Travel Tuesday: The Bohemian Playground of Bath, and Where to Visit
By: Hermione Bird
There’s a sitcom called Black Books, where Dylan Moran plays a disgruntled bookshop owner. In one episode, he sells the ‘perfect book’; it’s about a woman who feels trapped in a loveless marriage (this being the author’s attempt to appeal to women), and her husband is an international spy with ten days to save the world (in an attempt to appeal to men).
Rather like the so-called ‘perfect’ book, the city of Bath is a place for everyone. It’s not only the place where Jane Austen wrote her novels, and nor is it just a Roman ruin. No, Bath is much more than that: it’s a Bohemian playground for everyone and anyone, and was also my home for nearly ten years.
Bath is a city that welcomes from any direction. When you drive in from the north, you approach over a large hill, and can cast your eyes down to the booming city of Bristol below before speeding past green fields and Georgian mansions. This route is my favourite simply because it’s the one I’ve travelled along most. You can even stop at the world-famous Marshfield ice cream farm on the way. This route also takes you past the racecourse, and eventually to the brow of Lansdown Hill. You may have heard of Lansdown if you’re a Jane Austen fan, or, if you’re a fan of me, you’ll know it was where I lived. Poised on the top of this mammoth hill, Bath can be perused in its entirety. The streets look like a crazy jigsaw puzzle, a mismatch of Georgian architecture and modernity, which fittingly seems to reflect Jane Austen’s own legacy of tradition and innovation.
But, unless you fancy a road trip, you’re most likely to arrive in Bath by train. The station is on the other side of the ‘bowl’, as I always like to think of it - Bath certainly lives up to its name. Surrounded by West Country hills, Bath is situated in a dip, which means that you’ll always have a good view of the city irrespective of the direction you approach it.
The train takes you into the heart of Bath. You step out into SouthGate, which I still consider to be new, despite being built over six years ago. This area used to be a bit of a wasteland before you reached the station, but now it’s the busiest part of the famous Milsom Street. Artisanal shops are Bath’s speciality, so pop into Bertinet Kitchen and sample the bread there. You will not be disappointed. If, like me, you have a shopping addiction, SouthGate is the place for you. The shopping centre houses a large Debenhams, Topshop, All Saints, Hollister, and my personal favourite, Boux Avenue (the only place besides M&S to buy beautiful lingerie and PJs!).
I could go on and on about the shopping scene in Bath, because it is fantastic. For those of you who can’t find something in London, come to Bath. If you stay overnight in an airport hotel in either London or Bristol, the nearest city of interest they point out is Bath. (Suck it, Oxford.) Bath has it all: vintage shops, large department stores and quirky independent businesses. Need a six inch heel fur boot? Go to Bath. Need a showstopping coat? Go to Bath. You get the picture. But now, let’s talk food.
The food in Bath is spectacular. Firstly, you’re near some pretty well-known places for food. Cheddar Gorge is a short drive down the motorway and Bath is situated in North East Somerset, so we’re certainly not lacking in Somerset Brie. And for those who like to drown their sorrows, Thatchers cider is made in Somerset, too. The restaurants are also fab. If you’re planning on going and are willing to spend the cash, I would recommend Raymond Blanc’s restaurant imaginatively named Blanc. It’s exquisite. However, if you don’t want to spend the cash, then Côte is always a win. If you dare to venture out of the main streets and trek up Lansdown Hill, you’ll come to the faded pink sign of Curry Mahal. It doesn’t look like much (in fact, it could even be described as rather shady on a dark night), but venture in and order a curry and you’ll see why they were our go-to takeaway for a decade.
If you’re visiting Bath, you’ll of course want to see the Royal Crescent, the Pump Room, the Bath Spa and the Abbey. The latter are conveniently all located in the same place but, whatever you do, don’t limit yourself to these. The Royal Crescent is fantastic, but busy. If you want spectacular views of Bath all to yourself, then Lansdown Crescent is for you. It was also the former home of Nicholas Cage. If you have the time, then make the journey up to Claverton Down, which is as beautiful as it sounds. From there, you can walk dogs and stroke cats at the kennels, go to the only American Museum in Britain, and see the university. Go the other way and you’ll find Monkton Combe. Here, there’s a pub called the Wheelwrights Arms, and the food is great. You can also spend your day walking through the beautiful countryside, which so many tourists miss out on when they come to Bath. It’s our best kept secret, so keep it to yourself!
The one place I always visit when I go back to Bath is The Bath Bun. It’s a tea room, but you feel like you’re in the 1920s. The waitresses wear black dresses with white frilly aprons. They serve traditional cream tea with scones and, of course, a Bath bun. This little tearoom tucked away behind the Abbey has the perfect atmosphere for relaxing, and is only complete with Classic FM humming in the background and tea served in bone china. The phrase ‘I don’t like tea’ is not welcome here.
So, you’ve had a day sightseeing, sampling the food and sipping tea. Now it’s the evening and you’re eager to witness Bath’s nightlife. We don’t go in for big nightclubs and exclusive bars (if you want that, then there’s always Bristol). No, instead, we do the Krater Comedy Club with live stand-up from the best comedians in the country. We do Peter Hall productions in the Theatre Royal, which are some of the nation’s much loved theatre shows.
We do rugby games at the Rec, where one of the best teams in the country thrash the opposition whilst the crowd cheers (with strong West Country accents) ‘COME ON YE BATH!’ We do chilled out underground bars, where you sit on the floor (it’s pretty cool), and we do H&W. H&W is our equivalent of the Union, but imagine a Union for the young twenty- and thirty-somethings of Bath. Think cords and open-neck shirts. By day, it’s a great place for lunch with an open air restaurant; by night, it’s the busiest bar in town.
And there you have it. The rest, I think, you should explore for yourself. I haven’t gone into tonnes of detail about all the things you should see, because you know that already. The ‘real’ Bath doesn’t lie in the Pump Room; it lies with the people and your own experience of it. So hop on the train, and off you go!
Other images were sourced from https://goo.gl/fWC7XA, https://goo.gl/3xHp3y, https://goo.gl/9QfR7f and https://goo.gl/917gFT