My ‘weekend in Bath’ actually begins in nearby Stroud. I am visiting my dear friend Gemma here, and she has found a monkey puzzle tree for my Monkey Map project. It’s in Stratford Park and we visit it on our way to the pool.
Through the ancient turnstiles, and into the pool.
Fabulous. And freezing. Even the staff seem mildly amused that we are actually going to swim in this.
Gemma even gets back in for a photo. Bravo!
We head back through Stratford Park where there are crocodiles.
And a quaint miniature railway – not unlike the one in Royden Park on the Wirral. After a lovely evening I leave Gemma to get on with her PhD, and get the train to Bath.
And after taking my luggage up to the YHA where I am staying, do what I am here to do – which is nothing. Here in the square outside the abbey, a succession of street entertainment is provided all day. Maria sings 1920s and 1930s ‘chansons’ in the style of Edith Piaf, and I am happily immersed in the ‘doing nothing-ness’ of this trip. An essential activity for me.
Yes, free entertainment.
I move on to my next ‘activity’. A bit of light shopping. This is Pulteney Bridge. One of the many architectural gems that Bath has to offer. The shopping experience in Bath is very broad, although it’s a few years since I’ve been here and I notice there are more brands (T K Maxx and Primark) and less independents that before.
There is a thriving market in the Guildhall.
Fabulous haberdashery, well, I am biased aren’t I? I have no haberdashery needs today, but I do buy two lovely yoga blankets from another stall.
Elsewhere the displays are enticing and artfully done.
I could probably browse all day, although Bath is rather uncomfortably full of tourists, but I am here for another reason. The spa.
Yes, Bath is home of the Roman Baths, but also a newer ‘bathing’ experience, at Thermae Spa, which uses the same source water that the Romans used for their baths, and that has been the reason people have been travelling to Bath for centuries.
The Thermae Spa building. I’ve been here a few times – it’s lovely, with a basement pool, jacuzzis, steam rooms in various aromas, and an open air rooftop pool. At £35 for a two hour visit, it’s not particularly cheap, but I’ve always felt it worth the money. Today, it’s very busy, I don’t think I’ve been on a weekend before, and it feels like an overpriced swimming baths which is very full. But I enjoy it. And I am finding spas to be most helpful in my ongoing recovery from a car accident a few months ago. All is well.
The next day dawns bright and sunny, a lovely autumn day. I breakfast at the very nice Jika Jika cafe by the station. Bath is quiet at this time of day which is pleasant after the full-ness of yesterday. After breakfast I decide that what I am here for is not crowds and full bustling streets, but quiet. So I go in search of quiet.
Ronnie will often step out of the door to go on a walk, saying he’ll go wherever his feet take him. So that’s what I do.
Past the outer edges of Bath, the non-Georgian bits, where the cars get parked, and the coaches can drive into.
Along the river Avon, and into the edges of Bath.
Arriving here, at a station. Or what was a station. I didn’t realise that Bath had two stations. This is Green Park.
Now a supermarket, but also plenty of local activity too.
Obviously a station building.
And a great bustling market just getting into full swing, including this record stall which Ronnie would have enjoyed.
I carry on my ‘edge of Bath’ walk, and arrive at these gates, which lead to the Royal Victoria Park.
Passing this war memorial.
Which was only erected in 2003.
I stumble across a bowling green, I am actually looking for a public toilet (but they are closed).
And I arrive at the Royal Crescent and even though it’s still quite early, the tourists are now out in large numbers. They are admiring an absolutely gorgeous architectural gem.
The Royal Crescent. Gorgeous.
I am headed for the Botanical Gardens.
Past grand Victorian sculptures.
And peaceful sitting places. This is a delightful public park.
And into the Botanical Gardens.
Where of course I could show you man photographs of the plants that interested me, for example this is Catalpa bignonoides or Indian Bean Tree, one of my favourite trees.
And the summer planting is ‘going over’, but fading in a very attractive way.
And the first nap of the day (well it is mid-morning by now) is taken under the shade of a Liriodendron tree (also known as Tulip tree because of the shape of the leaves.
Forced into movement by hunger, I go in search of lunch. Passing through St Michaels cemetery, and finding food at a local Tesco. (Sorry, best I could do round here on a Sunday.)
I take my picnic to the next green space on my map, which is Locksbrook Cemetery.
Which has the only monkey puzzle tree I find in Bath, and the first in this postcode area.
And unused chapels.
Which provide much welcome shade.
And rest for the weary, hot-footed walker. Here I have found what I needed today. Peace. Just peace.
I love it here, and spend several hours enjoying the peace of this place.
Admiring and reading the gravestones. This one has an anchor and chain carved in stone.
Although some of the chain has broken off.
And the pieces are gently placed around the base of the stone.
‘Many waters cannot quench love. Neither can the floods drown it.’
(from the Song of Solomon).
This is a really unusual copper sculpture for a tombstone. I used to think I’d like this sort of memorial for myself, though I no longer want it. But I do admire the love and devotion that has inspired this.
This is the grave of George Ripley who died on the 15th of May 1876. He was 52. That’s all I know about him. I am 52 in a few weeks’ time. It made me stop and pause. And think. About life. Thank you George Ripley for that.
As a bit of a graveyard fan I do applaud this sort of gravestone – one with a story and which tells me how this person died.
This is the gravestone of H K V Ralph, driver in the Royal Signals who died on the 25th of March 1945, age 20.
‘Remembrance is a golden chain binding us till we meet again. Well done comrade.’
I loved it here and read many inscriptions and sat in the shade of the trees. It was peaceful and delightful. Here in this lovely place looking down the hill to Bath, the abbey tower is just visible (I’ll be visiting there tomorrow), I was at peace.
I return to Bath, with its endless terraces of sandstone which are golden in the evening light.
This is a guard’s watch post in Norfolk Crescent.
This is The Paragon. I slip through a ‘ginnel’ (don’t know what they call them in Bath) and into Walcot Street. I have been recommended a visit to The Bell pub.
And I am not disappointed. This is a community owned pub – it is owned by 536 of its customers, fans and workers under IPS CoOperative rules. And on Sundays, it’s also a record shop – somewhere else that Ronnie would have enjoyed. (And – Editor’s Note – somewhere else I didn’t get bought an LP from!)
I’d passed other places on the way to here, thinking there might be somewhere to eat. But a lot of Bath is now sleek and upscaled in price since we were last here. It feels more like London, and as an independent traveller I find it harder to find something genuinely ‘Bath’, rather than a chain, or an ostentatious place with overly showy displays of wealth.
When I leave The Bell (to find something to eat), I really notice the differences in this street. Opposite the pub there is the Bath Women’s Refuge shop (even though it is 7pm on a Sunday, there are people in there working), but next door is a lighting shop where various and many chandeliers hanging in the window, with price tags from £412 to £3,300. Further down the street Farrow and Ball (expensive paint and interiors) have a shop, and there are upmarket interiors where price tags don’t even exist. I call in at a fairly ordinary looking Italian restaurant – so much tinkly glass and atmosphere lighting – and even I can see that me in walking boots isn’t quite the clientele they are after. They say they are full and can I come back in 15 minutes? Of course I don’t, and further down the street find the delightful Neapolitan street food Yammo! – fried polenta, fried macaroni cheese (really), and delicious sorbet, and the most delightful service.
It’s my last day in Bath now, Monday, and I’m getting the train at 1.30pm. So I have the morning in Bath. Once again, I enjoy the early morning here, having breakfast at at cafe near the station and am first in the queue for the tower tour of the abbey at 10am.
Up on the roof. Bath Abbey.
This is great. We go to the bell ringing room where we see the traditional way of ringing the bells.
But also the other ways – so a now unused cylinder mechanism (like a wind up pianola with the drums).
And the ‘modern’ computer blue box method.
We visit the bell room.
This bell is inscribed with a message thanking the person who donated money to buy it.
And we go into the room behind the abbey clock.
This is magical and enchanting. And of course the views are amazing.
Here you can see the square where the entertainment happens, as well as the Roman Baths – even at 10.30am there are crowds of people viewing them. The person in the square is playing Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez on guitar which floats up to us on the abbey roof. It’s magical.
Time to leave now, and back down one of the many spiral staircases.
And to admire the fan vaulting – which I have just been standing on….! This was built in 1500, by he King’s masons Robert and William Vertue who went on to build King’s College Cambridge. It’s a magnificent achievement.
And so ends my visit to Bath.
Deep peace, cemeteries, a couple of monkey puzzle trees (Stroud one, Bath one), tourism and the gentrification of Bath, where everywhere becomes like London. Although for the ‘independent’ traveller, who wasn’t herded in on a coach, finding gems and a real ‘sense of place’ can be done in walking boots. Thank you Bath for the deep peace.