Baths, Jane Austen and healing waters.
Bath is a city in the English Somerset county, primarily known for its impressive Roman baths and as the birthplace of Ms. Jane Austen. I was studying in Leeds at the time and Bath, along with Stonehenge and Salisbury, was my first solo trip around England. I believe I visited in October 2017, quite early after the start of my studies.
I took a train to Bath, as UK is quite easy to get around with public transport, and stayed in one of the hostels in the city. The night I arrived I decided to have dinner in a local pub and there was a football game on, so the pub was full of rowdy, loud, singing lads drinking beer after beer. Here’s the thing about solo travelling, sooner or later you’ll have to dive headfirst into the whole “eating alone in an eatery” uncomfortableness. Until then, I’d handled eating in fast food joints, casual restaurants and bistros and I was already a pro at unashamedly sitting alone in a cafe with a nice cup of something, but that was my first pub experience. I almost reversed course out of the bar as soon as I saw the situation, but since I was visiting off-season, it was one of the few places serving food at that hour, so I bravely soldiered on. I expected to feel uncomfortable as a lone woman amidst the all-male football fans, but I was pleasantly surprised, when one of the groups politely offered me a seat at their table and then focused back on their football. We exchanged a few sentences, but luckily the football was much more interesting than tiny old me munching away at sweet potato fries and I never felt the slightest bit uncomfortable. Just goes to show, that caution can sometimes also be a prejudice.
The next morning I explored the centre of Bath, starting at the impressive Roman baths for which the city was named. The Romans built the baths as part of a spa in 43 BC, upon finding the hot springs in the valley of the river Avon. They called it the Aquae Sulis, the waters of Sulis, who was a local life-nourishing goddess, which also granted the curses her votaries wished upon others and inscribed on the ceremonial tablets. The Bath springs are considered to be the only hot springs in the UK and the water was rumoured to have healing properties since the Anglo-Saxon period, when the town was known as Acemannesceastre (“arching man’s city”). It became a health pilgrimage site, recommended by doctors and healers during various time periods and some of its sacred reputation has endured until today.
The Roman baths
The ticket to the Roman baths also included a chance to try the famous mineral water, which was just as pungent and metallic as the one in Borjomi. To get rid of the taste, I treated myself to a coffee and a fudge cake, then wandered around the city some more, admiring the old buildings, discovering a market in the arcades and narrowly missing the Jane Austen Centre, which closed early on that day, but since I was never a huge fan of her writings, I did not feel particularly distraught. The city of Bath is also listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, featuring the majestic 7th century Bath Abbey, many beautiful Georgian era buildings and some museums, which I promptly skipped (there are only so many museums I can take in a year). I ended up in one of the old fashioned book stores towards the end of the day and bought a second hand book for the train journey back to Leeds.
Impressions of Bath
Travel tip: Due to its fame and status Bath is quite a popular city and the main attractions such as the Roman baths were extremely crowded even off-season, so I’d recommend visiting early in the morning or during lunch.