Aquae Sulis, part II

After then Jane Austen Centre, I walked around Bath for a bit, taking in a bit of the architecture.

I bypassed the crowds outside the Roman Baths and went into the hushed quiet of Bath Abbey, one of the last great medieval Gothic cathedrals; the site has been used as a place of Christian worship for over a thousand years. It’s also the site where the first King of England, Edgar, was crowned, in 973.

From there, I walked along the River Avon, capturing a view of the 18th century Pulteney Bridge (one of the few bridges in the world with shops on both sides–another, of course, being the Rialto in Venice).

pulteney weir

I walked up to the Royal Crescent, a row of terraced houses that was laid out in the late 18th century in the Palladian style and has been home to people such as Richard Brinsley Sheridan and Edward Bulwer-Lytton.

royal crescent pano

I had an early dinner at Sally Lunn’s historic eating place. The tearoom is located in one of the oldest buildings in Bath (15th century), and in the 17th century was the home of Huguenot baker Sally Lunn, who pioneered the Bath bun. sally lunn 2

The current menu offers several different toppings on the bun, based on sweet or savory; I noticed that most people around me chose sweet toppings such as cinnamon or strawberry jam. However, I got the Welsh rarebit topping, along with a pot of the Sally Lunn house blend tea. It was just the thing I needed on a rainy late afternoon, and I wanted to lick my plate, it was so good!

welsh rarebit

I had just enough time before my train left to take a short hike up Alexandria Hill, which is just behind the Bath Spa station and offers views of Bath, or so I heard. The step counter of my phone says that the distance I walked was only .72 miles, but it felt much longer, because the path is up a steep, muddy track with many steps along the way, and ends at a park at the top of the hill. However, the climb was worth it, even though Bath wasn’t clearly visible through the rain. It was amazing to look out at the view and realize the distance I’d walked throughout the day (Bath Abbey is in the foreground of the below photo, and the Royal Crescent is somewhere to the left). bath pano



Aquae Sulis

They arrived at Bath. Catherine was all eager delight;–her eyes were here, there, everywhere, and afterwards drove through those streets which conducted them to the hotel. She was come to be happy, and she felt happy already.

–Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

Like Catherine, I came to Bath with eagerness. Jane Austen set at least part of two of her book in this city, and I was excited to explore Bath myself. Jane Austen lived here between 1801 and 1806, and her two “Bath novels” (Persuasion and Northanger Abbey) reflect her changing attitudes about the city over time.

The Pump Rooms in 1806 (
The pump rooms today.

In Jane Austen’s time, people came to Bath to “take the waters,” as the Romans had done before them (“Aquae Sulis” literally means “the waters of Sulis,” or Minerva). One cannot use the Roman Baths today, of course (something about bacteria in the water), but I read that there is a wonderful modern spa in the center of town–Thermae Bath Spa–that apparently contains the only mineral-rich hot spring waters in the UK (the waters are heated to a temperature of about 92-95 degrees Fahrenheit). I’m not normally a spa person, but in the spirit of “do as the Romans (or Georgians) do,” this place seemed like it was worth checking out.

The spa doesn’t take bookings, and it has a “one-out-one in” policy to control the number of people who enter at one time, so when I arrived this morning in Bath via a train from Paddington, the first thing I did was go directly to Thermae Bath Spa, bathing suit in my bag, in attempt to avoid the crowds.

It’s a beautiful building, with a contemporary glass and Georgian limestone facade. One session gets you two hours’ use of the spa’s natural thermal baths, steam baths, and open-air rooftop pool, and it was incredibly relaxing to float around in the pools for a short while and gaze out over the view, which includes Bath Abbey a short distance away. Even through the rain and cold, it was pretty incredible, with steam rising from the water. And the spa was a lot less crowded than I thought it would be.

After only an hour of using the spa, I took a shower, dressed, and headed out into the town; everything is very near everything else, and it’s easy to get around. I found a shop selling Cornish pasties, and bought a cheese and onion pasty to munch on as I meandered up to the Jane Austen Centre, a museum which celebrates the life and times of the famous author. The staff at the center all dress as certain characters from her books; Georgiana Darcy was my tour guide, and Colonel Brandon was working the till at the gift shop when I came in. Most of the rest of the tour is a fun, interactive self-guided tour, and there are interactive quizzes, among which is a “Which Jane Austen heroine are you?” (FYI, I’m Anne Elliot from Persuasion). I even learned a few things about Jane Austen and her books I hadn’t known before!

jane austen 1

I even got to dress up in semi-Regency clothing!

jane austen 2

I’ll write about the rest of my day in Bath later!