Bath is really lovely. Sort of like a fairytale city, all weathered stone, humongous churches and alleyways that lead to staircases that lead to more and more pretty streets. The windiness of the streets, and the frequency of beautiful buildings made it not hard to imagine some great, adventure or drama taking place not a street away. I was very inspired.
In the morning, I went to the Roman Baths, which were also rather spectacular. Bath is such an old city it’s kind of amazing: the Baths are still in remarkably good condition - and still warm! My visit to them was only slightly shadowed by the fact that there were about fifty screaming schoolchildren rushing about at the same time, but I enjoyed it anyway.
An unexpected treat was that with the audio guide you could press a button and listen to Bill Bryson (one of my favourite writers) talk about the his perceptions of the Baths. The largest Bath is the first one you see (although it would have been covered by a roof when the Romans used it), and it is an unexpectedly large, green, and still steaming pool. (That doesn’t make it sound intriguing, but it was actually quite beautiful). Bill Bryson’s observation was that the Baths are an excellent visual metaphor for history. You have to walk down from street level (present day) to the Baths (ancient times), and from there you can walk through the remains of various rooms, and see what has been recovered from the Baths.
There are coins that were thrown in offering and have become melded together into masses of metal over time. There are wonderful little carved gemstones, that may not have been offerings, and may in fact have slipped from rings on the fingers of unsuspecting bathers. There are fragmented altars (the Baths were a place to get clean and massaged, but also a place of business, and worship, dedicated to Minerva), and astonishing head of a bronze statue of Sulis Minerva, who was worshipped at the Baths. The Baths are naturally warm, positioned perfectly over a hot spring, and the Romans viewed them as gifts of the gods, and believe their waters to be possessed of healing powers.
One problem (and it’s a pretty big problem), was that lead was a metal that occurred in large quantities nearby Bath, and the water pipes that channelled water into the Baths were made of lead. The Baths themselves were also lined with sheets of lead, and people bathed in and drank that very same water. One of the last things you can do at the Baths is actually taste some of this water (purified, of course). I ran my fingers through it and was shocked that it was really quite warm. Following the actions of two French tourists who had gotten there first, I filled up a cup and took a sip. And it was horrible. Warm and metallic and just pretty disgusting. We all made faces, poured the water out, and moved on.
I spent the rest of the day wandering aimlessly through Bath. I walked across a bridge full of stone shops, and walked down to the river, past a number of cosy looking canal boats, and a massive rugby pitch. I found a park, and went into the Bath Abbey, which was huge and beautiful. I won’t try to do it justice, but it was absolutely gorgeous. I always love that moment I get in a cathedral when I realize that I can see everything, but there are no lightbulbs, and then look up at an immense, gorgeous ceiling full of stained glass windows and carved buttresses. Perfect.