Bath, located in Somerset, is only an 80 minute train ride west of London. The cobbled streets and golden limestone buildings make the world heritage site of Bath an extremely lovely town to walk through.
As one strolls through the town of Bath there are several sights and places one might stop along the way. A good place to start might be Bath Abbey, located in the heart of the city, a few blocks north of the train station.
Bath Abbey – is a beautiful medieval church with gothic architecture. Founded in the 7th century it was rebuilt more than once with the beginnings of the current Abbey dating to 1499. Located in front of the Abbey is a little plaza where musicians often perform. On the left side (if facing the Abbey) of this small square are a couple cafes including The Roman Baths Kitchen, a restaurant with outdoor seating. It’s a lovely spot to have a drink and considering the location the prices are quite decent. To the right of this square are the Roman Baths.
The Roman Baths – built around a natural hot spring, the Roman baths consist of a bath complex, the ruins of a temple to Sulis Minerva, and a modern day museum, all of which are wonderfully put together. The Roman bath complex and temple date from around 70 AD, though evidence shows a Celtic site likely existed around the spring prior to the Roman one. While visiting one can view the great bath, plunge pools, sauna rooms, and the sacred spring, which in the 12th century was subsequently turned into the king’s bath. One can also see the ruins of the Sulis Minerva temple and its courtyard via a suspended walkway. The Romano British goddess Sulis Minerva was a combination of the Celtic goddess of healing, Sulis and the Roman goddess Minerva, (known as Athena in the Greek pantheon).
Continuing on from Bath Abbey’s churchyard square, walking just one block northeast, one reaches the River Avon and it’s lovely crescent shaped weir, (a very low dam used to change the height of the river and to control it’s flow.) A wonderful array of restaurants can be found on both sides of the river here. On the west side of the river are the Parade gardens, and crossing over the river is the scenic Pulteney Bridge. The Palladian style Pulteney Bridge, (Palladian style meaning to be derived from and inspired by the Venetian architect Andrea Palladio) was completed in 1774 and is apparently one of only four bridges in the world with shops all the way across both sides.
Leaving the river, this time walking northwest, leads one towards some of Bath’s most iconic Georgian architectural landmarks.
The first landmark you’ll approach as you walk north is the Circus. Built between 1754 and 1768 the circus is really just a group of houses built in a circle, but it’s pretty and it’s considered a masterpiece of Georgian architecture. The first thing I wanted to know was why it was called the circus. Apparently it’s just called the circus after the Latin meaning of the word, which is simply, ring or circle.
Immediately to the right (east) of the circus one finds the Bath Assembly Rooms.
The Bath Assembly Rooms – were built in 1771 as a venue for balls and concerts. The Assembly rooms are open to visitors and one can view the Ballroom, the tea room, the card room and the octagon room. It’s not really a museum though as the rooms are still in use today, for example they can be rented for weddings, etc.. and as such they may not always be open for visiting. The Bath Assembly Rooms were not at all what I had pictured in my mind from reading novels, (like Jane Austin’s Northanger Abbey, for instance.) It was incredibly cool to see the rooms and perhaps because it was so different from what I was expecting, it was really interesting. However, I do wish there had been more information present. There were some signs, but the experience would have benefited a good deal had there been more visual information perhaps in the form of re-creations. A big empty room is hard to connect with and conceptualize.
Located in the same building as the Bath Assembly Rooms is the entrance to the Fashion Museum of Bath.
The Fashion Museum of Bath – is not your typical perfunctory homage to history. It houses an extensive world class collection of British fashion from the late 16th century to the present day.
*In 2023 the Fashion Museum is slated to move out of its current location beneath the Assembly Rooms to make way for plans The National Trust has to create an immersive experience type museum of the city’s Georgian history. The Fashion Museum will move to a new location within Bath, but exactly where has yet to be determined.
Walking on, if one makes one’s way in the opposite direction, two blocks west of the circus one encounters perhaps the most iconic of all Bath’s architectural landmarks, The Royal Crescent.
The Royal Crescent – built between 1767 and 1774 is comprised of Georgian townhouses in a crescent shaped arrangement. I found the Royal Crescent more striking than the Circus. In addition one is able to interact on a deeper level with the Royal Crescent thanks to the no.1 Royal Crescent Museum.
The no.1 Royal Crescent Museum – furnishes and recreates all the rooms of the residence as they would have been during the period from 1776 to 1796. Starting the summer of 2021 the museum will also begin a new immersive experience with film and sound to bring the house to life and give visitors an even better feel for what it would have been like to live there.
Avebury, located a little less than an hour’s drive from Bath, is a neolithic henge with stone circles believed to have been built roughly around 2850 BC. Unlike the now blocked off Stonehenge one can still get up close to the stones at Avebury. The stones however are a lot more spread out and less architecturally impressive than those at Stonehenge. Because they are so spread out it’s easy to underestimate the amount of time needed to visit here; it also makes it a little confusing and the lack of signage doesn’t help. While it’s nice to be able to get right up next to the stones it’s difficult trying to figure out what you’re looking at. While to some extent it’s obvious, I’m looking at a rock and some sheep and it’s very pretty, the overall configuration and alignment is much less obvious. Apparently within the henge (the henge being the ring shaped earthen enclosure with a mounded bank and internal ditch) is the largest stone circle in Britain, which originally had around 100 stones. There are also two smaller stone circles within the large one. However, given how many of the stones are missing, how spread out they are, and that several houses and streets cut through the middle, this won’t exactly be what you see when visiting.
The Alexander Keiller Museum is located just outside the henge and should be a helpful tool when trying to conceptualize and understand the Avebury henge; and also the surrounding nearby area because the Avebury henge isn’t the only thing to see here (another reason to make sure you give yourself plenty of time). There are several other interesting sites at or near Avebury that really make this place extra special and fascinating, (and also a little more confusing).
To start with there is the West Kennet Avenue, which consists of stone pairs that create a walkway of sorts (although here as well many stones are missing) that leads from Avebury henge to a place now called the Sanctuary. So, when you’re standing inside the henge and you’re trying to figure out where the circle of stones are exactly and you see some stones in the distance and think to yourself, What? Those can’t be part of any circle? They’re probably part of the West Kennet Avenue, leading to the Sanctuary. The Sanctuary is another place one can visit, unfortunately there isn’t much to see as it was destroyed by a farmer in the 18th century. Now there are only small concrete blocks to show the locations where large stones used to be.
A really interesting, fun, and not to be missed site in this vicinity is the West Kennet Long Barrow, a Neolithic tomb believed to be built around 3650 BC. When it was first excavated, grave goods and the cremations and partial remains of at least 46 people were found inside. It’s possible for visitors to enter inside to view and appreciate the architectural construction, which is really cool.
From the Long Barrow you can view the mysterious Silbury Hill, (nobody knows what it was built for) which is just across the roadway from the tomb. To learn more about the sites at Avebury one can visit english-heritage.org.ukEngland