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After that late flight into London, we immediately hopped a train out of Paddington Station the next day, saving our London touring for later. Our real first stop in merry old England was a city you may have heard of called Bath.
Before Rick Steves, I’d only known of Bath through high school English’s Cantebury Tales . Yeah, I didn’t remember much of the Wife of Bath’s Tale either, but we ended up going there on Rick’s advice, and I’m glad we did. Depending on who you speak to, the main draw to the town is either its Abbey or the Roman baths. While the Abbey is nice, it was the latter that really drew our attention to the city.
Bath is fortunate to have the only natural thermal springs in the UK, and it appears that the ancient, indigenous people (the Celts) already worshiped at the main spring before the Romans appeared to build their own “all-inclusive” resort around 43 AD. It was all-inclusive because along with the intricate (and awesome) bath complex, the Romans also built a huge temple to worship Sulis, a water goddess whose name was incorporated into the Roman name for Bath, Aquae Sulis (the waters of Sulis).
The Goddess Sulis Minerva
Touring the Roman baths, we were fascinated with the technology and reach of the ancient empire. “Brittania” was at the very edge of their holdings, truly in the “sticks”, and yet it was a very famous spot for Romans to come and relax and worship. The Romans spent over 300 years building onto and improving their resort, but when the empire started to fail, they pulled out around 410 AD, leaving the baths to ruin. Over time, they fell into disrepair, and as time usually does, the complex was covered with silt and forgotten. During the Dark Ages, the locals had no idea what their hovels were resting upon. Long story short (too late), the baths weren’t rediscovered until about the 17th or 18th centuries and enjoyed incredible popularity first with royalty and then with the elite class. Unfortunately, we ran out of time touring the place (we started late), but we thoroughly enjoyed what we saw. Could have used another hour or so, for sure.
One quick thing– at one point in the museum, there was a scale model of what the Roman baths may have looked liked in its heyday. There were little Romans all over the place (even little Roman slaves :-|) going about their business. I mean, the whole museum is very well done…
Model of Roman Baths
But I happened to notice one teeny tiny anachronism hiding in the shadows…
Romans Really Were Advanced... 😉
After checking out the Romans’ handiwork, we decided to go on the highly-touted Bizarre Bath tour. Well, to be perfectly correct, Bizarre Bath isn’t really a tour– the proprietors describe it as a comedy walk through Bath with zero historical content. The walk starts in front of a pub, so we had a couple of pints beforehand (and after– hehehe) and thoroughly enjoyed the strange and funny “tour” with its magic tricks, mockery of passersby, and Stu the Rabbit. It’s kind of difficult to describe, but if you’re ever in Bath, I would highly recommend doing Bizarre Bath. It’s one of those “gotta do it once” things.
The next day, we did an actual historical walk, provided free by the local tourist office and volunteer guides. The tour took two hours, walking around the old town with our guide, Roger Wilson. It was extremely informative, and Mr. Wilson was great.
Mr. Wilson, our guide, showing us an old "loo", now built into the wall
Another recommendation, but be sure to wear really comfortable walking shoes as the walk is long and over lots of odd surfaces. I was already tired that day (I overdid a workout a few days prior), and my plantar fascitis was acting up, so by the end of the tour, I was sooooo ready for our visit to the new thermal spa.
*Tourist Trap Alert* Yes, the Thermae Bath Spa is one of those “if you liked the Roman baths, you’ll love our new state-of-the-art facilities” tourist trappy things. We knew this going in, and even Mr. Wilson mentioned the spa with just a hint of disdain. We went back and forth as to whether or not to go, but we figured the thermal springs have been a draw for this city for a couple thousand years (the full name of the city is actually Bath Spa— yeeeeaaaah…), and we also found a package dealy with a discount and a fancy dinner to be eaten in bath robes and slippers. Sweet. Ok, so the latter was actually better in theory than in practice, but you get my point. We enjoyed the baths, but would only suggest going if you get some kind of deal.
All in all, we enjoyed Bath and would suggest spending a day or two there. We would, however, strongly advise against renting a car from the local Europcar/National/Alamo agency if you need an automatic. That’s a whole different story we will not get into here, but trust us– manuals are easy enough to rent, but if you need an automatic, fuggedaboutit.
And now, a small sampling of our pics…