If I have any regrets about how we’ve spent our time in London, it is that we haven’t taken more weekend trips. It’s hard to balance being a tourist with living a normal life, and most of the time on weekends we just want to relax at home and do weekend things. In a bit of a panic when I realized how many more places in England I want to see, I planned a spontaneous trip to Bath on New Year’s Day. We left in the afternoon and made the rainy drive. Luckily most of the drive was in daylight, and it was gorgeous despite the weather. We even ended up on this countryside dirt (muddy) road that made Richard a bit nervous, but offered a real backdoor feeling into rural England.
We arrived in the late afternoon, and went for a promised swim in the hotel pool with the kids. The pool was nice and warm, and felt really good. We swam for a long time and then ordered Chinese food and ate it in our hotel room. (We didn’t plan that very well, and we had no plates… let’s just say we left an awful rice mess for the maid to clean up.)
In the morning we woke up and left straight away for Bath. We only had one day to spend, and since it gets dark so early we wanted to maximize our daylight hours. We found a place to park and then our first stop was the Sally Lunn Bakery, for breakfast.
The Sally Lunn Bakery is the located in the oldest house in Bath, and gets its name from a French refugee- Solange Luyon- who escaped France in 1680 and came to Bath to open a bakery in this home. She allegedly baked the first “Bath bun”, which are now apparently world-renowned. (Rightly so, they were DELICIOUS.)
Side note about Mim’s hair. A couple days before this trip I decided to cut Mim’s hair. She had been begging for a haircut for awhile, and I’d done it once before so I figured it’d be no big deal. It went horribly wrong, and Richard can attest to my despair at the result. Sadly, I felt I’d cut too much for a stylist to have anything to work with, so we just left it to time. That first week or two I cringed each morning when I tried to make it look decent. Miriam loved it, she didn’t seem to notice that it resembled a reverse A-line bob, longer in the back than in the front.
There were so many bun options it was hard to choose. The kids and I tried jam, cinnamon and butter, dulce de leche and I can’t remember the other two. Richard opted for a savory bun with egg and bacon. They were a melt-in-your-mouth kind of bread and I think we could have all eaten a second one.
In the basement of the restaurant was a small museum where the kitchen existed four hundred years ago. We’ve seen in several cities how the street level gradually rises as the centuries go by, it’s an interesting phenomenon.
All the kitchen tools were exactly as found when the kitchen was excavated not too long ago.
After we left the Sally Lunn house we walked past the Bath Cathedral, a foreboding Gothic presence in the heart of the city, and went to explore the Roman Baths. We debated about whether or not the kids would be into it and it would be worth the money, but Richard said “You can’t go to Bath and not see the baths.”
It ended up being really interesting and totally worth the cost.
We learned that the eerie green color of the water comes from algae that grows because of exposure to the sun. During Roman times the baths were covered and the algae was not a problem, making the bathing part probably feel much cleaner.
I’ll spare details and refer you here
, but I will say that the Roman baths are incredibly old. Unbelievably old. The Roman temple on this location was first built around 60-70AD, and then the bathing complex was added over the next 30 years. The bath waters themselves are just rain water that has percolated through limestone aquifers where geothermal energy heats the water and then the heated water rises to the surface.
The baths were part of a huge complex that has a fascinating history, and was certainly the heart of Roman social life in Bath. The waters have also been rumored to be healing, and for hundreds of years people would holiday in Bath to “take the waters” for anything from leprosy to infertility. Even today people believe the waters to be healing because of their heavy mineral content.
These brick/stone stacks would support the floor of the rooms of the spa, stoves would circulate steam and heat through them so the floor would be heated, so hot in fact that sandals were necessary,
The kids tasting the water, their faces say it all.
After our visit to the Roman Baths we took a walk to see some landmarks. The first stop was The Circus, which is a really cool residential architectural concept. (I learned early on in London that the word circus meant something circular, ie Picadilly Circus, Oxford Circus, and not a carnival.) This circus in Bath consists of three curved rows of townhouses that enclose the grassy area in the center. The buildings themselves are beautiful, but I loved the feeling of it, standing there in the center.
From there we walked a little further on to another circular row of buildings, The Royal Crescent. Designed by the same architect as The Circus, it is one of Bath’s most iconic landmarks, and can be seen in lots of BBC films that take place in Bath.
We were getting pretty soggy in the rain and hungry as well so we found a restaurant for some late lunch. It was a busy Saturday and they warned us that our food would take a long time to get out to us, but fortunately they had books and board games to distract the kids while we waited.
As soon as I finished eating I walked around the corner to the Jane Austen Centre. I spent about an hour there while Richard and the kids walked back to the car, filled up with petrol, and then came and picked me up. It was fun to learn more about Jane, but the museum was mostly about her life in Bath, which was just a portion of her life. I was a little disappointed.
There is some dispute about what Jane Austen looked like, but some forensic historians used all they information they could find on her to make this wax model.
It was dark by the time Richard and the kids picked me up, but there was one more place in Bath that I didn’t get to see, Pulteney Bridge. So we drove past it and I hopped out and snapped a couple quick pictures with my phone. The pictures are terrible, but the bridge itself was charming. It’s a very popular bridge, and has been referred to as “the most romantic bridge in the world.” I can see why, especially when seen walking along the Avon river.
Much better pictures here.
I hopped back in the car, and after a long and confusing detour we finally found our way out of Bath and back toward London. It was a long drive home in the rainy dark, but I’m glad we made the trip.