48 Hours in... Bath
PUBLISHED: 15:47 17 March 2008 | UPDATED: 15:04 20 February 2013
Bath is charged with romance. Healing waters, splendid architecture, retail heaven, even the tourist office recommends the best places to propose. With so much to stir the heart and only 48 hours to spend here, a whirlwind romance seems inevitable...
Hit the downtown
The Bath that most hold in their mind was created in the 18th century, thanks to the varied talents of three men. Post Office reformer Ralph Allen owned the mines that produced the stone to build the elegant Palladian mansions, which architect John Wood the Elder designed and in which socialite Richard 'Beau' Nash encouraged 18th-century society to mix and have fun. Between them, they turned Bath into England's most fashionable resort.
Wood's legacy on the city's architecture is monumental. He built Queen Square, The Circus and North and South Parades, while his son, John Wood the Younger, built the Royal Crescent and the Assembly Rooms. Bath Preservation Society celebrates the period at No 1 Royal Crescent, which has been restored to its late-18th-century grandeur and is open to the public.
Bath has enough museums to keep you busy for a month, let alone 48 hours, but one of the most remarkable is The Museum of Bath at Work (www.bath-at-work.org.uk), which houses the entire contents of a former engineering and mineral water firm that used to be based where Bath bus station now stands.
High on any itinerary should be Bath Abbey (www.bathabbey.org), whose magnificent west front depicts ladders of angels ascending to heaven. At the Roman Baths (www.romanbaths.co.uk) nearby, more than a million litres of water rises at a constant temperature of 46°C. Choose an afternoon to see actors in Roman costume, or take tea in the stately Pump Room, where you can sample the sulphurous waters for yourself.
Despite the hype, the controversy and the delays, Thermae Bath Spa (www.thermaebathspa.com) is a triumph. Sip champagne then submerge yourself in the rooftop pool and gaze out across the Bath skyline. Or relax in the more intimate surroundings of the Cross Bath in Hot Bath Street.
Free 2-hour walking tours (tel 01225 477411) leave from outside the Pump Room twice a day Sunday-Friday and once on Saturday. Alternatively, enjoy an irreverent view of the city with the Bizarre Bath Comedy Walk (www.bizarrebath.co.uk), which leaves the Huntsman Inn, North Parade Passage, every evening at 8pm.
Bath in legend and literature
'There was no city where Bath stands, then. There was no vestige of human habitation, or sign of man's resort, to bear the name; but there was the same noble country, the same broad expanse of hill and dale...' Thus writes Charles Dickens in his first novel, 'The Pickwick Papers', quoting from a document that Mr Pickwick finds in a desk drawer at his lodgings on the Royal Crescent, which claims to reveal the true legend of Prince Bladud, Wolf Lord and founder of Bath in 863BC.
The familiar account finds Bladud banished from court after contracting leprosy while studying in Athens. Finding work as a swineherd in the Avon Valley, he infects his pigs with leprosy. One day, he stumbles on a hot spring that cures his pigs. Bathing in the water himself, Bladud is cured, too. Joyous, he returns to claim the throne of England and build the city of Bath.
Dickens, however, opts for Victorian pathos, preferring the hot springs to represent the tears of Prince Bladud, who mourns his lost love, an Athenian princess betrothed to another.
Eating and sleeping
Bath presents so many options but amongst the best restaurants are The Wife of Bath on Pierrepont Street, FishWorks on Green Street, Beaujolais on Chapel Row, and The Hop Pole on Upper Bristol Road.
King William, Thomas Street, and Garrick's Head, Sawclose, are gastropubs owned by a dynamic couple who mix local ingredients with lots of flair, or try Bath's smallest pub, the Coeur de Lion on Northumberland Place. A charming retreat off the main drag is The Raven of Bath, Queen Street, which regularly hosts storytellers, cyclists and scientists at different times of the month.
Another good source of entertainment is The Bell, Walcot Street, which hosts live music on Monday and Wednesday evenings and Sunday lunchtimes. On summer evenings, the Hare & Hounds on Lansdown Road has one of the best pub garden views in the city.
As for somewhere sumptuous to stay, The Royal Crescent Hotel (www.royalcrescent.co.uk) remains a cut above the rest, with liveried doormen, beautiful gardens and its own river launch. Nearer the centre, the boutique rooms at the Queensbury Hotel (www.thequeensberry.co.uk), Russell Street are peerless.
Foodies should sample the Michelin-starred restaurant at The Bath Priory Hotel (www.thebathpriory.co.uk), Weston Road, which uses ingredients from its own Victorian kitchen garden.
The Residence (www.theresidencebath.com), Weston Road, is a funky addition to the city's genteel sensibilities, with a Private Members' Club, lily pool and a 7 Series BMW that will run you into town.
A little further out, Bath Paradise House Hotel (www.paradise-house.co.uk), Holloway, has panoramic views.
Bath specialities to take home
Sally Lunn's on North Parade Passage produces a unique semi-sweet brioche teacake in Bath's oldest building (c 1483). Named after its creator, a French refugee, the Sally Lunn Bun first made the headlines in 1722.
With only two other bridges in the world lined with shops, Robert Adam's Pulteney Bridge is an exclusive place to buy a memento of your visit. Likewise Jolly's, on Milsom Street is the UK's oldest department store and was an elegant prop in BBC1's The House of Elliot.
For those seeking more on Prince Bladud, Mr B's Emporium of Reading Delights on John Street stocks Moyra Caldecott's fictional account 'The Winged Man'.
Explore the area
Royal Victoria Park has a fantastic children's play area, bowling greens, a bandstand and mini-golf. The nearby Bath Botanical Gardens includes a scented walk.
Little Solsbury Hill, near Batheaston, has impressive views and is also home to nesting skylarks.
North of the city, a circular walk traces the English Civil War Battle of Lansdown. Start at Langridge village and follow a wonderful wildflower walk produced by Emorsgate Seeds, Manor Farm (tel 01225 858656), best during June and July.
Travelling south, Stoney Littleton passage grave, near Wellow, is one of the best-preserved Neolithic long barrows in the UK. Take a torch, make an offering and step back in time, then repair to the Fox and Badger in the village for a pint.
Walk along the Kennet and Avon Canal at Bathampton and join in the lunchtime bustle at The George (tel 01225 425079), or travel further afield to see the moody ruins of Farleigh Hungerford Castle (www.english-heritage.org.uk/server/show/nav.16178). BY STEPHEN TATE. PHOTOS BY TONY HOWELL
9, 22, 29 April: Race Days. Bath Racecourse (www.bath-racecourse.co.uk), Lansdown Road
18-20 April: Bach Festival Weekend (www.chantry-singers.org.uk/events/) by the Chantry Singers. Various venues
19 April: Concert by the Radio Science Orchestra (www.bathfestivals.org.uk/index.php?a=0&p=1088&m=0&t=4.2.27&d=1201845600&n=&v=0&l=0&q=1&b=0&o=0&z=) with cult fiction author Ken Hollings. ICIA Arts Theatre, University of Bath
26 April: Concert by Bath Minerva Choir. Bath Abbey (www.bathabbey.org)
26 April - September: King Bladud's Pigs in Bath (www.kingbladudspigs.org), a public art project featuring 100 decorated pigs in various outdoor locations
3-5 May: Bath Spring Flower Show (www.bathnes.gov.uk/BathNES/leisureandculture/artsandentertainment/parksevents/). Royal Victoria Park
Bath TIC: tel 0906 711 2000 (50p/min), www.visitbath.co.uk