Difference between revisions of "Bath"
Revision as of 13:08, 3 March 2008
Bath  is an historic Roman 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 location, Bath is famous for its hot springs, Roman period baths, Medieval heritage and stately Georgian architecture. Set amongst the rolling Somerset countryside, Bath (population 80,000+) offers a diverse range of attractions for its millions of 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 millennia. 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.
More recently Bath suffered a lot of damage during air raids in World War 2. 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.
As of 2007, plans are underway for several major building projects which will change the cityscape - so be prepared to see a lot of construction work amongst the beauty! The Western Riverside development has plans for thousands of new houses and flats, some in large (for the town) buildings of up to nine storeys. Local shops and amenities will also be constructed. The Southgate redevelopment process is underway; the unappealing 1960s shopping centre will be replaced by a larger and more traditional looking set of shops. These developments have generated both praise and criticism from Bath residents - almost everyone is in favour of the Southgate regeneration, but some are expressing concern about the new housing plans. In 2007, the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), which monitors World Heritage Sites on behalf of the UN body Unesco, reiterated its concerns about building developments in Bath and warned that these could put the City's World Heritage Status in jeopardy.
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 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 more for a taxi 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:
Bath Spa is a Victorian station and 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 40 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. Taxi rank outside the station, the temporary bus station (pending the building of the new one) is a few hundred yards down the road to the left. There are no luggage lockers in the station.
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 5 miles.
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 across from one side of the city to another, you have to go out on an unofficial ring road and re-enter the city.
Parking in central Bath is often a nightmare and two hour limits apply on many streets. Major central multi-storey car parks are based at Walcot Street, Manvers Street (near the train stations) and Charlotte Street (off Queens Square). Average 2008 rates are around £2 an hour - or the more prohibitive 30p per 10 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.
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.
There is a temporary bus and coach station at the bottom of town (pending the building of the new one) which provides a full service.
Most locations in Bath are easily walkable from the city center 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.
Typically for British public transport, public buses are at best adequate. A popular 'Park and Ride' bus system operates from a ring of parking lots around the outskirts of the city (Newbridge, Lansdown 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.
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 Road past the impressive Prior Park Gardens. Tickets cost between £6 and £10 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 stories based on how terrible the world is!
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 bylaws prevent the drinking of alcohol outdoors. Topless bathing is frowned upon but not forbidden.
Museums and galleries
There is a free walking tour of the city that lasts about 2 hours and is a great experience. Other walking tours include a ghost walk, a comedy walk and a pair of downloadable tours for your MP3 player . You will find leaflets for these in most hotels, bars, and restaurants. Tourist busses are the best way to see the town and decide what to visit (see above). WH Smiths have a local interests section in their upstairs book department where you can buy walking tours books.
There are various websites publicising events, but probably the best thing is to pick up The Bath Chronicle (now published weekly instead of daily) 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.
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 Guinness Premiership. 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 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.
Bath Golf Club - Excellent, free draining hilltop course. Not overly long but an excellent challenge for the mid-handicapper. Always in excellent 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 are two non-league clubs 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 South, the joint 6th tier of English football. Average gate is around 800 and rising. Typical ticket prices are around £10 per adult and £4 per child.
Team Bath FC - also play at Twerton Park where they play in the Southern League Premier, one league below Bath City. They are affiliated with the University of Bath and are financially dependent on the tax-payer.The club shares the 'Team Bath' brand with other sports. It is famous for twice reaching the 1st Round proper of the FA cup, the only University team to do so since the 1800's. Typical gate is around 20, although was closer to 1000 for the FA cup games.
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
Read a detective novel set in Bath
Two authors have written a series of 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". You can buy them in Waterstone's bookshop at the top of Milsom Street.
Bath is home to the University of Bath, a very well respected institution with a focus on science and management subjects. Regularly rated in the UK's top five universities. Best remembered by most alumni for a buzzing campus atmosphere and crazy houseparties. Also has world-class sports facilities, where British olympic athletes train. Located atop the lofty peaks of Bathwick hill, about 2km east of the city centre.
Bath has recently gained its second university now that Bath Spa University has been upgraded from a university college. The main campus is in a rural setting at Newton Park to the west of the city.
Many Bathonians are employed in the tourist industry. There is also a thriving retail and dining industry, and the university is another source for jobs. Future Publishing, a large magazine and media company, has many offices in Bath. More recently Help Hire has moved into the city - and now sponsors Bath Rugby.
Alongside the many high street names like Next and M&S Bath has a number of smaller independent shops. Some excellent boutique shopping is to be had 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 has one of the highest percentages of independent shops in any British highstreet.
As at 2008 the shabby 1970s shopping complex at the bottom end of town has been demolished and will be replaced with an ambitious new one. Few people, if any, will miss the old one and there will be some disruption over the coming years as work commences.
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. They are scattered around town so you probably won't even find more than four or five before the hunger pangs drive you into the nearest one. Far better to consult the web and decide in advance where you want to go. The list below is a fairly random selection of eateries and 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:
The idea that Bath is a 'posh' city is dispelled by a weekend tour of the bars in the lower part of the city. Most aren't worth bothering with, but a few stand out. Here's a little pub crawl of some of the best:
Other notable pubs are:
Or head out of town to some great country pubs
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:
There is a definite shortage of cutting edge nightclubs in Bath. Expect bog-standard commercial dance on popular nights. Serious clubbers often travel to Bristol or London. While drunken revelers expecting fun times can choose from a veritable bounty of nightclubs located in the city center. Most club nights cater to mainstream tastes. Although posters and flyers advertising more specialist nights can be found if you look for them in locations such as the walls inside the towns independent fast food outlets.
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, largely due to the strange taste due to the minerals that the Romans believed had health benefits for the drinker.
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.
Bath's landline area code is 1225. Dial 01225 from within the UK or +441225 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 offer free wireless internet, notably the Kipling Coffee shop behind the train station and Pultney Bridge coffee shop. Many pubs also offer paid wireless internet, including the Saracen's Head and St. Christopher's Inn.
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 on a Friday and Saturday 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.