A Weekend in Bath: Still August!

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Hmm.. something about this quote just doesn’t feel quite right! Haha!

We arrived Friday evening just as the street vendors were packing up for the day.  We had a pie from a local independent shop (alright but not worth remembering), then stopped at the market and got strawberries.  Since our B&B was a bit of a walk from the city centre, we decided to have dinner in town.  Thanks to a recommendation from a taxi driver, we ended up at Peking Duck for beautiful, tasty authentic Cantonese, Szechuan, and Pekinese dishes.  We started with the best wonton I’ve ever tasted, and a flavourful sweet corn and chicken soup. For our mains, we shared shredded chilli beef, chicken chow mien that was loaded with vegetables and fresher than any other chow mien I’ve had, and the piece de resistance… roast duck in orange sauce. 

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I could go back to Bath just to eat more of that duck! It was absolutely brilliant food, served by attentive but unobtrusive servers in a lovely local, family run restaurant. It doesn’t get better than that.  Full and happy, we retired to the B&B for the evening.  We stayed in the elegant Classic Four Poster Room at Cranleigh Bath on Newbridge Hill.  With a queen bed (fun fact for us North American folk: the Brits call this Kingsize), modern bathroom, antique furniture, and a stunning view of the hilly landscape, it was the perfect room for a weekend getaway. 

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I’m a sucker for opulent fabric and a 4-poster bed!

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A stunning view from the room

We had some noise disturbances throughout the trip which put a damper on things, but happily it turns out that the noise was from work experience students who were generously being put up in an upstairs bedroom, and they are no longer there!  Noise aside, we slept really well 🙂

On Saturday, we walked from Cranleigh through Royal Victoria Park, into the botanical gardens and home of the Minerva temple, the origins and purpose of which were a mystery. We revelled in the beautiful range of flowers, trees, and foliage.

From there, we walked into town passing The Royal Crescent. We were surprised to find that the largest of them, corner unit One Royal Crescent, was open to the public and maintained/set up with authentic Georgian pieces.  If you visit the website, select “Visiting” from the menu in the upper righthand corner, and watch the video. It’s just under 2 minutes long and gives you a mini-tour! Of course, if you plan on visiting soon, you may not want the spoilers!

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I love this house!  It’s such a fantastic 18th century Georgian property, featuring one original mantle.  While the other pieces weren’t original to the house, they were authentic from the period, and the people involved in gathering this collection have done a superb job.  Gorgeous silk damask adorned the walls of the upstairs (floor 1) sitting room, the bedrooms were well-appointed, and the lady’s bedroom had on display a gorgeous original 18th century silk dress.  We also learned about how they used tea leaves to clean the carpets, and we thoroughly enjoyed the kitchen and scullery.  Thanks to an impressive collection of authentic kitchen items ranging from tiny cutlery and kitchen tools to sifters, containers, a ton of fake food (which is really well made and brings everything to life), a stocked coal hold, and an original stone ‘slop sink’ which was found in the coal hold during restoration work, the space gave such a great idea of what it would have been like in its time. Plus, there’s a dress up chest which is a personal fave 😉

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From there, we took a walk through Circus (a massive roundabout with a grass centre and massive trees, surrounded by 3 semi circular buildings) led us down Gay Street and past the Jane Austen center, then we took a quick turn onto a side road to get ourselves to the Salamander pub where we enjoyed a chicken salad sandwich with roasted potatoes.  It was a essentially well-seasoned roast chicken on toast but it was really tasty.  From there, we wandered through some of the shops leading us to the Guildhall market. Having been quite spoiled in London with markets, this one seemed quite small but we did find some yarn and googly eyes.  (I know, I bought wool on a trip- surprise surprise).

Then over to Pulteney Bridge. Very interesting bridge with man-made waterfall cascade below, and the bridge lined with shops on either side and road  down the middle, r Best part of all: a beautiful children’s clothing shop full of items that are locally and or handmade and lots of organic fibres. If I had the means I would buy up the entire shop and provide all of my friends children with wardrobes to last the next five years. But I don’t have the means so I bought one very cute sleeper for the soon-to-arrive baby of a friend (who has now arrived! Welcome baby C!).

It was around this time that we learned that the thermae spa cost £38 per person and required standing in a nearly hour long queue. As it’s not the original Roman baths and we have both been in natural springs baths, we decided to take a pass on this nearly  £80 per couple experience. Instead, we picked up some meat, cheese, and they get to go with our homegrown tomatoes and hopped a bus back to Cranleigh.  We enjoyed our light supper and then retreated to our room, sitting in the wingback chairs looking out onto the rolling hills with a glass of red wine. And that is where we leave off as I write this, perfect time for a nap.

In the evening- we went back into the city for a torchlit tour of the Roman Baths and late night pizza.  I barely know where to start with the baths… they are now my second favourite ancient site, just after the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza and tied with Coba.  The stunning abbey outside didn’t hurt…

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The main bath is quite beautiful, and a bit magical viewed from the walkway above that borders it, with the torches lit and the sky fading to shades of midnight blue. 

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Bath Abbey stands guard over the Roman Baths in the fading evening light

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Everything is more fun with this guy

What really surprised us is the extensive underground of exhibits and rooms.  The exhibits include dishes, jewelry, and curse tablets to name just a few; and feature headstones that reveal the multi-cultural nature of ancient Roman civilization, as well as a collection of coins known as the Beau Street Hoard: 17,577 Roman silver coins found in eight leather bags, dating from 32BC to 275Ad.

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Another section of the ancient baths: you can see the gas bubbles across the surface of the water

The underground also includes changing rooms, saunas, heated rooms, cold plunge pools, and a suspended walkway above the Temple Courtyard that leads to the sacred area where Romans gathered to pray to the goddess Sulis Minerva.  The great altar is largely intact and still in its original place. Oh! And there is a gilt bronze head of Sulis Minerva there on display.  In fact, there are some amazing items there and if you want to geek out like I did, check out this link for more info.  Also- at one place in the walkway, if you bend down you can actually TOUCH the original temple steps, in the place where they stood.  So, maybe you aren’t *supposed* to but oh my gosh- it was pretty great.

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Sulis Minerva in bronze

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Touching the temple stairs! I almost cried.

We emerged from the underground to find that darkness had completely descended and the Baths were almost empty.

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The baths, nearing closing time

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We enjoyed a few peaceful moments before closing time, and even got to dip a hand in the main bath.  There are signs not to, but when I asked a staff member I was informed that it’s really about liability, the bacteria and germs, and the risk of people touching the water and then their mouths.. so I dipped my hand in and then was sure to wash up quickly! I just love the physical connection between my experience of the baths today, and the Romans who lived there so many years ago.

Sunday: I woke up completely congested. No clue why- but it got progressively worse throughout the day.  We ate at the B&B, took our luggage to a cafe across from the train station (£9 to leave our 2 bags & my yoga mat for the day). Then we were off to the Jane Austen centre. 

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Maybe my sudden illness affected my impression, as by this time my eyes were red and swollen halfway shut, my nose was running like a bad faucet, and I was sneezing like crazy, but we were both underwhelmed.  It was far more text-heavy than expected and I kind of thought the house would have more furniture, examples of her writing, notebooks and personal items.

BUT: the staff were amazing, the tour was informative, and the writing station and dress up were quite fun.  It wasn’t what I expected, which is a bit unusual as I don’t usually go into these things with any set expectation at all, but it was still a fun experience, almost purely because of the incredible and passionate staff.   They really did make it worthwhile.

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There’s always time for a spot of tea

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Did I mention that we had a private tour? Here- playing dress up and having a photo shoot with our AMAZING tour guide and hostess. We had such fun with her!

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Taking a moment to pen a quick letter at the writing station

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Meeting Miss Jane Austen- or as close a likeness as they believe they can create.

As you can see from my very puffy eyes- I was a mess!  We took a few moments to learn a card game in the last part of the tour.  I know I said it, but truly this place would be nothing without its amazing staff.  They really do make it worth a visit. But if you’re imagining a house that it set in period furniture, and a room where Jane would have sat for hours to write- let that dream go.  Jane never lived in this house, and so it’s a very different experience.

However- she did live just up the road at 25 Gay Street in 1805.  She and her sister, Cassandra, rented rooms there when the lease on the Green Park Buildings ran out.

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The stone at my feet is worn from hundreds of years of footsteps crossing the threshold, including those of Jane Austen! To think, we have stood in this same doorway and we have walked out into this same city.

We had time for a quite bite before coming home. I had some pretty great Thai food from Thaikhun Bath; I highly recommend the Pad Thai Chicken, served with a good dose of fresh veg in a sweet & sour tamarind sauce.   Sadly T’s food from Comptoir Libanais wasn’t worth mentioning.  He did order me a fresh mint tea that was quite nice, although I couldn’t really taste anything at this point!  With a bit of time left, we went back to the cafe to pick up our things and I had a proper cup of tea with honey before the train ride home. 

And.. I don’t remember when we ate there- but we did go to a lovely little pub called The Raven.  We had drinks there on Friday night, but the kitchen was closed, so we returned on Saturday or Sunday for a quick pie.  I forgot to take notes and don’t even remember what kind of pie it was- only that it tasted great, and so perfectly matches the picture on the website (unlike the difference between a McDonald’s commercial and the real big mac) that it can’t be left out!

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Aside from the random what seemed to be an allergy attack that turned into a flu- it was a great time!  We really enjoyed it and I still have to return now that I know there is a fashion museum there!  With our Bath adventure complete, it was only midway through August- so there are more stories to come! xoxo

 

 

 

 

 

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