During my time in England, I found myself in Bath with friends or family several times and I have become surprisingly fond of the city. Bath is a spa town through and through. I found it more expensive than London, but with fewer interesting things to do, especially if you are going to be there for more than a few days. Though the shopping is fantastic and the Roman Bath House is amazing, it is much more expensive than other cities because it is a resort and university town. Historically, Bath has been a luxury destination for the wealthy who wanted to come take the waters and socialize.
Unlike London, Oxford, or Cambridge, where the museums are almost all free, the museums in Bath are rather lacking in variety and I found them overpriced for the quality of the experience provided. The only place in Bath where you will find free admission is the assembly rooms, because they take about 5-10 minutes to view thoroughly. I definitely recommend going to see them because the Ball Room is the largest Georgian room in Bath and contains the best set of 18th century chandeliers in the world. You will feel like royalty standing in the middle of the room and watching them, literally, sparkle.
The first thing I did in Bath was join a free walking tour. The Mayor’s Free Tour of Bath runs every day at 10:30am and 2:00pm and meets in front of the Roman Bath House. My tour guide in Bath was a man named Simon who was a Bath local and a retired minister with a great sense of humour. Free tours are usually geared towards the interests of the guides so you never know what exactly you are going to learn. Simon’s interests lay in Georgian architecture, and he spoke a lot about John Wood, Ralph Allen, and Richard Nash.
John Wood and his son were architects who designed many of the buildings in Bath; Richard Nash was a socialite with a strong influence on culture and entertainment in Bath; and Ralph Allen owned a mine that supplied much of the limestone used to build Bath and became wealthy as a result of a law that made it illegal to build in Bath using anything but Bath limestone. Simon also discussed a lot of unique information about the style of houses, the streets, use of coal, zoning laws and the impact of WWII on the city.
After the tour, I spent some time exploring the city on my own. I stumbled upon a unique place on my way up to the Prior Park Landscape. The sign for the Bath Abbey Cemetery caught my eye because the Bath Abbey is in the very heart of the city, nowhere close to where I was at the time. For hundreds of years, the people of Bath had buried their loved ones under or around the Abbey and placed memorial plaques on the wall of the Abbey. The walls are still covered in these plaques today and some of them date back 300-400 years. The cemetery was designed in the 19th century, when the Abbey ran out of room for burials and the city was becoming very crowded.
The new cemetery was meant to function as both cemetery and public park for the Georgians. It was used for about 100 years before being abandoned for both of its functions and fell into disrepair. Today, the city maintains the cemetery enough for people to walk along the paths, but have not preserved the graves at all. Most of the headstones are falling over and the writing has been eroded over time. Some of the tombstones mark family tombs and are extremely beautiful, each with a special feature like an angel or a bell. There are some famous Bath locals who were either buried in the cemetery, or whose funerals were held in the cemetery chapel.
The graves are not the only beautiful part of the cemetery, there is also a beautiful view of the city and the countryside from the steps of the chapel. There are benches placed at the highest point of the cemetery, near the chapel, and you can sit and enjoy the view, or wander down one of the many paths in the cemetery. Though it may some creepy or odd, I felt very relaxed and peaceful during my visit there. There were no other people around, with the exception of one couple who were using it as a short cut via a hole in one wall and the entire place was full of birds.
The cemetery is only one of the beautiful places to explore outside the city. There are seven hills that surround Bath, just like Rome, which is one of the reasons the Romans were so interested in the city. Today, the hills are covered in hiking paths and public roaming paths. The area of Somerset and Avon is known for its rolling hills and beautiful views, so a trip here cannot be complete without a little bit of hiking. You can reach a popular lookout, the Alexandra Park Viewpoint, by foot if you climb a staircase known as Jacob’s Ladder. It takes about 15 minutes to reach the top of the hill using the Ladder.
I found the path very slippery when I went because it had rained that morning and there was a build up of fall leaves on the ground. The pathway has a railing on both sides as you get higher up, and you will need it to keep you from slipping, and maybe to drag yourself up as you get closer to the top. About halfway up the path, there will be a sign that says “Alexandra Park Viewpoint 40 steps to go”. What the sign won’t say, is that each step near the top is anywhere between 2 and 20 feet deep. So, 40 stairs does not equal 40 steps. This is probably the worst part of the climb because there is no view to enjoy behind you, just trees. But don’t be discouraged because I promise the view is worth it.
When you finally reach the top of the hill, you will be rewarded by this beautiful view of the Bath valley and surrounding hills. I am told the view is also beautiful at night, but was unwilling to climb the Ladder in the dark because it is quite steep at parts. The park is circular, so you can enjoy many different views by walking around it. You can also pick a bench and just have a sit for a while, enjoy the view and rest up for the climb back down.
On your way back down the Ladder, there is a pedestrian gate on the right- hand side, not far from the top. If you go through it and walk out into the field on the other side, you will be rewarded with another beautiful view of the hills around Prior Park. If you decide to climb the ladder, wear good shoes and enjoy!
My recommended non-tourist spots to visit in Bath are Apricot (they have very cute clothes), the Cornish Bakehouse in the Corridor and Topping & Co. Booksellers, which always makes me feel as if I am picking up my books before a new year at Hogwarts.