Josh was in town for a few days on his way to Germany and was planning a day trip to Bath. I needed a break from dealing with the damage the movers inflicted on our possessions, so a trip to Bath sounded perfect. Plus, I was in the midst of reading Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey and becoming increasingly curious about what exactly a Pump Room is.
We took the train in from London. We walked the short distance from the train station to the center of town and I was pleased to see that Bath was a very pretty place.
The city hosts free walking tours daily and Josh wanted to catch one. I was along for the ride so I agreed. We purchased some snacks from one of the covered market stands and ate them in the courtyard while we waited the 30 minutes we had before the tour started. I chose a Jamaican style empanada treat that was not good at all. I immediately scolded myself for not knowing better.
The courtyards around Bath Abbey have a rotating team of street performers. They were mostly musicians, but I did see an acrobat as well. The performances and rotation schedule were extremely organized, which makes me think that the town holds some sort of audition and regulation for their street art.
The tour began in the area around the Roman Baths and courtyard. The tour guide took us to the Abbey with its flying buttresses and pinacles and went into a short description of its history. One interesting item he pointed out was the creepy looking angels climbing ladders to and from heaven. Why would angels need a ladder? Isn’t that why they have wings? Major fail.
Bath has several natural spring bathing centers. The oldest are the Roman baths. They fell into disrepair and were eventually lost due to silting up. The Georgian’s had their baths as well. It was believed at the time that a quick dip in the water would cure you of what ails you. At first the baths were only used by the poor. They would hang onto the edges while people would walk by and throw trash at them. Later the aristocracy caught on. New and more private baths were built and it became a social thing to hang out in the waters. This is how Bath became a playground for the rich.
Today there is a new and modern spa you can visit if you feel left out of the Georgian times. It’s very sleek and owned by the local government.
Finally, someone was going to explain to me what a Pump Room is. The characters in Northanger Abbey are forever parading around it flirting and gossiping and it’s hard to visualize all the galavanting when you are lost for the reference.
Basically it’s a room with a pump in it. You can drink from the warm spring that fills the Roman baths. I’ve been told the water tastes disgusting. Today you can also eat in their snazzy restaurant.
Bath owes a lot to Jane Austen for publicizing its history and atmosphere. As we walked along and through the streets, she was constantly being referenced and her house was pointed out to us. Another thing that was pointed out was the oddness of the windows around town. Very often the window frames existed without actually windows in them or the windows were placed suspiciously close to one another. This is because in Georgian times windows carried a special tax. The citizens of the day found every loop hole they could to not pay the tax. The consequences of these loop holes are still visible today.
We cut through a walkway that was used by the Georgians to avoid peasants and horses. I could envision walking through here in a large hoop dress speaking very politely yet long-winded to the lords and generals about the latest betrothing.
We were led to the Royal Crescent where local kids were playing soccer and lounging in the sun. The unique and interesting architecture makes me want to dance along the roof from chimney to chimney Mary Poppins style.
We were then taken into a building and shown this spectacular ballroom. Once again being in the midst of Northanger Abbey put everything in perspective. I imagined Catherine Morland twirling about in dance while trying her best to avoid John Thorpe.
The tour concluded so Josh and I made a quick viewing of the Fashion museum on our own. They were showcasing Princess Diana’s gowns and the evolution of her style. Although it wasn’t as extensive, this exhibit was the perfect compliment to the Grace Kelly Fashion Icon exhibit at the Victoria and Albert Museum.
We were then off to explore some more of the Roman baths. When we arrived at the entrance, there was a swarm of grade schoolers there for the tour as well. We took one look at the chaos in front of us and decided to save it for the next time we were in Bath. We poked our head into Bath Abbey instead and then headed off to dinner.
Post dinner Josh wanted to check out the Bizarre Bath comedy walk. I was skeptical, but game. My skepticism was warranted as the £8 walk turned out to be comparable to an hour and a half long street comic you might see in any touristy town center. Good on them for being organized. I doubt most street performers are that lucrative and the people around me seemed to be enjoy themselves.
I did enjoy views of the River Avon as the comic performed a stunt involving a locked up stuffed rabbit toy being thrown into the water. Bath really is picturesque.