In 1987, UNESCO accorded World Heritage status to the entire city of Bath. While hundreds of cities throughout the world have designated world heritage sites, I believe Bath and Venice are the only 2 cities where the entire city, is so designated.
Venice is an easy one to understand, as we probably all know about the canals, and many may have actually visited the city, but Bath? Unless you are from UK, or have studied UK history, you may not be aware of this beautiful city.
Originally founded by the Romans in the 1st Century, one of the premier attractions is the Roman Baths, which is supplied by thermal springs. We visited the Roman Baths during a quick visit back in 1995, so this time we skipped the long queues.
Roman Baths entrance
Rainfall on the surrounding hills percolates down through the limestone to depths of 9,000 to 14,000 feet, at which point it is returned to the surface by geothermal energy. The mineral rich water is a constant 46C/115F, with a daily volume of about 250,000 gallons, or a little over 1 million litres. The water is untreated, therefore it is unsafe for drinking, or even swimming. They don’t even recommend touching the water.
Pultney Weir on River Avon
Rather than driving, we opted for the 15 min train journey from Bradford-on-Avon into downtown Bath. With only a single day to see the sights of Bath, what better option than the local Ho-Ho bus, which has a stop right outside the train station. They have 2 loops – downtown & skyline, with each loop taking just under an hour. An excellent deal for UKP 15.00 for 24 hours.
Looking down River Avon
Boarding the bus, we wandered upstairs to be met with a live guide – bonus!! The bus only had about a 1/2 dozen passengers, so we all sat together, while he chatted away without the microphone and headsets. This was way better than the usual canned presentations. His local knowledge and humour were spectacular.
Crappy architecture # 2
Joining the bus at stop # 3, we missed his welcome and were blown away, when passing the multi-storey lot above, he simply said, “Here is crappy architecture # 2”. OMG, this chap is down to earth, no stuffy PC tourist info on this bus. He went on to explain that during the war, Bath was bombed extensively, destroying almost 1,000 buildings. The site, seen above, was one of the areas hit, and the council replaced it with the current eyesore. However, he is hoping for a regeneration project to restore the site to its natural beauty.
The downtown loop focuses on the spectacular 18th Century Georgian architecture, featuring the light coloured local Bath stone, which is the driver for the City of Bath being awarded UNESCO World Heritage site designation.
Laid out in a semi-circular sweeping crescent, Royal Crescent consists of 30 terraced homes over a frontage of about 500 feet. This is one of UK’s most prestigious addresses. Only 10 of them remain as single homes, as others were converted to flats, one is a hotel and another the museum. Built between 1767 and 1774, it contains 114 external pillars on the 1st floors.
Bath Circus, 18th Century Pillared or Colonnade Georgian Architecture
Another very exclusive area, The Circus, built between 1754 and 1768, is a circular row of houses with 3 entrances. It is arranged so each block of the circle faces one of the entrances. Our guide mentioned that the most recent sale was over UKP 4 million.
Lansdowne Road – smooth Georgian Architecture
The above photograph depicts the smooth style of Georgian Architecture, where at the front, the appearance is completely smooth.
Bath Post Office Building
The above building encompasses many types of Georgian Architecture – the chamfered stone and pillars on the lower level and smooth stone up top.
Guildhall/City Hall Building
Similar to the Post Office building, this has multiple styles of architecture.
Most impressive stone finish
The amount of labour required for this finish must have been huge, but I believe the end product was worth it. They started with regular blocks of stone, chamfered the edges and then drill holes to produce the surface patterns.
About the only building not cleaned of soot
The photo above depicts my childhood memories of most buildings within the cities. As almost everyone burned coal for heating, the cities were black with soot. However, Bath has performed remarkable restoration work in cleaning the buildings. Our guide also mentioned they were cleaned with brushes, not high pressure washers, which would destroy the limestone.
Rear of homes are much cheaper construction than the front
The guide explained, to reduce costs, much cheaper rubble stone was used on the rear of the buildings. This also required a separate architect from the one that designed and built the front of the house. Homes from the 18th Century had no internal plumbing, so the rear additions, seen above, are washrooms.
18 Bennett Street – home of NSW first Governor
This will be of interest to our Australian friends, as this was the retirement home of Admiral Arthur Phillip (RN), who was the first Governor of New South Wales, Australia. Upon leaving naval service, Admiral Phillip retired to Bath, living at 18 Bennett Street, where he also died.
Pulteney Bridge, with continuous shops down both sides
Our guide mentioned that Pulteney Bridge was either the longest, or only bridge with continuous shops on both sides. There are 4 medieval bridges in the world with shops on both sides. The Ponte Vecchio in Florence and the Rialta Bridge in Venice, we have visited both and can confirm they are not continuous. However, a small town in Southern Germany has a similar bridge, that we have not visited.
New mall opposite Bath railway station
This was crappy architecture # 3. The new mall cost a fortune, but is a modern steel girder and concrete building with ultra thin pieces of imitation stone stuck to the exterior. While they tried to replicate the 18th century architecture, it is a spectacular fail. A recent review by UNESCO inspectors almost resulted in Bath loosing their coveted designation.
After a couple of full trips around the downtown route, we set off exploring, starting with Bath Abbey.
Entrance to the Abbey is by donation, with UKP 4.00 recommended per person.
Bath Abbey Nave – very bright with lots of natural light
Base of the tower
Volunteer playing classical/easy listening music during our entire visit
Departing the Abbey, we set off for a walk along the river. First place we noticed was the Parade Gardens, which are down at river level, below the street level, which cuts out some of the road noise.
Parade Garden along River Avon
While free for locals, they have a small entry fee of UKP 1.50 for tourists. Meandering along the river we spotted a river cruise boat on the opposite bank.
Bath river cruises
It was departing in a few minutes, so we set off to see views of Bath from the River Avon.
Departing the dock heading for Pulteney Bridge
The cruise headed about 4 miles upriver to the Bathampton Weir, with the round trip being about 2 hours. The cruise was a definite contrast from the Ho-Ho bus, as the route was predominantly rural.
cruising along the narrow River Avon
Homes with gardens backing onto the river
Bath Boating Centre
Bathampton Weir, furthest point on the cruise
Judi on the cruise while we turned around
After the cruise, while crossing the Pulteney Bridge, we spotted a cafe/bakery advertising afternoon teas. What a splendid idea.
Afternoon Tea – scones, clotted cream, strawberry jam and strong tea
It had been many hours since breakfast, so afternoon tea was very welcome; however, the scones were just OK, definitely not like mother made them.
After tea, we headed back to the Ho-Ho bus, taking the downtown loop up to Royal Crescent, where we exited the bus to take photographs of the terrace.
We then walked down through the park, re-joining the same bus for the return downtown. At that point we headed to the skyline tour, completing the entire loop. It was definitely worth the trip, but the light traffic facilitated a higher speed, which didn’t present many photograph opportunities. However, we got some spectacular glimpses of the city from atop the hills across the River Avon.
Returning to Bath, we wandered over to the Saracens Head Inn, reputed to be the oldest pub in Bath. An old traditional pub, it was built in 1713.
Saracens Head Pub
Modernised Old English Pub
The menu is typical pub grub, but they had an excellent selection of cask ales and other beers on CO2 taps. You order and pay for all drinks and meals at the bar, with staff delivering the meal to your table.
Since it was well after 19:00, we trudged about a mile to the station, catching the next train back to Bradford. What an amazing day, Bath really is a beautiful city. Well worth a visit.