Difference between revisions of "Bath"
Revision as of 01:01, 26 March 2013
Bath  is a historic Roman and Georgian spa city. It is a World Heritage Site, situated 100 miles west of London and 15 miles (25 km) south-east of the nearest big city, Bristol. A unique city, Bath is famous for its hot springs, Roman period baths, Medieval heritage and stately Georgian architecture. Set in the rolling Somerset countryside on the southern edge of the Cotswolds, Bath (population 80,000+) offers a diverse range of attractions for its 4.4 million visitors each year: restaurants, theatres, cinemas, pubs and nightclubs, along with interesting museums, and a wide range of guided tours.
Bath is the oldest of England’s principal tourist destinations and has been welcoming visitors for centuries. The three hot springs within the city were sacred to the Celtic goddess Sulis, whom the Romans later identified with the goddess Minerva. Bath first achieved its status as a sacred spa site with the growth of the Roman settlement Aquae Sulis around the thermal springs. The Roman period saw a vast complex of baths constructed - the remains of these were re-discovered in the 18th century and helped fuel Bath's modern revival as a luxury resort.
Bath was a prosperous city in the Medieval period, the site of an Abbey and Cathedral (under the Bishop of Bath and Wells). The Reformation under Henry VIII saw some uncertainty emerge in Bath's future, although the reign of Elizabeth I saw the first revival of the town as a spa resort. It was during the Georgian period, however, that Bath came once again into its own. Exceedingly fashionable, Bath was laid out in stately avenues, streets and crescents, encrusted with Neo-Classical public buildings.
Bath suffered a significant amount of damage during air raids in World War II. The prestigious crescents and terraces were relatively unscathed and restored where necessary, but some of the more minor Georgian and Victorian streets were demolished both after the war and during a later ill-conceived phase of development known now as the "Sack Of Bath". Consequently some modern buildings pop up in unexpected places, and the locals are generally very opposed to any major building developments that are put forward. In 2011 some of those works are substantially complete with a brand new shopping centre near the railway station recently opened. Nevertheless, Bath is still an incredibly beautiful city with a smorgasbord of attractions,and the entire city is listed as a UNESCO world heritage site.
In 1348 nearly half the population of Bath died as a result of the plague and futher plagues hit the city in 1604, 1625, 1636 and 1643.
Let's start with the classics and work forward to the good stuff:
The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club (The Pickwick Papers) by Dickens includes a very funny scene in which the group goes to Bath that is indicative of the joys found by visiting Bath and the inspiration for many visits to Bath.[More information at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/bookdoctorsandeditors]
Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey is traditional reading before a visit to Bath. Austen lived in the city between 1801 and 1805, and her novel is a satire of the social life of the city at the time. Many of the sites she mentioned are still able to be visited in the city today. She also set parts of "Persuasion" in the city.
Roald Dahl's wrote a chilling short story "The Landlady" about a stranger staying in Bath with a strange lady who is not all she seems.
Two authors have each written a series of contemporary detective novels set in the city: Christopher Lee's started with "The Killing of Sally Keemer" and Peter Lovesey's first was "The Last Detective".
Paul Emanuelli's "Avon Street - A Tale of Murder in Victorian Bath" is set in a period of Bath's history which tends to be overlooked and is all the more fascinating for it.
You can buy any of the above in Waterstone's bookshop at the top of Milsom Street.
The people of Bath are very concerned about the local seagull population and will become extremely animated if you bring the subject up - regaling tales of noisy birds in the morning and rubbish being pecked at. The local newspaper often carries stories about the gulls and their MP has even gone so far as to raise the issue in parliament. While the seasoned traveller may wonder what all the fuss is about the very fact that this is a major local worry probably tells you more about the town and its inhabitants than any guide book ever could.
These smaller airports provide a much more sedate experience than the London ones. Check in queues are shorter, there are fewer people about, and it's much clearer where you have to go and what you have to do. Less stress and fewer delays than the London ones.
Bristol International Airport  is situated 20 miles from Bath and boasts scheduled flights from many major European cities, including Amsterdam, Barcelona, Berlin, Brussels, Copenhagen, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Paris and Prague (but not London). By public transport catch the Flyer bus service from the airport to Bristol Temple Meads station, then the train from there to Bath; expect the journey to take about one hour, and longer between 4PM and 6PM when Bristol's roads are congested. Alternatively pay for a taxi (about £40) and get to Bath in about 40 minutes.
Southampton Airport  is under 2 hours from Bath by train,and connections are good. It is served mainly by the budget airline Flybe, flying mostly to European destinations.
The alternative is to use one of the London airports and travel on to Bath by train, car or bus. The most convenient are:
Wikitravel has a guide to Rail travel in the United Kingdom.
Bath Spa is a Victorian station on the Great Western Railway designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel. The station is located in the city centre. It has regular inter-city and regional train services from Bristol, London, Reading, Salisbury, Southampton, Weymouth and Swindon. From London, you should travel from London Paddington station, trains run approx every 30 minutes, journey time about 1 hour 30 minutes. Train times (from any location) can be found on the National Rail Planner  or by calling 0845-748-4950 from anywhere in the UK. There is a taxi rank outside the station, and the bus station is adjacent. The station is staffed from 06:00-20:30 however the ticket office will only sell advance tickets between 08:00 and 18:00 (ignore the times on the national rail website they are wrong) There are no luggage lockers in the station; Bath Backpacker's Hostel in Pierrepont Street, which is just a few hundred feet from the station, will look after left luggage for the day for £3.00.
Oldfield Park is a stop in a residential suburb a mile or so from Bath Spa in the Bristol direction. Don't leap off the train here with all your luggage thinking you're in the middle of town!
Get off the M4 at Junction 18, follow signs for about 10 miles. Use the Park-and-Ride facilities!
It is very easy to get lost in Bath, as a lot of it is one-way and there's a traffic system that prevents you driving from one side of the city to the other. You have to go out on an unofficial ring road and re-enter the city. Furthermore, the high population density, the lack of a city bypass and the low capacity of the old narrow streets means that congestion is often horrendous. In particular, on Saturdays the car parks will all be full, and the roads will be blocked by people queueing to get into these car parks, a problem made worse since the opening of the new Southgate car park. At peak times, it can be quicker to walk from the edge of Bath to town, rather than driving and finding somewhere to park. The short answer - don't drive in Bath.
Parking in central Bath is better than it used to be as there's a big new underground multi story under the Southgate Shopping Centre. Most of the smaller long stay car parks will be full by 8:30AM during the working week so you have to get in early. Major central multi-storey car parks are based underneath the Southgate Shopping Centre, Walcot Street, Manvers Street (near the train stations) and Charlotte Street (off Queens Square). Average 2010 rates are around £3 an hour - or the more prohibitive pay and display in central bath at £1.30p per 30 minutes in the most convenient street locations. Many parking bays are "residents parking only" so check before leaving your car. Traffic wardens are very efficient so don't even think of parking on a yellow line or going over your time limit. On Sundays and between 7PM and 8AM other days most parking is free, however check machines for exact details.
The best way to drive into town is to use the park and ride facilities  when travelling into Bath for the day. You can park for free and then take a bus for £2.20 per adult return (round-trip, discounts exist) right into the city. The only downside to this is that the last bus leaves at 8:30PM, so you can't use this service if you're staying in Bath late.
Bath's bus station is close to the railway station and buses to most destinations outside the city leave and arrive at this location.
Most locations in Bath are easily walkable from the city centre and stations. Bath's roads can be quite congested and driving is not particularly to be recommended for local journeys, but is probably the best way of seeing the surrounding region.
Some of Bath's shopping streets feel like pedestrian only areas - but aren't. Have a quick look round before you follow everyone else out into the road and, if you're driving, expect pedestrians to walk out in front of you. Bath is characterised by the steep slopes which surround it, so while walking is the best way of getting around the middle of the city it is often best to look ahead to your destination. The Circus is up a reasonably small slope, but Prior Park is up the challenging Lyncombe Hill.
Cycling in Bath is very varied, with most routes in the middle of the city being very flat and easy but journeys up the valley sides becoming extremely challenging for novices! There are several shops offering bike hire, as well as four London-style 'Boris Bike' points - at Orange Grove (by the Abbey), Bath Spa Station, Green Park Station and the Holburne Museum. For a fee you can buy a card (£13 for a weekend) and top it up with credit, with the first 30 minutes being free, the next 30 minutes £1.00 and after 1 hour £3.00 per hour. Bikes can be picked up and dropped off at any of the stations.
Bath is home to the UK's first official cycle path - the Bristol and Bath Railway Path, now part of Sustrans route 4. The path's 15 miles (24km) are very flat, and should be easily manageable. There are also plenty of points of interest, including the platforms of the original stations (including a cafe at Warmley, about halfway) and steam trains running alongside the path on the Avon Valley Railway, between Avon Riverside and Oldland common, particularly at weekends. Another favourite is the 0.3 mile (0.5km) tunnel, running underneath Staple Hill. The path is entirely off-road except for short sections at each end, neither of which are busy.
On the eastern side of Bath the path goes along the Kennet and Avon canal towards Bradford on Avon. Once you climb beside the initial set of locks and get out of the city the path is very flat, passing through the pleasant Wiltshire countryside.
It is often much faster to cycle in Bath than to drive or take a bus. However, beware of busy roads if you stray from the cycle paths and make sure bikes are securely locked.
By public bus
Typically for British public transport, public buses are at best adequate. A popular 'Park and Ride' bus system operates from a ring of car parks around the outskirts of the city (Newbridge, Lansdown, Claverton Down and Odd Down). It can take you to Milsom Street, the city's main shopping street, or to a number of the cities schools. Note that Bath's buses are often quite expensive, compared with other cities. If you are going to be taking more than 1 return journey or 1 single journey in a day, it is recommended to ask the driver for a day pass instead which gives unlimited travel on that bus company's buses in Bath. This costs £4.40 for peak times (£4.20 off peak) with the biggest operator, First. There are several bus companies operating, such as WessexConnect and FareSaver, but the most useful for tourists will be buses operated by First.
By tourist bus
Tour buses complete an enjoyable circuit of main attractions - these can be picked up en route or at the main bay at 'Bog Island' (for the Skyline tour) or next to the fountain near Bath Abbey (for the city centre tour). When you see something you like just hop off at the next stop, have a look round, and hop back on the next one that comes along. Attractions en route include the historic Royal Crescent, The Circus - and some tour bus companies include a route up the winding Ralph Allen Drive past the impressive Prior Park Gardens. Tickets cost £11.50 for both the 40 minute Skyline tour and the 45 minute City Centre, hop-on, hop-off service.
There are taxi ranks outside the train station and the Abbey. Somehow there never seem to be enough when a train arrives or late at night so plan ahead to avoid long queues. Taxi firms are well advertised locally. The drivers know the city well and will entertain you with (often cranky) stories.
Come out of the Roman Baths and you will see:
Come out of the main Abbey door, turn right and follow the pavement round the corner past the statue of "The Lady With The Pitcher". Pass some bookshops and a shop selling Blue Glass and cross the road to the entrance to the Parade Gardens. Then follow the road to the left to see:
Cross Pulteney Bridge to see:
Go back in the direction of the Parade Gardens to catch a Hop On Hop Off Tourist bus to take you to:
Bath's parks are ideal for a summer picnic although local by-laws prevent the drinking of alcohol outdoors. Topless bathing used to be frowned upon but is becoming the norm as the regenerating city becomes more cosmopolitan. The Council maintains all parks to a high standard.
Museums and galleries
There are numerous guided tours, walking tours, and audio tours of the city available. Options range for historical tours to ghost tours to pub crawls; you will find leaflets for these in most hotels, bars, and restaurants.
The 'Mayor of Bath Honorary Guide tour' is fantastic for a free pleasant two hour walk around the famous Georgian city of Bath with the Mayor of Bath's Corps of Honorary Guides. This has been going since the 1930's, and visits many famous historic and architectural places within the city, delivered by enthusiastic Bathonians. Every day of the week, see  for more information.
Bath also makes a great base for day trips to the surrounding countryside. There are also tours that go to Stonehenge and places like Avebury, the village of Lacock, Castlecombe, and other surrounding villages throughout the Cotswolds. Just go to Tourist Information next to the Abbey for brochures or to book a tour.
Theatre Royal - The historic Theatre Royal  in the Sawclose, near the city centre, opened in 1805. It offers a rich programme of drama and other entertainment throughout the year, ranging from traditional pantomime at Christmas to Ayckbourn, folk singers, opera and Shakespeare. Programmes in the past few years have included a summer season mounted by the distinguished director Peter Hall. In addition to the main house, the Theatre Royal has two smaller performance spaces - the Ustinov Studio and a (very) new theatre for children, the Egg - and three restaurants, The Vaults, the 1805 Rooms and the Egg Café.
Bath Rugby Club -  Professional Rugby Union club playing in the top league of English Rugby, the Aviva Premiership. Bath also participate annually in a secondary competition, the Anglo-Welsh Cup, and regularly compete in the Heineken Cup against other top clubs from across Europe. Atmospheric city-centre ground on the banks of the River Avon right by Pultney Bridge. Games roughly every other weekend from October-May. Ticket prices for games run between £15-35 depending on seating/standing location. If you're visiting on a weekend, watching a match is very much recommended.
The Odeon -  is the biggest and newest cinema for the biggest and newest films. It opened in 2006.
The Little Theatre -  shows arthouse and foreign films alongside the newest releases in an intimate environment.
Bath Film festival -  runs from late October to mid November.
Not many of these I'm afraid. Bath hasn't really got a suitable venue. Bands sometimes play at the Pavilion, or the Rugby Ground but it's a poor show from the city that once held The Bath Festival of Blues and Progressive Music . Some major classical events are held in Victoria Park but they're far from frequent. Jazz music every Thursday and other live music occasionally at St James' Wine Vaults in the north of town near the Royal Crescent. The Bell Inn on Walcot Street has live music on Monday and Wednesday evenings and Sunday lunchtime, always free and busy.
Bath Golf Club - Excellent, free draining hilltop course. Not overly long but a good challenge for the mid-handicapper. Always in great condition. Located at Sham Castle, near Bath University.
Tracey Park Golf Club - Appealing 27 hole parkland course between Bath and Wick (Bristol). The Crown course is superior to the Cromwell course, which has some newish holes. Nice clubhouse.
Lansdown Golf Club - Narrow fairways are a feature of this hilltop course next to Bath racecourse: can get windy.
Entry Hill - Municipal, nine-hole learners course. Not bad now that the trees have grown up. Superb views over Bath.
Visitors to Bath wanting to enjoy a summer afternoon watching cricket have some lovely grounds that welcome spectators for Saturday and Sunday fixtures:
Bath Cricket Club - Nestled in the 'bowl' beside the River Avon, the Bath Cricket Club has an imperious setting. The church on South Parade offers a picture perfect background. Located on North Parade, five minutes walk from the train station. Bath Cricket Club are one of the stronger regional league sides.
Lansdown Cricket Club - Former early 1970s home of Viv Richards, Lansdown Cricket Club is an equally attractive ground at the upper end of Bath. Located at Combe Park, next to the Royal United Hospital (near Weston village). Bus number 14 runs to Weston from Bath town centre).
Football generally plays 2nd fiddle to Rugby Union in Bath, although there is one non-league club in the city:
Bath City Football Club  - City play in the fine surroundings of Twerton Park, a traditional 'English Style' football ground and well worth a visit. They have just been promoted to the Conference, the 5th tier of English football. Average gate is around 800 and rising. Typical ticket prices are around £10 per adult and £4 per child.
Bath is a small city surrounded by lovely countryside. The National Trust's Bath Skyline Walk  provides excellent views of the city - or you can simply wander along the canal for 40 minutes to The George Inn at Bathampton for good food in a delightful setting.
Bath is the only place in Britain where you can bathe in hot natural waters. You can't leap into the Roman Baths but you can pamper yourself at the Thermae Bath Spa  across the road. The "Thermae Bath Spa" is a modern spa in the heart of Bath one block over from the original Roman Baths. It is a four story day spa, that uses the "healing waters" to sooth and relax. The waters are filtered but remain warm in the indoor and outdoor roof pool. A great way to spend an afternoon or evening relaxing in the warm waters looking out over the city architecture. They offer everything from massages to a "kraken stove" steam bath but just spending a couple of hours soaking in the indoor pool, steam baths and roof deck outdoor pool is great fun.
Bath is home to the University of Bath, a very well respected institution that focuses on the sciences, engineering and social sciences. Bath University has world-class sports facilities used by British olympic athletes. It is located at the top of Bathwick hill, about one mile east of the city centre.
In 2005 Bath acquired a second university - Bath Spa University. The main campus is in a rural setting at Newton Park to the west of the city. Bath Spa specialises in the arts, education and humanities.
As with most tourism-heavy cities in the United Kingdom, Bath has a selection of Language Schools, and colleges for international students. Some of these institutions include International House , Words4Work  and Bath Academy .
The Ministry Of Defence was a major local employer but pulled all 2600 jobs out of the city in 2012. Local MP Don Foster had little, if anything, to say on the matter. Now Bathonians are generally employed in lower paid tourist, retail and dining industries which makes living in an expensive tourist destination a challenge for most residents. The university and hospital provide other sources for jobs. Future Publishing, a large magazine and media company, has many offices in Bath.
The 2010 Southgate Shopping Centre is constructed in an obviously mock Georgian (think Disney) style and features a selection of mid-to-upper range clothing chains plus some pretty good places to eat. Just don't think it's old or Georgian. Actually, you won't!. It is almost the first complex you will see upon leaving the railway station but offers little for the tourist as it provides all the retailers available in every other high street in Britain. It's very sad as this was a historic area up until the 1960s when it was completely demolished due to flooding problems.
Better boutique shopping can be found in the upper part of the city, notable for its art and antique showrooms although these are sadly disappearing. Head up Milsom Street to George Street and beyond. Bath claims to have one of the highest percentages of independent shops in any British high-street but shopping is sadly no longer a unique experience in this city. You will enjoy wandering around but you're unlikely to buy much. In particular there are no "must have" souveineers to buy in Bath.
Walcot street near the top of town has been designated the "artisan quarter" by the Council and has a number of independent stores but frankly isn't going to be on your list of priorities if you're at all pushed for time. Sadly in Bath the less established shops have to close within months of opening due to combining factors of high rent prices and just lack of demand of product.
Overall Bath is a bit poor in this department. There are some good restaurants, and many pubs do great food, but it simply isn't the sort of city where you can wander round in the evening and make a selection. Decent eateries are scattered around town so you probably won't find more than four or five before the hunger pangs drive you into the nearest one.
For the less discerning visitor the bottom end of the town by the new shopping centre and train station has the usual "restaurant" chains but if you're after an authentic dining experience with a bit more style it's far better to consult the web and decide in advance where you want to go. The list below is far from exhaustive:
Bath is well served in this department. Generally all of them are good and two are exceptional:
Snacks & treats
Head to Kingsmead Square for burgers, kebabs etc. The following are a cut above the post-pub takeaways and are highly recommended:
Bath, has a huge array of pubs and bars to choose from, ranging from the very traditional pubs serving real ale to the typical trendy bars:
The most notable pubs:
Other notable pubs are:
Notable bars are:
Country pubs near Bath
There are many great pubs in the countryside around Bath. The following have been selected based on a real sense of history and/or a great place to sit outside in the summer months:
Considering the size of this small city there are a reasonable number of nightclubs to be found, in no small part helped by the city's substantial student population. Most club nights cater to mainstream tastes, while serious clubbers tend to travel further afield to the larger cities of Bristol and London. Posters and fliers advertising more specialist nights can be found in locations such as the walls inside the town's independent fast food outlets. A unique aspect (for better or for worse) of Bath's nightclubs is that many of them are located in the cellars of old Georgian buildings and can weave through the ground like mazes.
You can drink the hot Bath mineral water in the Pump Rooms in the Abbey Churchyard. It costs about 50p and is served from a fountain in the restaurant area. The experience is unforgettable: it has a unique taste due to the minerals that the Romans believed had health benefits for the drinker. This is an unmissable experience!
Accommodation in and around Bath ranges from budget hostels and smart, comfortable self-catering homes, through elegant bed and breakfast and guest houses, hospitable farms and inns, to top-of-the-range hotels.
Overall Bath is a very safe city to visit; the large number of tourists and university students generates a friendly and vigorous feel to the city. Bath city centre is lively and bustling until late on Friday and Saturday evenings, although things get rougher around kicking out time late at night. Women would be well advised to avoid wandering around alone at night. The common problem for tourists is the occasional groups of homeless beggars around the parks and abbey - you may see them drinking lager and shouting abuse, which can surprise many first-time visitors. However, they're not pushy when asking for money, and argue amongst themselves rather than getting passers-by involved. Accept it as a byproduct of a city that attracts tourism (and therefore money), and it's no problem.
The river between Pultney Bridge and the weir looks good for a spot of swimming when you're young and fit. It is actually very dangerous, and every year people die doing it. Warleigh weir is good if you're looking for a swim - about 3 miles along the canal.
If you're a keen cyclist, there's a wonderful Bath-to-Bristol cycle path at your disposal. However, please be aware that there have been robberies and attacks on this stretch of cycle path in 2008. Police have made arrests, but it's something you should consider if planning to make the journey.
Attacks in the city is very rare however it is still advised take caution at night or when in remote areas such as woods and nature trails. If you every feel threatened use your common scene, Bath has a great police service which is accessible 24minutes of every 7 hrs..
In general Bath is a very safe place to visit and you should not feel threatened in any way. When in the city watch your bags and don't leave them untended or allow a stranger to "watch" them for you. At night keep to the main roads and well lit areas and try to avoid parks and woods when it is dark for obvious reasons.
Bath's landline area code is 1225. Dial 01225 from within the UK or +44 1225 from outside the UK.
Bath Library (in the Podium Shopping Centre) offers Internet access at £3.60 an hour for non members.
There are a couple of small Internet cafés across the road from the train station. Many cafés and pubs offer free wireless internet access for your laptop, such as Wetherspoons or Bell Inn on Walcot Street where you can plug your laptop in free of charge. Many pubs also offer paid wireless internet, including the Saracen's Head and St. Christopher's Inn. Also try the Adventure Cafe on George Street.
There are various online sources which publicise local events, but probably the best thing is to pick up The Bath Chronicle  (published weekly on Thursdays), or a copy of Venue Magazine  (analogous to London's 'Time Out') from a newsagent. Venue is weekly (except around Christmas/New Year), costs £1.50, and new editions are usually available on Wednesdays.