We returned home from Portsmouth for a few days before heading off again to meet up with the family in Bath. Bath is a medium-sized town – you can’t call it a city – which dates from 60AD when the Romans built a spa called Aquae Sulis there, although as with many Roman sites in Britain, celtic Britons are known to have used the area pre-Roman settlement.
Andre and I arrived late on the Monday afternoon and checked into our hotel (the Travelodge Waterside, not far from the train station) before going to explore the town on foot. Our hotel room overlooked a pond often visited by ducks, which Andre liked.
The town centre is very compact and easy to walk around. We walked along the river to Pulteney Bridge, a slightly Ponte Vecchio-esque bridge with not only a road over it, but shops lining either side. We found the famous Roman baths, although they were closed by that time, and the Bath Abbey beside them. We also walked to Royal Crescent, a semi-elliptical street lined along one side with tall georgian townhouses. I thought it was a bit boring, although it also had a museum at #1 which we were too late to visit.
Mum, Dad, Michelle and Christine arrived at their accommodation, about 20 minutes outside Bath, later that night. They picked us up from the hotel the next morning after breakfast to visit Stonehenge!
Stonehenge is about an hour’s drive away from Bath. The website recommends you pre-book your tickets, but it’s not entirely necessary. As Andre, Christine and I are in our first year as Historic Scotland members, we are eligible for a 50% discount at English Heritage sites (after your first year it’s free). There were no options to buy half-price tickets online, so I called to find out how we could pre-book our tickets. The guy I spoke to said it wasn’t really necessary, as they have plenty of walk-in tickets available. He recommended calling the morning of our visit, just to check, but at the time I spoke to him (the previous day), they were nowhere near sold out. So I did call again the next morning to check, and the lady I spoke to gave me basically the same response. In fact, when we arrived, although there were a lot of people milling about, there was absolutely no queue! Mum, Dad and Michelle bought a visitor’s English Heritage membership, and Christine, Andre and I were let in for free!
When you arrive at the visitor’s area, you actually can’t see Stonehenge itself. You buy your ticket, and then queue up for one of the buses or shuttle trains that take you up the road. The drop-off point is maybe 100m from the stone circle itself. The visitor centre used to be right by the stone circle, but they have moved it further away and are rehabilitating the land in order to recreate the natural landscape context of Stonehenge.
Stonehenge was pretty much as I expected it – I was neither amazed by it nor disappointed. It is still certainly an impressive achievement. It would be pretty awesome to be able to walk through the circle itself (which you can do on special outside-hours tours), but the path loop around it comes pretty close so you still get a good look. There is also a small interpretative centre/museum located at the visitor’s centre which we didn’t spend a lot of time in, but it had an interesting CG projection of the construction of Stonehenge over the centuries.
We had lunch in a park in Amesbury, sheltering under a big tree when it began to rain a bit. Later in the afternoon we visited the house where Mum and Dad were staying with the girls and had pizza for tea before going back into Bath, where we showed them the sights we saw the previous day.
On Andre’s and my last day in Bath we checked out of our hotel in the morning and left our bag in mum and dad’s car – and finally got to visit the baths themselves! Besides the main bath being excavated so that it’s open-air, most of the complex is underground and actually quite large. As in many other Roman bath complexes, it housed a calidarium (hot bath), tepidarium (warm bath) and frigidarium (cold bath) along with the main swimming bath. Of course back then it was all at ground level and the baths were all inside buildings, but after the Romans abandoned Britain, the buildings fell into disrepair and the whole area silted up, resulting in most of the complex now being underground. They even have a tap where you can taste the spring water… it’s meant to be good for you because of the high mineral count, but it’s kind of gross precisely because it tastes so mineral-y and is very warm.
After visiting the baths we popped into the Abbey next door. It’s a beautiful church, but when you’ve seen churches like St Paul’s, Westminster Abbey, Notre Dame and St Peter’s, nothing else looks all that spectacular any more. I still appreciated it though, and the memorials inside it were interesting. We even found one in memory of Captain Arthur Philip, the first Governor of New South Wales, with an Australian flag hung above it!
Andre and Christine decided they wanted to pay to do an extended tour up the bell tower onto the roof (I didn’t want to see it £6-badly) but had to wait another hour for the next tour. So we went for a walk, and a bit before 4 they returned to the Abbey for their tour while we walked further up river. We ended up in the Post Office for mum to buy some stamps to send some letters after looking inside a church that was pretty from the outside but not very interesting inside.
For dinner we found a chinese restaurant near our hotel and had THE best chinese food we have had since arriving in England. The fact there was a specials menu on the wall written in chinese was a pretty good indicator! Lemon chicken, sweet and sour pork, steak in black bean sauce, crispy noodles – it was all wonderful. And then it was off to the train station for me & Andre to head back home while the others stayed on for one more night before continuing on their trip north.