Posts Tagged ‘bath abbey’

Frolics in Bath

For our first Saturday in England, Regan and I went on an outing to the city of Bath. Located about an hour from Cheltenham, Bath was established by the Romans in the first century AD. The Romans were so enthralled by the natural hot springs in the area that they built canals from the springs to feed public bathing houses, as well as to feed a temple to the goddess Minerva. As time passed, people groups continued to marvel at the hot springs, and began claiming the sulfuric waters possessed healing powers. In 1687, the barren Queen Mary bathed in these waters and miraculously bore a male child the following year. Other members of royalty, like Queen Anne, highly valued the waters, thus boosting the town’s popularity.

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In the mid-1700’s, Bath gradually became the resort center of English society. People of means would come to the city and stay for “the season”, idling away their time while engaging in dances at the Pump Rooms and going visiting to all of their rich friends in town. The Pump Rooms were also a place where people could easily become acquainted with strangers – and sometimes fall in love. (Such is the fate of Catherine Morland, in Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey.) But, I digress – enough with the history lesson. (If you want more history, read this article. It’s fantastic.)

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Upon entering the city, Regan and I walked down to the city center, marveling at the gorgeous Romanesque architecture.  We were lucky enough to arrive before most other tourists, and thus were able to more fully enjoy the sights, as well as the shops.

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My main motivation for wanting to visit Bath was a recent interest in Jane Austen. This past semester, I had the opportunity to take Romanticsm with Professor Belliveau, in which we had an amazing time learning about Gothic and Romantic literature. (It was one of the best, most enjoyable classes I’ve ever taken in my life!) One of the first novels we read was Austen’s Northanger Abbey, which is partially set in Bath. Later in the semester, I was priviledged to write my final paper on the influences of Austen’s works.

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All of this to say – our second stop in Bath was the Jane Austen Centre. This site offers information on the now-legendary author’s life, and also has a small exhibition about life in Georgian Bath. Jane lived in Bath for a few years, around the time that her father died. Two of her works, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, are also set in Bath, and describe the frivolities of the upper classes during the early 1800′s.

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Regan and I enjoyed playing dress-up at the end of the tour ;)

After visiting the Jane Austen Centre, Regan and I continued browsing about town. The best part about our day was not having a plan. Though there were specific places we wanted to visit, we had no specific time schedule, allowing us to browse shops and explore side streets to our hearts’ content. At one point, Regan and I visited the most wonderful bookshop in the world. The staff were extremely friendly and helpful, and even gave us free tea! It was delightful :)

The little sugar jar even held sugar cubes! It was a fantastic surprise.

The little sugar jar even held sugar cubes! It was a fantastic surprise.

Late in the morning, we discovered a large courtyard in the middle of town, edged by quite a few tourists. In the center stood a group of men (and a few women), dressed in some rather funny clothing. These people – a troupe of Morris dancers  — were dancing around to the music of a small buttonbox accordion, waving blue and yellow handkerchiefs in the air. Soon, they began their next song. One of the men called out to the audience of tourists: “For this next dance, we can ask anyone we want from the audience. Young or old, tall or short…” At these words, Regan and I began hightailing it to the next street. We wanted to see the dance, but by no means did we want embarrassed. However, as we were about to cross, I stopped. Why not dance with them? After all, it wasn’t like I knew anyone in town, and plenty of other people were participating, too. And we’re in England, for goodness sakes! Why not embrace the traditions? Although Regan decided not to join me, she graciously offered to take some photos whilst I volunteered and joined the dance. It was so much fun, and definitely an experience to remember!

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For lunch, Regan and I grabbed some Cornish pasties (yes, they’re good enough to eat two days in a row!) and found a spot enjoy them near the river Avon. 

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After lunch, we took a tour of the interior of Bath Abbey. Gorgeous stained glass windows lined the walls, and carvings covered the 75-foot-high ceiling. The floor and lower portions of the walls were covered in graves and memorials of former parishoners and their families. It was touching to see the kind words people had written in memory of their deceased loved ones. Construction on the Abbey began in 1499; although the building has undergone some renovation (especially after bomb damage during World War II), the stones commemorating people from times long-past still remain.

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After visiting the Abbey, Regan and I trekked up to the Circus. The buildings lining this roundabout were constructed in the mid-1700′s in a then-revolutionary circular pattern. Each building houses several mansions, which serve as vacation homes for incredibly wealthy. A current famous (sometimes) resident of the area is Nicolas Cage, who owns a house (complete with a heated indoor swimming pool) on the Circus.

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Just down the road is the Royal Crescent. This architectural marvel holds only 30 houses, each of them taking up approximately 6,000 square feet. Like the circus, the mansions on the crescent have always been meant to be vacation homes, and have housed the wealthy for over 200 years. A super-informative guide informed us that one of these houses is currently on sale. The asking price? £4.6 million, or about $7.4 million.

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Fun fact: The designer of the Royal Crescent and the Circus was obsessed with Stonehenge, and built the two marvels so that they were perfectly in line with the ancient site. The three are so perfectly aligned, in fact, that on the summer solstice, the line of the sun follows the road between the Crescent and the Circus. In addition, the shapes of the two sets of buildings held significance: the Crescent was meant to represent the moon, and the Circus to represent the sun

As we continued our walk, Regan and I frequently stopped to explore other bookshops, side streets, and any interesting-looking locales. We kept a constant eye out for a tea room; though the Regency Tea Room at the Jane Austen Center was completely booked that day, we still wanted to have our first “true” English tea (with scones!). Soon, we came upon a church door advertising “cream tea for two” for a fairly cheap price. Taking our chances, we entered the building – only  to find ourselves in an absolutely gorgeous church with a small café at the back.

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We ordered our tea, sat down, and relished in our surroundings. Regan and I could hardly believe our luck. We kept saying to one another, “Can you believe this? We are in England. We are in a beautiful church. We are having cream tea!” We felt incredibly blessed. Soon, the server brought over our tea (with milk and sugar, of course), and then our scones with jam and clotted cream. It. Was. Amazing. The scones were sweet, with a few raisins and a biscuit-y texture. The clotted cream was like butter, except not quite as firm. It added a soft, fatty, delicious richness to the scone that made you close your eyes in revel in the flavor. Mmmm. It was so good. (It’s possible that our tiredness added to our deep appreciation for the sweets…but still! We greatly enjoyed it.)

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After tea, we continued to amble for the rest of the day, finally taking an evening train back to Cheltenham. Though rather tiring, our day was absolutely incredible, which I wouldn’t trade for the world. This entire trip to England is a huge blessing, and I am so thankful to have this opportunity!