 minerals and believed to have healing powers this is a unique opportunity to get a real taste (literally!) of Roman Bath.
We are driving past the Guildhall and Victoria Art Gallery. The former was built by Thomas Baldwin in 1775, whereas the latter is 100 years younger. The Guildhall has been at the heart of Bath's administrative life for over 350 years. As well as being a stunning location for all manner of corporate and private events, it continues to house the Register Office, Mayor's parlour and city archives.
Victoria Art Gallery was named to celebrate Queen Victoria's sixty years on the throne. It includes over 1,500 decorative arts treasures, including a display of British oil paintings from the 17th century to the present day with works by Thomas Gainsborough, Tomas Jones Baker, and Walter Sickert.
This is Garfunkel’s imposing restaurant near Pulteney Bridge. Pulteney Bridge, together with the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, is one of the world's most beautiful bridges. Like the Ponte Vecchio it is one of a handful of historic bridges in the world with shops built into it.
Designed for William Pulteney by Robert Adam, the bridge was an attempt to connect central Bath to land on the other bank of the River Avon and make Pulteney's fortune. In spite of its practical origins it is surely the most romantic bridge in the world, best viewed from Parade Gardens park by the crescent weir.
The floodplain of the Avon, on which the city centre is built, has an altitude of about 18 m above sea level. The river, once an unnavigable series of braided streams broken up by swampland ponds, has been managed by weirs into a single channel. Periodic flooding, which shortened the life of many buildings in the lowest part of the city, was normal until major flood control works were completed in the 1970s.
Now the Avon is navigable and you can reach the sea (via Bristol) by small boats or get to London, if you take the Kennet and Avon Canals that connect Bath with the River Thames. The route is very popular with narrow boat users.
We are passing Komedia, Bath’s leading live entertainment venue. Hosting over 400 events per year in the beautifully restored former Beau Nash cinema, Komedia Bath offers an unparalleled programme of comedy, music, cabaret and club nights. Komedia Bath, the destination in the region for touring comedy and music, hosts a raft of regular shows which include our double header Saturday night; Krater Comedy Club and, Bath’s biggest club night, Motorcity.
Four times winner of the Chortle Award for Best Venue in the West and Wales, Komedia works closely with the Bath’s many festivals. These include the Bath International Music Festival, Bath Fringe and Bath’s Film, Literary Children’s and Comedy festivals.
We are also going past Past Theatre Royal UK in Bath with Ustinov Studio. Built on its current site in 1805, the Theatre Royal Bath is one of the oldest working theatres in the country.
Surprisingly, Bath is a bit modest on churches, this one is in Chapel Row.
In the heart of Bath is Queen Square – a square of Georgian houses designed by John Wood, the elder in the early 18th century and paid for by Beau Nash. The square was designed to join the houses in unison and give the impression that together they formed one large mansion when viewed from the south facing side.
The focal point of Queen Square is the obelisk at the centre, which commemorates the visit of Frederick, Prince of Wales.
The Jane Austen Centre. Jane Austen paid two long visits to Bath towards the end of the eighteenth century, and from 1801 to 1806 Bath was her home because her father died and the finances and social standing of the Austen family suffered considerably as a result. So, they moved to a less expensive home in Bath. Bath provides the backdrop to two of her novels, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, and features in her other novels and in the collection of letters to her sister, Cassandra. The Centre is a must for any Jane Austen fan.
In addition to Austen, the city inspired Mary Shelley to finish her great work, Frankenstein. Charles Dickens was also a frequent visitor to the city, beginning in 1835 as a young reporter and staying at the city’s oldest pub, the Saracen’s Head.
Here we come into the impressively rounded landmark: the Circus that has the same diameter as Stonehenge. It is said that the orientation of Stonehenge is built around the rising and setting sun, whereas the Circus is said to represent the sun, with the Royal Crescent representing the moon. Coincidence? No way!
Originally known as The King’s Circus, this remarkable sight consists of three curved segments of Grade I listed townhouses, arranged in a circular shape. The striking attraction was designed by John Wood the Elder, an architect also responsible for the nearby Queen Square. Unfortunately John Wood the Elder didn’t live to see his plans turned into reality, due to his death less than three months before construction of The Circus began in 1754. His son, John Wood the Younger, completed the erection in 1768.
It’s probably no surprise that such an extraordinary landmark has been home to a number of famous people over the years. The artist Thomas Gainsborough lived at number 17 between 1758 and 1744, using the house as his portrait studio. More recently, Hollywood actor Nicholas Cage also lived at The Circus.
During the Bath Blitz in 1942, part of The Circus was badly bombed, demolishing several of the houses. They have now been reconstructed and restored in the original style.
Whenever you decide to visit Bath, make sure you stand in the middle of The Circus and marvel at this inspiring and beautiful piece of architecture; you simply won’t find anything else like it.
No.1 Royal Crescent was built to the designs of John Wood the Younger in 1767 – 1774 as the first house in the Royal Crescent, a Bath stone crescent of THIRTY houses with a uniform Palladian design to the principal facade. The Royal Crescent is the culmination of the 18th century development of Bath by the elder and younger John Woods, the latter part-owning No.1. The open view in front of the Royal Crescent, a key element to the design, has been altered by the subsequent development of Bath but partly preserved in the form of what is now Royal Victoria Park and a small semi-circular lawn in the ownership of the Royal Crescent residents.
The buildings were first formally separated in 1968, when No. 1 was bought by Mr. Bernard Cayzer who supported its restoration to become both a historic house and the headquarters for the Bath Preservation Trust.
Although the Royal Crescent may be the most famous, there are actually SEVEN crescents in the city.
Adjacent to the Royal Crescent, Victoria Park was created in 1830 and named after the 11-year-old princess seven years before she became Queen. The park can boast many choice trees, shrubs, a fine herbaceous border, a rock garden and pool, a scented walk, a collection of old shrub roses, and a replica of a Roman Temple (the City’s exhibit at the British Empire Exhibition held at Wembley in 1924).
In the summer season, the Gardens are open from 08.00 - 18.00 all week. The Temple of Minerva is only open on weekdays from 08.00 - 16.00, it tells about the Heritage Lottery Fund restoration of Royal Victoria Park along with other information and occasional exhibitions.
The park is so peaceful and relaxing. This tranquillity probably allowed William Herschel, who lived near here in New King Street, to discover planet Uranus.
If you are interested in other natural sites, you can visit Alexandre Park, or go outside Bath for a day. Stonehenge is just under an hour’s drive from Bath towards Salisbury in Wiltshire. Mystery surrounds this remarkable monument erected between 3,000 BC and 1,600 BC – after your visit, decide for yourself whether it was a place of sun worship, a healing sanctuary, a sacred burial site... or something different altogether! 27 miles from Bath is Avebury, where you will find the Avebury Stone Circle, the largest stone circle in Europe. This huge ring of over a hundred stones, stretching a quarter of a mile across, was originally erected around 4,500 years ago.
In a manner of curiosity. Not just a type of biscuit, the City of Bath has its own form of currency called the Oliver, which is a coupon that rewards volunteerism and community involvement. It can be used at local businesses in lieu of cash, but cannot be cashed in for pounds and must be earned with community service as opposed to being purchased.
Going along George Street I saw the Concert Hall Moles. Opened on New Year’s Eve 1978, Moles has earned itself legendary status for its involvement in hosting and championing live music. Under the independent ownership of Live Music lovers Phil Andrews & Tom Maddicott, the Moles stage has been graced with such great acts as The Smiths, Radiohead, Oasis, Eurythmics, Bastille, Mumford & Sons and Ed Sheeran to name but a few.
Moles suffered a devastating fire in 2014, but not reopening never was an option, they came back in 2015 and their slogan now is Long Live Moles, Long Live Live Music!
Milsom Street going into New Bond Street is the one for shopping, everything is at hand: banks and nice shops, small boutiques and big retailers (Jolly’s – The House of Fraser).
St Michael’s church is a “place where people matter, life is given value and we learn to live generously”. This is a community church, not that old, but already suffering from cramps: its spire underwent heavy restoration after the report of 2008. Detrimental weathering of the Bath stone mainly in the balustrade and pinnacles had led to moisture ingress. As a result the iron cramps used in the original construction had corroded causing expansion and spalling of the stone and thereby severely undermining the integrity of the whole tower structure. This process of degradation had been hastened by the presence of pigeon guano attacking the stone. In certain places, the whole spire had lifted so much it was possible to see right through to the other side! God bless them, now the restoration is complete and the church is safe.
This strange stele has a name, but I failed to see which one; you might wish to dance around it after having a cup of tea in a nearby Mad Hatter’s Tea House. It is a family run tearoom located right round the corner, offering cream teas, homemade cakes, snacks, the finest selection of Lavazza coffee and Teapigs. You’d be crazy not to visit us and join the madness!!!
And one last observation on Bath’s tea tradition. You can go to Boston Tea Party here (cynical, isn’t it?), or better still – have the Original 'Sally Lunn' Bun in one of the oldest houses in Bath (c.1482).
And the P.P.S. if you feel like a having a good laugh in the evening – there is entertainment that appeals to everyone: celebrated stroll which takes an irreverent look at the city of Bath. You'll experience unforgettable mysteries, thrills, and surprises that stretch the traditional image of the city. So if you're looking for something hysterical rather than historical, why not join the crowd every evening at 8pm, outside the Huntsman (1 Terrace Walk)?