I have never wanted to live in a city. Sure, I enjoy the energy of London and I am more than a little hypnotised by the romance of Paris. But I am in love with open spaces: woods and fields, hills and rivers, an ocean of uninterrupted sky. Cities make me walk faster, turn my music up louder, and tune out of my daydreams. On my daily commute I shut my book as the train pulls into London and think of it no more until I leave in the evening, and the gesture is almost symbolic. The hustle of the crowd raises my heartbeat and my temper. Perhaps if I were fortunate enough to be able to afford a Chelsea town-house or a Parisian attic apartment with a view of the Eiffel Tower I would think differently. But the light is less clean in a city; the air not so sharp. So I was pretty surprised by a September Saturday spent in Bath.
Pretty beautiful, right?
In just 24 hours in this city I fell in love; hard. Sat in the midst of Somerset’s lush green countryside, the streets are wide enough for the light to be clear and leafy enough for my liking. The architecture is stunning; a winning mix of Gothic and Georgian with the famous Bath stone a rich mocha in the shade and caramel in the sunlight. There is a different aesthetic treasure around every corner, and it is no wonder that Bath is one of only a handful of entire cities to have attained World Heritage status. Even the streetlamps are beautiful.
Dominating the city’s skyline is the Abbey.
Bath Abbey bathed in September sunshine.
I’m not in any way religious, but I love places of worship. They always feel so peaceful. Plus, I may have become quite (over) excited about the Abbey’s flying buttresses and fan vaulted ceiling and gone off on a happy monologue directed at (poor) Lucy about late Perpendicular Gothic architecture.
Fan vaulting is almost enough to make me believe in an intelligent creator. Almost.
Wandering into the Abbey was like stepping into an oasis of tranquillity, with the light from the incredible stained glass windows refracting over the memorial stones of past residents which pave the floor. It is a humbling place of eternal slumber, prayers both recent and long forgotten, and peace. I could have sat lost in my thoughts here all day, had I not been on a tourism mission. We blinked our way back into the daylight, and I was content to admire the other churches from a far. My favourite was a golden affair which, set against the bright blue sky, looked so inviting that I was a bit disappointed at my lack of religion.
No idea which church this is but isn’t it lovely! (I would make a terrible tour guide.)
As well as the structures which reach high into the air, Bath is home to architecture which spreads across the landscape. I wish I had better photos of the Circus and the Royal Cresent: the former a ring of houses broken by three street entrances, the latter a sweeping curve. Have a Google, or better yet, a visit. There is something about a curved street which takes hold of your imagination. When I was little I wanted to live in a perfectly round house, until someone pointed out how difficult it would be to buy furniture. Living on the Circus or the Royal Crescent would be a happy compromise. If only I were insanely rich.
The beautiful sweep of the Royal Crescent (or the Circus). I blame my tour guide.
I’m getting ahead of myself though. We kick-started our day of culture by a morning visit to one of my own sacred spaces: an art museum. The Holburne Museum houses a collection of fine and decorative arts built around an original collection by Sir William Holburne (1793-1874). Frankly, I would have been content just to sit and look at it, never mind inside it.
I think I want to live in the Holburne Museum…
But like all the best beautiful things (Fabergé eggs; well-bound books; M&S melt-in-the-middle chocolate puddings) the grade one listed Holburne Museum is beautiful inside as well as out. My favourite room might as well have been a shrine to light rather than antique tableware. The reflections from the glass case and polished silver had my inner magpie utterly transfixed.
My favourite room at the Holburne. So. Sparkly. Can’t. Look. Away.
However, despite the beauty of the Georgian architecture and the treasure chest at Holburne, they were not the main reason why I was so enthusiastic about visiting Bath in the first place. Ten years ago I had a history teacher who really, really did not like the Romans. He told his class of eleven-year-olds that they were barbaric (the Romans, not the kids, although we were fairly awful too) which was ironically a term frequently used by the Romans against their enemies. He told us that the Romans had given Britain two things and two things only: cabbages and cats. (Eleven year old Gemma raised the point that if they were responsible for cats then surely they were exempt from all criticism.) As an avid fan of Time Team (and cats) my younger self remained an enthusiast for all things Roman, despite my teacher’s best efforts. So to say I was excited about visiting the Roman Baths would be a rather large understatement.
I love the juxtaposition of Classical and Gothic in this view of the Baths and Abbey.
I feel like this photo is a metaphorical middle finger at that history teacher, because how could you not love a civilisation which built things like this? The same feeling of tranquillity reigned over the Baths as in the Abbey; the tangible presence of history; the mingled sense of magnitude and of your own smallness. The urge to swim in the waters and submerge ourselves in history was almost over-powering, despite the crowds and the written warnings about the dirty water. So great was the sense of ancientness that it was hard to reconcile the fact that the water was not the same water in which Roman citizens bathed. My favourite exhibit inside the Baths was the one which most resonated throughout history: a selection of curses written on lead by irate Romans found in a pool dedicated to the goddess Sulis Minerva. It was both amusing and touching to see the curses from understandably grumpy bathers who had emerged from the water to find someone had stolen items of their clothing.
Finally, to conclude a very happy day spent in Bath; having explored Holburne, the Abbey, the Baths, and done a mini walking tour of the city; foot sore and sleepy, we headed to Côte Brasserie for a well earned supper.
Sometimes I think I prefer reading menus to reading books…
I have written on here before about how I feel regarding pizza. But I have yet to pen an ode for roasted vegetables with goats cheese. This is because my thoughts on the combination of roasted vegetables and goats cheese cannot be condensed into a succinct enough soliloquy for one short paragraph. So to summarise as best as I can, it is a meal I could eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner; for a week; and still come back for more. So I was pretty happy (ecstatic) to find it on the menu.
Warm goats cheese and roasted vegetable salad with black olive tapenade crostini.
Uploading that photo was a poor choice for my rumbling tummy: I’ve been sat here dreamily salivating all over my keyboard for the last ten minutes. And to make matters worse in my current hungry state, I chased up my favourite main with my favourite dessert.
I can never say no to a crème brûlée.
All in all, if I moved to Bath tomorrow I would not be heartsick for trees and grass and open spaces; in fact I would be a very happy (albeit poor and slightly chubby) bunny.