Submerged in the Bath

27 September 2015

Once again I’m making a start with typing this in bed with the light from the window illuminating my computer. I won’t be able to type as much though as I’ll have to get up soon. Or even get up soon.

Thank heavens for photos. I can remind myself what we did yesterday.

Breakfast was great. Cereal, fruit (melons, dried apricots, berries, yoghurt, scrambled eggs, bacon and toast. The lady who runs the establishment has done a catering course.

We decided to take the free Mayor’s walk. These are put on by highly professional “Blue Badge Guides” and our guide was great. Her name was Carole and she was assisted by a trainee called Mike, who’d only been doing it for about six weeks. It was only supposed to be a two hour walk, but ended up closer to two and a half… And no one minded.

The start was a challenge. It was Sunday and Carole was competing against the Abbey’s calls to worship. Also there was a 100 mile race and the courtyard was the finish so there was a lot going on.

Unfortunately I’d forgotten to turn my GPS on, so I haven’t got that record of where we went.

We started outside the Bath Abbey, where Carole pointed out a rebus of the Abbey’s creator’s name – Bishop Oliver King. The rebus (a name depicted in pictorial form) was of a bishop’s mitre over an olive tree with a crown around it. Of course I haven’t got a photo of that.

The Georgians loved their curved architecture. More to come.
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We went to Queen Square – named for the wife of some past king – Queen Caroline, wife of George II. (I suppose that it makes sense that it’s King George. These were Georgian times.) This had been designed by John Wood and originally had no trees in the centre so that the houses that surrounded it could look out on one another. The trees were added in Victorian times because where the Georgians loved to show off, the Victorians were more modest.

The Obelisk was erected by Beau Nash in 1738 in honour of Frederick, Prince of Wales, who died young. It was originally taller but was “truncated” (Wikipedia’s words) in a storm.
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One of the houses was the place where John Smithson was born. (Out of wedlock! Shock horror!) He went on to be a great scientist who actually made a fortune and loved the idea of American independence. As he died “without issue” he left his fortune to America on the understanding that it be used for education. This is the legacy that created the Smithsonian Institute.

I’m now on the train to Portsmouth, typing.

Mike, the trainee tour guide, calls the colour of Bath stone – fossilised sunshine.

John Wood’s Georgian houses are in reality a series of terraced town houses with one grand, symmetrical frontage.
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The rear is less tidy and symmetrical.
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Royal Crescent.
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I don’t know that my photos really do justice to the broad sweep of these 30 houses. That’s the one disadvantage of travelling with a group. You don’t have time for a proper photo stop. Pen got Scott out to take a photo with the houses in the background and people laughed at him.
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Number One Royal Crescent has been made into a museum.

The front of the grounds has a ha-ha in it. (As does Attingham.) This enables the residents to enjoy the broad sweep of the land before them, as if it’s their own, and without any visible lines across the vista, while stopping the cows in the fields out front from wandering right up to the houses and fouling the ground. Carole didn’t know why it’s called a ha-ha. I suggested that maybe the residents were thumbing their noses at the cattle.

The Royal Crescent, which is wide and open and embracing, was designed by John Wood junior. A short walk away is “The Circus” designed by his father, John Wood, and finished largely to his father’s specs by junior.
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The Circus is a circle of 33 Georgian Townhouses. There are three groups of townhouses, and three roads leading into the Circus. Each of the roads opens out into the vista of the glory of John Woods’ architecture. Once again the central park was designed to be open so you could show off, but had had trees planted in the centre by some puritanical Victorians, so you no longer have the vista.

Instead of being three sections of eleven houses between each of the roads, there are different numbers of houses in each group. Carole said twelve, twelve and ten… So I think her maths is out somewhere.

The frontage of the houses have three different types of columns decorating them. Doric at the bottom with the flat caps at the bottom, Ionic with the side on scrolls in the middle, and Corinthian with the fancy bits at the top. And I shall have to check on my spelling and names later.
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At the top of the first level are a line of reliefs alternating with three lines. (Which have a name which I learnt from Qi, but I can’t remember off the top of my head. I just know that was a very, VERY, funny segment where they “broke” Stephen Fry.) “Triglyph” Each of the relief (which also have a name) is different. The hives with the bees is one of Carole’s favourites.
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There are also reliefs on the underside of the ledge above the relief.
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People have wondered why John Wood junior built such an open plan establishment while John Wood senior did such an enclosed one, but Carole had a theory. Senior at least was a Mason, and she showed us an aerial photo looking down on both establishments. It didn’t take much effort to see the image of a key, with The Circus being the handle and the Crescent being the locking bit.

We continued on, but were running late by this point. Carole wanted to take us inside the Assembly Rooms, but was concerned at how late we were. We were quite happy to take as long as she wanted. Inside were some glorious chandeliers – new ones – worth one million pounds each. The first lot had been a set of three which had hung happily until one day one fell, nearly claiming the painter Gainsbourgh on the way. After that all three chandeliers were removed and reinstated as one new chandelier in one of the other rooms, and five(?) new chandeliers were installed.
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In this room dances were held as young women of that certain age were lined up to be married off to the richest suitor who took an interest. These dances were held to a strict timetable. They started at six (or was it seven), which allowed for the couple dancing; the women sweeping along in their long hooped dresses. At precisely 9.00pm the group dances started and all the hoops had to be removed from the dresses. The mind boggles.

One room with a balcony at one end (if you know your movies Keira Knightly stood on it for one of her films) had been damaged in WWII. Bath, not being a military town, was considered safe from aerial raids, but Hitler decided to strike at Britain’s confidence and hit sites of historic and cultural importance. An incendiary bomb hit this room and the great heat discoloured the marble.
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We were still running late, but Carole took us on the Palladian style bridge – Poultney Bridge. This had shops on it and Pen and I decided to return later. Especially as one of the shops had a bear out front and we wanted to get a photo of Kally posing with it.

By the bridge was the weir. Prior to 1963 when this was built, Bath flooded frequently. It was because of the flooding that much of Bath has basements – or in really wet areas – double level basements… I can’t really see the logic in that.
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On our hurried walk back to the Abbey, we pasted one of the Roman gates – the East Gate into the city.
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Finally we said goodbye and thanks for a wonderful time to Carole and Mike. We definitely got our monies worth.

After a quick loo stop and admiration of the Pumphouse’s lavish interior, we went in search of food.

We ended up in a fudge shop.
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Heaven! I tried a sample of some salted caramel fudge and it was glorious. The after dinner mint fudge had a sharp edge that I didn’t like quite so much. I considered buying some but couldn’t decide which to get. In the end we watched them pour a batch of fudge, got some hot chocolate mixtures, and decided that we’d head back when I’d made up my mind what I wanted.

We never did.

Our plan, after yesterday’s wanderings, was to get a sandwich from a cheesemonger’s that we’d found. (One of the nice things of Bath is that there are so many “boutique” shops and so few chain stores. Strangely they remain open until 5.30 on Sundays.) We found the store, only to be told that they don’t do sandwiches on Sundays. So we headed back to Poultney Bridge and I bought a Cornish pasty for lunch. We sat on the lawn, close to the weir, to have our lunch and the obligatory bear/penguin shots.
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Then we went to Thermae Spa. This wasn’t high on my list of things to do, but Pen wanted to do it and I’d quite enjoyed Polynesian Spa in Rotorua, so I went along.

*sigh*

Lockers are supplied for all your gear and they recommend that you leave your towels there so they don’t get wet.

Firstly you had to have a shower. They didn’t really tell you this, or explain why (hygiene), or to what level of cleanliness they expected you to attain. They supplied shower gel, shampoo and condition in each shower stall – were you expected to use all of it? Togs on or togs off? I’d forgotten to take my necklace off, so I took the lift from the lower ground floor (showers) to the upper ground floor (changing rooms and lockers) and I asked a staff member the procedure – just as the lift door pinged open. By the time she’d finished explaining it all in her foreign accent (I still didn’t get it), the door had shut again and I had to wait another five minutes. But I dutifully had my shower.

We then went into the Minerva Pool. There was no obvious place to hang your robes or put your slippers (supplied by the spa) so you put them on a chair, only to have them moved by someone so the chairs could be used. The architecture was modern. All you did was float around this pool on pool noodles, going where the currents took you because you couldn’t touch the 1.3 m floor of the pool, and occasionally striking it lucky because one section decided to bubble up like a Jacuzzi.

Once you felt like a prune you went up a couple of levels to the steam room. (We stopped in the sun on a balcony on the way and admired the view of the Georgian buildings, shivering in the breeze.)

What kind of masochist decided that it would be a good idea to sit in a room, sweating in hot steam, and barely able to breathe because of the steam and fragrances each room provided.

At least the ecualypt/menthol room would have cleared your sinuses… as your eyes stung.

To top it all you’re meant to have a colder shower between steamings.

We didn’t stay there for very long.

Next stop was the roof pool. This was pretty much like the Minerva Pool except that you shivered in the cold breeze as you admired the spire of the Abbey and Georgian chimney pots.

Pity the poor lifeguards. It must be dead boring wandering around and around the pool while you wait for someone to do something interesting like drowning.

There was a high pressure hose with a big shower head that switched itself on at random moments and gave you a water massage – if you could get close enough against the force of the water to enjoy it and without getting your muscles tied up in knots as you tried to stay under it.

Finally another shower.

Are you really meant to have a shower now?

The changing rooms/lockers were on the upper ground floor. The showers on the lower ground floor. There’s nowhere in the shower area to leave your clothes and there were only about ten shower cubicles. But surely this is where you’re meant to wash the minerals out of your hair? After all, why would you condition your hair before the treatment? (Conditioner was supplied in the shower stalls.)

How thorough did this wash have to be? The tap was electric eye initiated and only ran for about a minute. (At least it was warm.)

Did you bring your towel with you? If so, where did you put it while you had your shower so it wouldn’t get wet?

Nowhere.

Right. So you have a shower, washing and conditioning your hair with your togs off and then put them on again for the dash back upstairs through the cold to the lockers and changing areas. (I didn’t trust the robes not to be see through.) Then you had to get your gear out of your locker. These were locked by electronic tags that you wore in a silicone bracelet around your wrist. Fortunately you could open and relock them as often as you wanted. Get dried, changed, blot dry your togs, and exit the changing area to dry your hair with the hair dryer. No wonder I look like I’m standing sideways in a wind tunnel at the moment. Back to the locker to wrestle your bag out of it, skinning your knuckles in the process. (Why don’t they make them cabin bag width?)

Then you exit, with a prison warder dutifully standing there to take and scan your bracelet and then charge you for the pleasure of being there longer than you were supposed to be, and then finally you were free.

Verdict

The waters were only a touch over lukewarm.
The scenery was nothing.
The experience was nothing.
The fumes made me feel vaguely nauseous and breathing wasn’t always that great.
All my skin felt afterwards was wrinkled. It felt smoother after using the sea kelp shower gel the Bay Tree B&B had supplied for our shower.
My hands smelt of chlorine.
All for £35 or about $70.

The only good things. I can say that I bathed in Bath, and Pen’s shoulder muscles have relaxed.

My advice? Go to the Polynesian Spa. The view’s beautiful, the water’s warm, and it’s much more relaxing.

We’d been right around Bath Abbey numerous times and decided that it was time to see inside.
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I love these old religious buildings. Their ceilings amaze me with their detail and patterns… and their height! (I wonder how many people died in their construction. Another offering to God.)
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The East window was blown out by the war and the shards carefully collected and stored in a dusty area of the Abbey. Most of the glass makers in the country said restoring it would be impossible, but one crowd took it on, managing to reuse 60% of the original glass. That’s some jigsaw. But, although beautiful, why do they make so big, ornate windows. You can’t see most of the top detail from the floor.
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We went back to the Bay Tree to offload everything that we didn’t need, with a stop off for Pen to play ball with a dog that was waiting hopefully for some passers-by to join in.

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Then it was back down town for dinner. I wanted to go to Gourmet Burgers in the Brunel Vaults. Firstly the original store was created by three Kiwi blokes and secondly I wanted the chance to eat in the Brunel Vaults, which were part of the railway complex designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel. They were big, brick lined, arched vaults under the railway line and had been used as homes by workers on the railways – until they became too claustrophobic for them. Now they’ve been converted into light, airy shops and restaurants.

We got to the burger place. “I’m sorry, but we’re out of chicken and beef.”
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That didn’t leave too many options. Also the music was a bit heavy on the bass.

So we gave up and went next door to the place that offered pizzas. This was a bit more upmarket than Pizza Hutt, We started with crumbed mozzarella – real chewing gum cheese, and stuffed mushrooms. The pizza was a thin crust with “pulled pork infused with fennel”. Dessert was a single piece of chocolate orange slice and a hot chocolate. You had to put your own chocolate… they were too big for chocolate chips and too small for buttons… into the hot milk – Very nice.
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Back to the Bay Tree and time to set up the blog.
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But I’m slightly annoyed because I think I’ve lost my sunglasses camera case – with lens cleaner and comb – along with my camera lens cap. I have emailed the train companies about the sunglasses case, so fingers crossed.

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