For a birthday treat this year I booked myself a night in Bath. The main objective was to visit the spa; as well as sightseeing and just enjoying some time off work. I visited Bath for a day trip a few years ago and found my way to the Jane Austen Centre and Regency tearoom, and The Museum of East Asian Art but I hadn’t realised how much more there was to see.
Arriving a few hours before check in time I dumped my bag at one of the luggage storage places and wandered off in search of somewhere interesting that also served lunch. My first target was the Victoria Art Gallery but ended up massively overshooting and nearer to the Fashion Museum, which was closed for the day so I planned to come back to that the next day. Winding my way back through town it turned out the Art Gallery was also closed, it being Monday (which is normal I think for smaller museums and galleries that are open over the weekend). Following my feet along the river they then found their way to escape the rain in Toppings, an independent bookshop in a tardis like, beautiful old building where of course I ended up with some new additions to the to-be-read pile.
With an hour left to go before being able to check in to my room I remembered that I’d forgotten to bring flip flops for the spa so went to try and find a cheap pair to buy and discovered they are surprisingly hard to find. It took about six different shops and then, spoiler alert, it turned out I need not have bothered as the spa provide them (which I could have found out if I had bothered to check the website).
Checked in, changed, and with superfluous flip flops in tow I finally made it too the spa. I can’t remember what I’d expected but it was way better than that. Busier than I would have imagined for a Monday afternoon but then early June is tourist season. There are four levels, two pools – one on the rooftop, steam rooms and sauna, and a restaurant and treatment rooms. I started out in the Roman themed steam room and within fifteen minutes could feel layer after layer of tension releasing. Even on a fairly grey, cold day the rooftop pool was lovely. The time limit of two hours seemed generous initially but even after spending time in each space twice I wasn’t quite ready to leave by the end. Thankfully I was able to console myself later that evening with generous amounts of pizza and wine.
Before my trip, wanting to have at least an idea of what options there would be for entertaining myself, I’d searched the Visit Bath website in vain for a play or comedy night (again, no options on a Monday night) but instead noticed that there were tai chi classes being offered at the Roman Baths on Tuesday mornings. It would mean having to set an alarm but not super early so I’d emailed the contact and signed up. When I woke up on the morning after the generous amounts of wine the night before I seriously considered sacking it off but it ended being totally worth getting out of bed for. In contrast to Monday, the Tuesday started with clear blue skies and bright sunshine. I was awake and dressed early enough for a walk around the centre of town admiring the architecture without the crowds. The tai chi class was really lovely. The instructor and other participants were welcoming to a random traveller. Gentle and focused movement with the sun on my back. As a yoga teacher it was really nice to be in a class and be focused only on my own body and be led rather than leading. The whole thing was wonderfully refreshing and it was a real treat to be able to walk through the Pump Room and Roman Baths out of hours even though it wasn’t possible to have a proper look around.
After breakfast back at the hotel I wandered off in the direction of the Fashion Museum, past the Jane Austen Centre, up to The Circus (a ring of townhouses), and while map checking for directions realised I hadn’t seen The Royal Crescent in person before so diverted there. Starting to turn back I noticed No.1 Royal Crescent, one of the townhouses dressed for the Georgian period, and decided to stay for the tour. It’s set up ‘a day in the life’ of a typical family with, video and audio of actors reading out dialogue. The women of the house preparing for a ball and discussing finding a husband, the father despairing of his wayward son prone to gambling and drinking too much, the servants of the house working away below stairs. All familiar tropes.
That turned out to be a serendipitous as well as enjoyable diversion. As I made my way back to the Fashion Museum it turned out that it was unexpectedly shut again for the day. Walking back to the centre of town took me past the Persephone Books shop and, yes, another book purchase. With a couple of hours left before the return train I stopped refreshments near Bath Abbey and then went in for look around. The size and detail in the architecture and features is absolutely mind blowing. At 2pm there happened to be a free organ recital and the organist just happened to be from one of the University of Oxford colleges so I sat and listened. Even without a belief in the specific religious associations it was still possible to feel there is something powerful in the vibration of the music moving through that space.