Last summer, I spent two weeks in Bristol for a UK-Japan researcher workshop (RENKEI, which I have to write about soon!) and on our free weekend I visited the nearby city of Bath. The city is a World Heritage Site most famous for its… you guessed it, baths!
Let me elaborate. The city has a natural hot spring, which became historically important when it was established as a public bath during the Roman occupation of Britain in the first century.
Today, Bath is a famous tourist destination not only for the Roman Baths, but for a number of other sights and activities as well.
From Bristol to Bath is an easy 10 minutes by train, so I did not encounter any transportation problems. The city was not so large and easily walkable.
The first site I gravitated towards was the Roman Baths, but not before I took notice of the nearby majestic Bath Abbey.
A brush with history at the Roman Baths
The Roman Baths is the main attraction of the city, so there was no way I was going to miss it; never mind the 13.50 GBP entrance fee and the long line of tourists.
I borrowed an audio guide at the entrance and proceeded to follow the arrows pointing me to the different sites. The first stop was the terrace, which provided a view of the Great Bath from the second level.
After that, the arrows led me indoors into a museum depicting the Roman way of life in Aquae Sulis (lit. the waters of the goddess Sulis Minerva), the old name of Bath. An important part of the exhibit was the temple pediment, supposedly taken from the old temple dedicated to Minerva.
Another part of the Roman Baths showcased the preserved ruins of the temple altar, the courtyard, and even the head of the Minerva statue. It felt a little surreal walking along the temple ruins that belonged to the first century.
Another highlight of the complex is the sacred spring. The site is where hot water bubbles to the surface, which they thought was miraculous in Roman times (it’s actually a geothermal manifestation… alright, I’ll stop the geology lecture here).
Many items were “offered” to the sacred spring, and some of them are exhibited in the complex. Most common are the coins and gemstones, but most interesting are the rolled up lead sheets with curses written on them wishing for bad luck upon their enemies (is this the same everywhere? Because this sounds like the Filipino kulam to me).
After the hot spring area, I finally reached the Great Bath, which is the open air swimming bath that I have been seeing from the start of the tour.
There were costumed characters playing the role of a Roman official and a Roman lady.
The costumed lady asked me to smell some of her bath perfumes, so I sat by the pool to check out her basket of bath goodies.
The area around the Great Bath pool had some of the original structures exhibited, like the original roof spine and floor from the Roman times. It was pretty cool that they got to keep some of the old building parts.
At one end of the Great Bath, there is a circular pool asking for “offerings”. The money you throw in would be collected after a year(?) and used for preserving the Roman Baths archeological collection.
Before exiting the Roman Baths complex, there was a drinking faucet that offers a taste of Bath’s spring waters. The waters are believed to have healing properties by ancient people.
I got a glassful, but I only finished a quarter of it as it tasted weird. It was slightly salty and feels alkaline; until now I could still remember the taste in my mouth so I guess it’s quite remarkable (I’m not sure if in a good way).
Getting my nerd on at the Jane Austen Centre
After the tour of the Roman Baths, I met up with my RENKEI friends for lunch at a restaurant in one of the side streets of Bath. After lunch, I left them to explore the Roman Baths while I explore the next interesting Bath attraction for me: The Jane Austen Centre. The centre is a permanent exhibition located in the same street where she lived and features Jane Austen’s time in Bath.
Walking up the street, I knew I was in the right place when I was greeted by a bearded man in a top hat and coat from the 19th century. Personally, I was a little bit concerned that he was feeling too hot, as it was the peak of summer and he was sweating in his coat. Anyway, I just left him outside and I entered the house. It was really just an old (>250 years old!) house that they transformed into an exhibit.
I took a deep breath of acceptance before reluctantly handing out 8 pounds for the entry fee and the guide pamphlet (it was expensive by my standards!).
In the end though, what matters is I enjoyed the short lecture, the guided tour, and dressing up Regency style!
Afterwards, I walked around Bath with the map from the Jane Austen Centre as my guide. I visited several lovely and quiet gardens, but I equally enjoyed the lively streets in the city center where buskers and small shops abound.
Bath is a quaint little city that is perfect for a day trip, and I especially enjoyed exploring it on that bright and sunny summer day.