One place I had been simply dying to visit since moving to London was Stonehenge. Yes, I’m a nerd, but I had learned so much about the place growing up. But, what I didn’t know, is that I also needed to go to Bath.
The star of the show is certainly the Roman Baths. Constructed around 70AD (!), the Roman Baths is one of the best-preserved Roman ruins in the world. Adult tickets are £16.50 which may seem hefty, but the attraction contains a lot including a full underground museum! After you leave the ticket hall, you find yourself on a terrance overlooking the bath below. To add to the ambiance you’ll see some Victorian statues around the terrace. The terrace is a spectacular viewpoint and is a great way of introducing the Baths. At this stage my nerdy self was just dying of excitement!
You then entire a vast museum which explains everything from Roman daily life to Roman mythology. The people of Aquae Sulis (the ancient town preceding Bath) visited the baths and accompanying temple to worship the goddess Sulis Minerva. The museum contains the temple’s pediment. As you can see in the photo below, the pediment has a head carved into the stone. The head is that of a Gorgon, a powerful symbol of Sulis Minerva.
Sulis Minerva is the combination of two goddesses. Sulis was the local goddess worshipped here. It is a bit of mystery as to where Sulis came from, but some mythologists believe she was a solar deity (at least in pre-Roman times). Minerva was the Roman goddess of wisdom and strategic warfare and the sponsor of arts, trade, and strategy. She was the Roman equivalent of the Greek goddess Athena.
‘…in her temple the eternal flames never whiten into ash, but rather, when the fire dies away, it turns into rocky round masses’
– Solinus, Collectanea Rerum Memorabilium 22, 10 (3rd century AD)
At the very heart of the Baths is the Sacred Spring, where naturally hot water rises up. Obviously, this is the whole reason why these wonderful Baths are here. You can imagine the amount of legends surrounding the spring. Followers threw offerings into the spring to wish for good luck and blessings.
‘We… erect altars at places where great streams burst suddenly from hidden sources; we honour springs of hot water as divine.’
– Seneca, Epistulae Morales 41.3 (1st century AD)
And finally, the Great Bath! I had no idea how extensive the complex is. The Roman Baths are complete with a Roman bathing suite, with its heated rooms, swimming pools, and changing rooms. It is very clever how they were able to create sauna-like rooms.
Right next door to the Baths is the Bath Abbey. Construction of the Abbey began in 1499, but took 120 years to finish. Before the Abbey, there was a Norman cathedral and before that there was an Anglo-Saxon monastery. This means that this site has been a place of worship for over 1,200 years! The most spectacular aspect of this cathedral is the fan vaulting on the ceiling.
Lunch: Sally Lunn’s
Our day in Bath could not have been more quintessential. Our morning began with a visit to the Baths, the Abbey, and then a delightful lunch at Sally Lunn’s. It doesn’t get more Bath than a place like Sally Lunn’s. Dating from 1430, this adorable restaurant is in Bath’s oldest house. They specialise in making Sally Lunn Buns.
Now, what is a Sally Lunn Bun you might ask? The legend behind the bun is that the recipe was brought to Bath in the 1680s by a Huguenot refugee named Solange Luyon, who became known as Sally Lunn. The Sally Lunn, as it came to be known as, is a large bun or teacake made with a yeast dough including cream and eggs, similar to the sweet brioche breads of France. It is delicious and you seriously can’t miss out. I even bought a couple to take back to London.
After lunch, our itinerary was quite empty. I love ‘scheduling’ some nothing time. It gives me the opportunity to be a little spontaneous and adventurous. Victor and I were feeling a little sleepy, so we stopped by Picnic for a coffee. They have great coffee with equally great service.
We then wandered the streets of Bath. No matter which street you turn onto, you’ll fall in love with the architecture of the town. Everything is just so pretty! We visited the Royal Crescent, another famous tourist stop, where we watched the sun start to set. Afterwards, we headed to Pulteney Bridge where from below we had the most spectacular view of Bath.
To date, Bath is my favourite English town and I can’t wait to go back. In the mean time I’ve been raving about the place to everyone, so I hope someday someone will invite me along!