Time travel is easy in Bath – no DeLorean required.

A short jaunt from London, Bath offers visitors the chance to travel through the last two thousand years of history.

Ancient History

Just 6 m (19 ft) below today’s city streets stands the nearly two thousand year old Roman city of Aqua Sulis. Much photographed, the highlight of the Roman Baths is a large, lead lined, spring-fed pool. Now open to the sun, a huge barrel-vaulted roof originally sheltered the pool. Exposed to the elements, algae has turned the water a vibrant shade of green.

Walking around the Roman Bath’s great pool, I am treading on the same stones that echo the sandal-clad footsteps of ancient bathers. The setting is so evocative of that long bygone era that it is easy to picture today’s camera-toting tourists as tunic attired Romans. The placid pool seems to hide mystical secrets in its 1.6 m (over 5 ft) deep sea-foam green waters.

The spring produces 1,170,000 litres (more than 250,000 gallons) of 46°C (115°F) water each day. At an overflow arch, steam continually rises from the cascading water. This gift of perpetual hot water must have seemed all the more miraculous and divine when the winter weather proved to be so damp and cold in this northern clime.

The Roman Great Bath, the Thermae Spa's rooftop pool and Bath city center viewed from atop Bath Abbey's Tower

The Roman Great Bath, the Thermae Spa’s rooftop pool and Bath city center viewed from atop Bath Abbey’s Tower Photo: Julie Kalan

Pilgrims from across the empire would come here to petition the goddess Sulis Minerva and obtain healing in the curative waters. Native Celts and Romans alike would toss precious stones, jewellery and pewter cup offerings into the sacred spring to honour the goddess.

The religious part of the spa complex included an outdoor altar and temple perched dramatically, 15 m (almost 50 ft) above the faithful crowds. Surviving stones that once graced the Temple pediment are now on view in the Roman Baths Museum. The pediment, carved with meaningful imagery, spoke to both the literate and illiterate masses. Keep an eye out for the owl. Minerva was the goddess of wisdom and even in Roman times, the adage of the wise old owl was universally known.

These natural hot springs, the only ones in all of Britain, are the reason for the city’s existence. However, there is much more to see.

Bath Abbey's fan-vaulted ceiling

Bath Abbey’s fan-vaulted ceiling Photo: Julie Kalan

Middle Ages

Over a thousand years after Rome abandoned Bath, in 1499 to be exact, work began on the Bath Abbey Church that is visible today. It is one of the best examples of perpendicular gothic architecture, with an extraordinary fan-vaulted stone ceiling resembling intricate lacework. The Abbey is remarkably bright and airy thanks to the large windows that occupy 80% of the wall space.

The unique Abbey exterior, featuring angels ascending and descending a pair of ladders, was inspired by a dream of Bishop Oliver King. The ascending angels are climbing towards heaven, while the descending angels are facing downwards, as if falling from grace.

Tower Tour

In the tower, high above the city streets, the sound of the Abbey bells is deafening. Although everyone on the tour has been eagerly awaiting the chimes, we all seem to breathe a sigh of relief when the bells are silent once more. Our knowledgeable guide takes us to several rarely seen lofty places during the 45-minute Abbey Tower tour. Along with visiting the bells, we see the mechanics at the back of the church clock, and even get a chance to stand on top of the nave’s fan-vaulted ceiling stones.

After a 212 spiralling step climb, the tour culminates on the tower roof with a postcard perfect panorama of Bath. A quick survey of the view reveals the green pool of the Roman baths and the bright blue rooftop pool of the new Thermae Spa standing out among the creamy, honey-hued Bath stone that dominates the city.

Pulteney Bridge across the Avon River

Pulteney Bridge across the Avon River Photo: Julie Kalan

Georgian Bath

Only a mere three centuries ago, Bath was transformed into a resort town for England’s upper class. High society was drawn by the promise of better health through spa water. With this new influx of wealthy patrons, Bath quickly responded with elegant Georgian style housing, made with local Bath limestone. One of the most impressive buildings is the Circus, a coliseum inspired ring of 33 townhouses adorned with Doric, Ionic and Corinthian columns. Even grander, are the 30 townhouses of the elliptical Royal Crescent. No. 1 Royal Crescent allows visitors to see an example of a wealthy 18th century home, complete with Georgian furniture, paintings, carpets and gadgets.

Oh! Who can ever be tired of Bath? …for a fine Sunday in Bath empties every house of its inhabitants, and all the world appears on such an occasion to walk.
Catherine Morland, Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

Pulteney Bridge is one of only a few bridges in the world lined with shops on both sides

Pulteney Bridge is one of only a few bridges in the world lined with shops on both sides
Photo: Julie Kalan

Tea Time

At the grand Pump Room, I decide to treat myself to a distinguished Bath experience and order a traditional proper English tea, with scones and clotted cream. A proud relic of the Georgian period, the Pump Room is a large dining hall, located above the Roman Baths Museum, with a soaring ceiling and towering windows. This was the place to see and be seen during Jane Austen`s day. It was also the place to “take the waters.” Along with bathing in the therapeutic pools, eighteenth century doctors recommended patients drink two or more litres of Bath Spa water each day. To this day, one can enjoy a glass of Bath Spa water from the King`s Fountain located along the side of the hall. Well, perhaps “enjoy” is not really the correct way to put it. Barely tolerable is a more accurate description of this metallic tasting H2O.

The Avon River with Pulteney Bridge in the distance

The Avon River with Pulteney Bridge in the distance
Photo: Julie Kalan

When in Bath,
Do as the Romans

You can soak in Bath`s natural spring waters at the new Thermae Bath Spa`s Minerva Bath. The spa offers a full array of massages, body wraps, and facials. Complete your relaxation with a dip in the rooftop pool. Sulis Minerva would be pleased.

Travel Planner

Bath is an easy 1 ½-hour train ride from London’s Paddington Station and requires a visit of at least a day or two.

Upcoming Events and Festivals

Roman Baths by Torch Light, July 1 – August 31
Jane Austen Festival, September 16-24
Bath Christmas Market, Nov.ember 24-Dec.ember 11

For more information on Bath accommodations, dining and sightseeing, please visit:

www.visitbath.co.uk
www.romanbaths.co.uk
www.bathabbey.org
www.thermaebathspa.com