June 10, 2013

No long-distance walking today! Instead, it was a day for seeing the sights of Bath. So after breakfast the four of us headed out and walked down the hill into the town. The first thing we decided to do was to take the city bus tour. It was an interesting tour which took us past the main sights of Bath, most of which relate to its architecture. There are rows and rows of symmetrical Palladian buildings designed for the upper classes of the day. But they gave us plenty of commentary and anecdotes along the way.

After the completion of the bus tour, we had a celebratory snack on a bench outside the Abbey. Christine had brought some tea and a small cake. Having missed the marker for the end of the Cotswold Way yesterday, we went back to find it. It turned out to be a concrete slab in the plaza outside the Abbey, with a golden acorn and a list of the places on the Way imprinted in it. So it wasn’t surprising that we had missed it.

We decided to split up, since Neil and Christine had been to Bath before and didn’t necessarily want to see the things we wanted to see, and meet up later. The two of us headed to the Abbey to start with. Inside it was elaborately decorated and had very high vaulted ceilings, and the stained glass windows were quite spectacular. We followed our brochure which pointed out the highlights of the Abbey, and then went back outside.

From there we went on to the Roman Baths, which is really the premier museum in Bath. Outside it a queue was just forming, so we joined in quickly before it could get any longer. Luckily the wait was short, but inside we queued again to pay our admissions and receive our audio guides. There was a lot to see in the baths once we were inside. The tour was very interesting to follow as it explained how the baths came to be and about the various sculptures and other features. In its heyday the baths were very spectacular, and even today looked very impressive. Each exhibit had its own audio piece, sometimes two. And often you could listen to the simpler and more entertaining children’s version, or to Bill Bryson’s opinion. By the time we were finished with that massive flow of information we found that it had taken us three hours to complete the tour.

Now it was after 2 pm and we realized we were hungry, so we headed up to the Jane Austen tea rooms to have some food. We decided to have the cream tea (two scones, jam, and clotted cream) and a pot of tea. It was very nice food and it was served very well, too. Rosemary had the “Jane Austen” blend of tea, which was quite a nice tea, and Paul had the “Russian Caravan” blend. It was described in the menu as “smoky” and it certainly was that.

We wandered around the shops a bit, stopping in at Prince Charles’s Highgrove shop and buying some organically-grown tea, and then headed over to the William Herschel museum. William and his sister Caroline were astronomers back in the 1700’s and the museum was the actual house where they had lived and where William had discovered the planet Uranus in 1781. The back yard was quite small and it was hard to believe that he had sat out there observing the skies with a large telescope. The museum contained a motley collection of Herschel-related items. There was a collection of letters and pictures, one of his telescopes, some musical instruments of the period (they were also musicians), and one of Caroline Herschel’s dresses. It was an interesting collection but definitely had a lower budget than the Roman Baths.

By now it was getting late in the afternoon, but we decided to make the most of our bus-tour ticket by taking their other tour, called the Skyline. This tour took a circular route outside the city, through the upper part of Bath’s eastern suburbs. We walked to the nearest stop and waited only a few minutes before the correct double-decker bus showed up. This time instead of listening to an audio recording we had a live tour guide, who gave a very good narrative as the bus went around its route. The features we saw on this trip were more varied, and unfortunately you had to look quickly for some of them, and you were out of luck if you missed them as the bus didn’t stop.

Back at the hostel we met Neil and Christine, who were already there, and decided to have dinner there again. Dinner was a strange affair because they had run out of most of the items on the blackboard. They were very disorganized but eventually it turned out that they only had vegetable soup and chicken curry. So after a very long wait Rosemary had the soup and Paul had the curry. By this time Neil and Christine had already finished their meals!

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