Friday, 4 March 2016

An Alternative Guide to Bath, England


If you haven't heard of Bath, then you're probably not from England or very confused about this post title and have come here searching for quirky advice on how to wash yourself. If you are looking for such advice, I am sorry that you I cannot help you here. This post is utterly devoid of Bath tubs or Icelandic blue hot springs. Accept my humblest apologies. Perhaps you'd like to browse this tour of one of England's most bourgeoise and beautiful, old cities anyway? There is in fact a hot spring dwelling deep beneath the town, and we do have some nifty Roman Bath remains. 








It occurred to me, that I've lived here for almost four years now and I've not once given a virtual tour of this incredible city. I've moaned about it, sure; the Rugby days drive me mad (especially since we live so close to the stadium) and the Christmas markets make the place an absolute nightmare in December, but what about all the amazing things? What about the things I'm going to miss when I graduate?
The thing is, this place is really damn cool. I love taking family and friends who are visiting around on tours and talking about Bath's history. I really love history, especially the history of places. And Bath has a really cool history. I tend to gravitate towards old places because they have this incredible atmosphere about them; Edinburgh, York, Paris, Lyon... They're all fascinating cities that have  well and truly mesmerised me and made my heart flutter, but the one I can tell you the most about, is the one whose streets I walk through every single day. The small but exceedingly pretty city of Bath in quaint old England South. 
I mentioned history, so lets so a brief run over Bath's fascinating past. Bath, once known as Aquae Sulis in the Roman times, is a world heritage city, located in the pokey county of Somerset, South West England. Aquae Sulis is Latin for 'Waters of Sulis' and it was 'officially' founded circa AD.60 as a Spa, built on by Romans. Quite a bit later, the Abbey was founded in the 7th century but has been rebuilt a few times since then. The Georgians truly put Bath on the map when they built up on top of the shambolic medieval city and constructed the much loved 'Royal Crescent' (a fantastic summer picnic spot), The 'Circus', 'Pump Room' and 'Assembly Rooms'. Although there are a few remains of the medieval city left (like the old gates, wall boundaries and catacombs) the city is famed for its elegant Georgian promenades and sand stone buildings with stooping chimney pots and Palladian facades. 



The city still functions today as a Spa town and the ancient Roman Baths have been excavated, restored lovingly and reopened as a popular museum. It's a favoured tourist destination (to the dismay of the cities inhabitants) and it's often horrendously difficult to get from one end of the city to the other (in spite of its small size) as the streets are a perpetually blocked by tourists with selfie sticks trying to photograph the pigeons. It's also a rugby city with its stadium and popular home team. Rugby days in Bath are something else; they are the least favourite day of the week among everyone in the service industry (apart from the restaurant and bar owners of course) and if you're visiting Bath, try to avoid Rugby match days, unless you're you know... here for the rugby. 
There's a lot more fascinating history to Bath that I have completely glossed over but I'm sure you're not here for a history lesson. In todays post, I'm gonna show you the quirky and wonderful parts of Bath beyond the popular destinations like the Royal Crescent, the Circus, the Thermae Spa and Prior Park. Let's look at things you can do to soak up the real atmosphere of Bath, see it like a local and make the most out of the plethora of hidden wonders in the city that are sitting right under your nose. You may find yourself deviating of the main street and away from the shopping centre... and that's when the real Bath emerges.  If you're the type of visitor or day tripper that just wants to take selfies at the main ports of call, then this guide isn't for you. If you're here because you enjoy the unique atmosphere of quirky places, have a sense of adventure and want to indulge your inner city explorer, then keep reading. 







SPOTTING HOT AIR BALLOONS 

Quite a few evenings, in the warmer months, friends and I have grabbed some food and sat on the grass eating dinner Al Fresco, watching the hot air balloons launch from the park. We don't really get hot air balloons in Cornwall, so when I first moved to Bath this was an ENORMOUS novelty or me. Just watching them blow up and take off was such a spectacle. I still really enjoy it and in the warmer months, if you come to the upper part of Victoria park (Bath's biggest and main park) around 6pm you can watch the balloons take off and rise up over the city. It's really a lovely spectacle and makes for great tea-time picnicking. It's not uncommon to see a few disposable BBQ's set up around the place and so if you're in Bath around the spring/summer/autumn time, balloon spotting in Victoria park really is a delightful experience and best of all; it's free



THE ARTISAN QUARTER 


I'm not the worlds biggest fan of Georgian architecture; my true love is medieval and gothic revival, which is why I love Edinburgh's old town so darn much. What people don't really notice, is that Bath has an old town too. It was medieval once, you know, before the Georgians did a renovation job on the city and if you know where to go, you can enjoy the oldest parts of the city and the quirky character that it has to offer. 
One such place is Walcott street. Located near Waitrose, just follow the road along from Waitrose carpark and soon you'll find yourself on a low road seemingly below the Georgian city. There's a great big wall that marks where the Georgian city was built up on a different level above the old city and walking along Walcott street, one of my favourite things to do is gaze at the imposing, dark and slightly ominous stone wall. It's almost as if it's holding the new town back. 
Walcott street is where all the independent and quirky shops are located; from antiques and vintage clothing to a scandi stores selling moomin merchandise to macabre little shops filled with sculls and taxidermy. This runs all the way up until it eventually connects with London road. There's a quirky, retro green grocers and some rather random take away shops and also Burdall's yard which is Bath Spa's events venue showcasing the universities talent and guest performers in a quaint, stony, underground vault. 
The Bell is a pub you mustn't just walk past on Walcott street; they have a vibrant and remarkable selection of live music playing throughout the month all detailed on their outside noticeboard. From Bluegrass to Ska and Gypsy, The Bell has a great vibe and is a favourite haunt of Bath's bohemians. While you're up here, keep an eye out for the beautiful old signs that are painted directly onto the buildings and still remain in places and check out Ben's cafe. The sitting area feels like a front room in a really old haunted house and although I wasn't too impressed by their mash and gravy, I really loved their atmosphere and the drinks are fair. The pies are meant to be really really good though. 








THE CANALS, WILD SWIMMING & THE AQUEDUCT 






These are my absolute favourite things about Bath. When I found the canal, I nearly burst with excitement and it's shocking how many students and visitors just don't realise that it's there. The canal snakes through the city and can be accessed from the lower weston area, the city centre and then winds through Widcombe, under the Bathwick hill bridge and all the way to Bathampton, an idyllic little village on the edge of Bath with a beautiful weir and converted Mill with a log fire. You can access the canal from all over the town and whether you want to just walk along and enjoy the colourful boats puffing out smoke, do a spot of bird watching (We regularly see a heron) or go for a bicycle ride, the canal ways are flat and picturesque and will take you far out into the countryside. If you follow beyond Bathampton, you'll eventually reach the aquaeduct (a bridge of water where the canal boats pass over the valley below) and it truly is a splendid feat of engineering. I love riding by bicycle to the aqueduct and you can even carry on to Bradford on Avon, a nearby, exceedingly pretty little market town on the river Avon. I really recommend spending a day on the waterways and taking a picnic out to Bradford, maybe even stopping at Warleigh weir in the warmer months for some wild swimming! Warleigh Weir is located near Claverton down, about 30 minutes walk along the canal from the city centre and it's truly incredible. It's bursting with bright blue dragon flies and we've even spotted some otters swimming about. In the summer, it's a hive of activity with everybody basking in the field in the sunshine with towels and swimming costumes and splashing about in the water falls. 
You can read more on this place in an old post of mine

(Sincere apologies to my dear friend Jegan for using this photo of him in swim shorts. He photobombed every single one though that I took of Warleigh weir when we went wild swimming)





THE BOATING STATION 


This place is a beautiful spot for frolicking in the summer, goofing about with friends or just picnicking. You can rent the boats for around £8 or just pay £1 to sit in their beautiful gardens and watch the punters and wild life watch. You can find the boating station if you head in the direction of Sidney gardens (cross Pulteney bridge and head down towards the Holborn museum, that big fancy manor like building then turn left). I did a post on this last summer which you can read here for some summery photographs and a cute picture of a dog in a boat! This is a favourite activity among couples and students and I'm dying to photograph an engagement shoot for somebody in these boats. 
This place falls into my 'top places for picnics' category which includes:



THE BEST PUBS


Of course when it comes to pubs, we all know this is an utterly subjective and personal subject. As somebody who isn't the biggest of drinkers, I tend to gravitate towards a pub with live music, interesting society meets or yummy food. These are some of the favourites among the students at my university and the places I always think to take friends when they're visiting. We even hold some of the Harry Potter societies socials at some of these :)
The Brewhouse is just all round great. Located on James street next to the Odeon cinema, not only do they have an amazing selection of drinkage, but they serve b r i l l i a n t  food and a mean Sunday roast. That's not something I say lightly either. There's loads of seating and the decor is fresh and quirky and there's all sorts of studenty events held there from open mic performance poetry nights to live acoustic music on a Sunday afternoon. 
The Raven is a sort of Wizarding pub with a charming upstairs room. A favourite among the Creative Writing students, it has it's fair share of events and spoken word nights and is located down the cobbled backstreets of Bath, near the retro kitchen shop. It serves food (Although a little pricey for pie & chips) but it 's tasty none-the-less. First discovered this with Nan on a winters day a very long time ago. 
The Bell, I've already talked about! To sum it up, it's quirky, bohemian and has great live music. Located on Walcott street, this much loved pub has a really eclectic vibe. 
Located in the centre of town, not far from the main Post Office near Cath Kidston (Sorry for my flaky and vague directions of Bath!) lives 'The pig and fiddle'. This is pub has a cute beer garden and a fresh vibe. It's popular among Bath's young adults, art students and regularly does live music. George won an easter egg hunt here once. That was fun.



HIDDEN VILLAGES 






Dungarees: Fatface   |   Breton top: Old  | Walking Boots: Charity Shop




I  really enjoy Bath's hidden villages. I suppose all big cities have their neighbourhoods like London has 'Camden' and 'Richmond', and Bristol has 'Clifton' and 'Stokes Croft'. But Bath is so small, it tickles me to find miniature villages hidden in such a weeny city. Some are so close to the centre, I can only imagine they existed long before the city expanded. I am lucky enough to live in one of them, the very closest to the city centre; it's called Widcombe. With it's own self-contained main street, it has coffee shops, delicatessens, takeaways, pubs, corner shops and a barbershop. It's very quaint, pretty and makes you feel as though you live in a little village instead of a bustling city. 
Some of the other villages that I love are Larkhall (to the top of town, follow London road), and Moorland Road (the favourite of the students, lots of charity shops and take outs). There's Chelsea Road too (where I lived last year) which is worth visiting for its great charity shops and delicatessen and another up in Combe Down. I bet there's loads more that I haven't even discovered yet. 
The above photographs were taken in Larkhall which is my favourite of the villages; it has its own independent theatre (The Rondo), a butchers, green grocers, craft cafes, quaint bakeries and pubs in abundance. So many of the streets around here are painted in pastel colours too! It's like a jolly little ice cream village. 
It's worth wandering around Bath's little  villages because a) they're just so darn cute and b) there's some interesting places to visit. Behind Widcombe are the Locks, a wonderful place to get onto the canal for a bicycle ride or walk and nosing at the luxurious gardens that back onto the canal with their private jetties belonging to the town houses. 



QUIRKY FEATURES 


My absolute favourite bits about the city, are all the random bits. Doors and steps in odd places, pretend windows, wisteria covered houses and peculiar balconies. I love to stop and take in all the small details that make this place so flipping cool. I always stop and look at the grills in the floor to see if it leads to an old, medieval catacomb. I also find myself fantasising a lot about Bath's chimneys, so much so, that I even wrote a sonnet about them once. Maybe I'll share that with you one day. I love the fact that the buildings are just absolutely dreamy, everywhere you look, and that when I'm strolling along the old cobbled streets of Bath, I can never quite shake the feeling that I'm living in a fairy tale. 
Keep an eye out for:
  • Restaurants and bars in vaults and cellars 
  • Doors in odd places 
  • Secret access to the lower, medieval level of the city through hidden grates and doors 
  • The exposed parts of ancient remains of the city and it's old town, underground in Paperchase (visible through glass on the shop floor). 
  • Candle snuffers 
  • Buskers 
  • Georgian graffiti dating back to early 1800's (I've found some on the canal ways at Sydney gardens and in Prior park gardens bridge) 





This is a candle snuffer-outer! It's one of only a few scattered about the city (George and I like to play a game where we find them, it's like Bath's version of hidden mickeys) and they come from the Georgian and Victorian times when people used torches and candles to light their way when walking in the dark city at night. They safely put out your torch. Amazing huh? I like to think that tangible little relics like this really make me feel closer to the past. I can touch it and think that someone is touching this exact same object 200 hundred years in the past. It's the closest I'll ever get to time travel, le sigh. #ThingsSarahThinksAbout



ALSO WORTH NOTING 


If you are looking for something more city centre based but not the regular type of shopping, it's worth noting that Bath has two beautiful independent bookstores. Topping and Co is located at the top of town towards London Road and they serve free tea and coffee (just ask). They also put on lots of unique little events, book talks and visits from authors and public speakers from all over. Mr B's Emporium of Reading Delights is located on the backstreets and is also worth a visit. The interiors are beautiful and will not disappoint. It really has that independent book store vibe and I just love it. 
The Little Theatre, an independent movie theatre located on the backstreets near the Thermae spa offers a great alternative to the Odeon and is delightfully vintage inside. They even have intermissions with an usher selling snacks from an old-school tray. It's seriously way more fun than going to the regular old Odeon and they show more than just independent films. 
The backstreets of Bath are so quirky and wandering around them is like existing in another time period (apart from the shops selling modern things!). Try exploring them by night when they're lit up by glowing, old fashioned street lamps reflecting off the cobbles. My favourite way to experience Bath is by night time and the backstreets are relatively safe, even in the night time. Having said that, it's probably not a good idea to do it alone, you're better off exploring them with a buddy. No city is completely guaranteed a safe haven these days :( 











If you happen to be here on a Saturday or Sunday, be sure to check out the bustling artisan markets in Green Park station. On Saturday's they run a farmers market where you can buy fresh produce from local Somerset & Wiltshire farms and on Sundays, they alternate between Vintage fairs, local craft fetes, artisan and vintage fashion markets. It's really worth a lazy Sunday stroll, you can even pop into the Bath Brewhouse just over the road afterwords for a smashing roast and live acoustic music. 





Hip coffee shops, independent book stores, excavated roman baths, hidden catacombs and a canal system. Bath really has something for absolutely everybody. It's more than just a spa town and shoppers paradise. Writing this guide has been bittersweet, because it's allowed me to relive amazing memories from my last four years part-time living here and it's made me realise how much I'm going to miss everything. For a moment, I could almost consider staying. Alas, the ocean beckons! 

I hope you've found my guide as some sort of useful tool, whether you're a prospective student here, a day tripper or you're considering holidaying in England and looking for somewhere awesome to visit. Just 1.5 hours direct journey from London on the train (really not far at all) it's super easy to visit and it's really worth a stop if you're looking for snazzy English places to explore. I really don't need to pitch Bath to anybody, it's already a super successful tourist town. I'm here to tell you to remember, when you're here and you're done with the usual tourist spots; Pulteney bride, The Crescent and the Roman Baths, don't forget there is so much more to get out of this awesome place. Things that will really give you a much more authentic experience of this brilliant city. 


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15 comments

  1. Ahh, you captured Bath so beautifully in these photos. I absolutely love Bath and try to visit at least once a year to soak up it's beauty (avoiding the Christmas Markets of course)

    Tamsyn Eliza | Peaches and Bear

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  2. I was actually born in Bath and I can't tell you how many times people have said to me "what, you were born in the bath?!" when I tell them haha! I moved away when I was a baby but we still like to visit whenever we can because it's such a beautiful city! I loved reading your guide as I learned so much about Bath that I didn't know. That little cinema sounds gorgeous and I really want to spend a summer day, chilling whilst watching the balloons.

    Sophie x
    http://sophie-georgia.blogspot.co.uk

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  3. Love love love this! And I love Bath too - every time I visit it always seems so peaceful and relaxed; even at Christmas haha :) x

    http://thecornishlife.co.uk

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  4. I felt like I was on a little mini holiday reading this. You've decribed Bath so beautifully and its clear that you really value your time there. Is the plan to move back to Cornwall once you've finished your studies? It must be hard to leave such a special place, however returning to a place as lovely as Cornwall surely takes the edge off of that...... I wont pretend I'm not a little envious ;)

    Once my studies are all finished I'm determined to explore what the UK has to offer, I feel like there are so many amazing places to see right on my doorstep- I don't need to hop on a plane to a sunny climate in a tropical destination to marvel at natural beauty, although lets be honest the warm weather certainly helps!

    www.countrybumble.co.uk

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  5. That's it I am going wild swimming next time I go to Bath! I remember the weir from when we first went to Bath when I was about 7-it was SUCH a happy holiday (except my sister getting an allergic reaction from the Persil washing powder the hotel washed their sheets in- she was all lumpy and red so I slept on the chair to avoid 'catching' whatever it was.
    I was so excited to see the weir, I didn't know what one was and I spent the whole time along the river looking out for kingfishers- I've never seen one in real life and that is an ambition!
    I also remember the Artisan quarter because there was a coin shop there and I remember keep saying to my Mum that I wanted to walk past "The money shop!" such vivid memories! And the wonderful recorder player outside the Roman Baths! I'd love to visit all those places you have listed!x

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  6. I absolutely enjoyed reading this so much, Sarah <3 I've been to bath a couple of years ago and when I was very young but obviously didn't spend long enough to visit all the places you recommended, and it was rainy while I was there! Definitely bookmarking this when I head there again, it's such a tranquil place to walk in and admire :-) I know a few friends who went to uni there too, and they really enjoyed their time there too hehehe

    Cherie x
    say hi at sinonym

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  7. Gosh, your blog is an absolute delight. I've been reading it on and off all morning whilst I've been working away and it truly is uplifting. Your photographs are always stunning. I could keep on gushing but I won't as I'm sure I'll be back to do it all again another time! I've always wanted to visit Bath and this has confirmed to me that the next time I arrange a trip, Bath shall be the place I head!

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  8. Absolutely adored this post. The photos are gorgeous, and your writing has such a wonderfully calming tone. I'm definitely feeling inspired to take another trip to Bath, now, with a new-found appreciation for its history and all it has to offer!

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  9. This is such a brilliant post about Bath, my cousin lives there but every time I visit her we never have a clue about what activities to take part in. I'm going to be saving these for future references, your photos are absolutely beautiful too by the way! How I adore Bath!

    Sally - DiagonSally

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  10. Awwww lovely post Sarah and beautiful photos as always! I remember that glass floor in Paperchase with the little tunnel underneath, cute! I need to arrange a visit to Bath soon to see you before you move back to Cornwall and I move to Bristol - would be especially lovely to see the canal, Warleigh weir and the hot air balloons :)

    Jamie xx
    bibbity-boppity-boo.blogspot.com

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  11. Beautiful photos! I've been to Bath... hmm... four times now? And I always discover new places to go. I'm a Devon girl when I'm not at uni so it't not too hard to go to - I will bookmark this post for my next trip!

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  12. This is making me want to come back to Bath before we move far away! There are a lot of things here I didn't know about definitely going to plan a trip soon!

    http://www.lifewiththeroofdown.com

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  13. Wow! Amazing places! Love the painter's pic and your dungarees! I want to buy some, too!
    xo,
    ohmydarlingdeer.blogspot.gr

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  14. Looks beautiful! I'm thinking of applying to do a masters in Bath Spa so this is reassuring that it's so beautiful!

    Naomi Louise // www.teatimewithnaomi.com

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  15. I don't know how but I fell even more in love with Bath after reading your guide. You truly have a gift to capture the ambiance! I'm moving to Bath in a couple weeks to study and can't wait to visit all the places you mentioned!! Thank you so much! I just wished you were still around to do a little fun tour! :D

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