The city of Bath has always been one of those places that I wanted to visit but just never got around to. Part of the problem was its proximity in that I repeatedly rationalized that I would get to it one day but in the meantime, it made more sense to explore the furthest corners of the planet while I still had the stamina to do it. Anyway, I eventually managed to get to Bath last week and although it was only for one day, it was a magical visit and has only increased my desire to re-visit the city (and soon) and give it the time it deserves.
Bath is about the same size as Limerick and so is easy to get around. It is a university town so the local population of 89,000 is greatly amplified during the academic year with the influx of students. It is a very pretty city that is dominated by some of the most impressive examples of Georgian architecture to be found anywhere in the world. Whereas Dublin and Limerick boast impressive squares of red brick buildings which exhibit the classical proportions of Georgian architecture, Bath is far grander in scale and the city’s architectural heritage manifests itself not in squares but crescents and circles and the primary building material is not fired brick but cut limestone from the nearby Cotswolds. Indeed, the overall ‘colour’ of the city could best be described as ochre.
Bath is famous for two attractions in particular — the famous and stunningly elegant ‘Royal Crescent’ and the Roman Baths. The very first tenant of Number 1 on the Royal Crescent was, in fact, an Irishman — Henry Sandford, a retired Irish MP who rented the house from 1776 until his death in Bath in 1796. He was described as a ‘gentleman of the most benevolent disposition’. Henry was from Castlerea in Co. Roscommon. The house is now a museum where you can take self-guide tours throughout the house and where volunteers in each room provide you with detailed information on what life was like back in the 18th century. The tour costs £16.50 or thereabouts and is well worth the money if you are a history buff or like that kind of thing. It was certainly the highlight of my day in Bath.
The principle attraction in Bath however is probably the Roman Baths which are located in the city centre, beside the Cathedral and my advice is get there early in the morning when the crowds are light and not just because you may want to avoid the large queues but, so you can experience the Baths in some comfort. I did the tour around 11.30 in the morning and even then, the crowds were uncomfortable and unfortunately detracted from the overall experience. It is quite a significant site, so you would need to allow a good two hours or more to experience all it has to offer. Entrance is again, quite expensive at around £18 per person but you can understand why when you see all the restoration work that goes on and indeed the facilities that have been provided to ensure that everyone’s experience of the baths is enhanced. Although universally referred to as the Roman Baths, the original facility was originally developed by the Celts to worship the Goddess Sulis but it was the Romans who carried out the major development on the site that can still be seen today. The Romans, in turn, dedicated the temple and baths to the Roman Goddess Minerva.
Aside from the stunning architecture and significant historical sites, Bath also boasts some great shopping and restaurants so is the perfect getaway destination for a short break or long weekend. The nearest airport, Bristol, is just 20 miles away and a taxi transfer takes about 45 minutes. There are some great hotels serving the city but my advice would be to stare somewhere just on the outskirts of the city like Bailbrook House which is a nice period property that has very competitive rates and serves up some fine food in its fine-dining restaurant, Cloisters. The Ivy Brasserie in Bath city centre also has a great outdoor space on the second floor called the Terrace which is worth checking out if the weather is in your favour.