When anyone uses the well-known aphorism about roads and Rome, I never think of it in connection with Britain, but I should know better by now. The Romans were here in Londinium, as they called it, and, apparently, they also established a stronghold at Bath.
My long-time friend, Ute, and I joined a local meet-up group on Saturday for a day trip to this lovely city, site not only of Roman baths, but of Georgian architecture that earns it the status of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Our coach set off early from the centre of London, and by mid-morning, we had crossed serene rural landscape that became hillier the further west we drove and reached Bath, a city of 90,000 just east of coastal Bristol. As our city tour guide noted, Bath is a layer cake: the unearthed Roman ruins, followed by Medieval development, topped by Georgian architecture. Georgian refers to the period that King Georges I through IV ruled England, roughly 1714 to 1830.
We stopped first at the Roman bath, the ruins of which weren’t uncovered until workmen digging in the late 19th century came across some interesting rubble. Even then, it took the city engineer 20 years to obtain permission for a full dig of what is today an amazing Roman temple site. In fact, the ruins were buried so deep in the South Gloucestershire mud that even a garden dug on top of them by Medieval monks didn’t reach the remains.
Just as interesting is the fact that the spring that fed that ancient mineral bath was celebrated in Georgian times for its curative properties and Bath was a fashionable spa during the 18th century, even though no one knew about the Roman precedent.
Alas, the modern plumbing wasn’t working right on Saturday, so we didn’t get a chance to sample the cleansed mineral waters, but I did dip my fingers into the algae-filled pool to feel the warmth. The spring still feeds spas in the area, and we could see people on balconies in their bathrobes, lounging. Not a bad way to wind down from the week’s stresses.
After absorbing the facts about Roman temples and about bathhouse culture at the time, we had a look at the city’s renowned Georgian architecture, based on classical styles and hewn from golden-toned local stone. For fans of Jane Austen and the Regency period, this is heaven. Austen herself lived in Bath for five years and based two of her novels, Persuasion and Northanger Abbey here. Janeites among the tour group were pointing out streets that figured in those two books, and we saw one of the houses where she lived during those years, although it’s not the building that now houses the Jane Austen Museum – it’s now home to a law firm instead.
So, we wandered the Royal Crescent and the Circus; saw the Pulteney Bridge, based on Italy’s Ponte Vecchio; and dropped in at the Assembly Rooms, where the town’s emcee, Beau Nash, held sway. Mr. Nash was responsible for making introductions for newcomers to town – if only it were so easy today!
Bath offers a lovely escape from the hustle and bustle of London and a trip back in time. It’s certainly an escape I’m ready to make again.