As you travel west on the train from London’s Paddington Station, you get a sense of truly how huge and ugly London is. By the other side of Reading, you can’t help but feel relieved to be leaving the tower blocks and the turmoil of the city behind.
Approaching Swindon, the gentle, rolling hills start to take shape. If you’ve been this way before, you feel the
anticipation of knowing you’re just about in the West Country, and you find you’re smiling.
Through a few more idyllic fields that belong in a Turner landscape, you finally pick up the silver-blue ribbon of the River Avon. The train begins to slow and then you can see it: the Georgian architecture of matching honey-coloured townhouses, the proud stone spires of the many churches, and the constant backdrop of those ancient hills. This is Bath. And as you disembark from the train and meander up the street towards the Abbey, you suddenly realize you’ve fallen hopelessly in love.
Bath is more than postcard-perfect beauty, indeed it is more than the perfect combination of urban sprawl in a pastoral environment. Bath is a piece of history itself which is firmly acknowledged by its UNESCO World Heritage City status. No other city in the world has this distinction, and none other is more deserving.
Bath’s claim to fame is its hot spring – it is the only one in Britain. It was exploited by the Romans who used it for everything: spa, temple, cursing the neighbours. Visiting the Roman Baths, although outrageously expensive, is a definite starting point to discovering this unique city and its diverse history. The statues of centurions draped against the Abbey are what come to mind when one mentions the city. So too do the distinctive green waters of the baths. Don’t pack your swimsuit; swimming in all that algae is definitely not recommended.
Bath doesn’t have tower blocks or skyscrapers, so church spires are visible from pretty much anywhere in the city. Bath Abbey is the best example the city has to offer of a medieval stone church. Its square spire dominates the skyline, and the church itself is the site where Edgar, first king of all England was crowned in 973. Panoramic views of the entire city and the fields beyond can be had from a tour of that famous bell tower.
Bath really came into its own during the Georgian era. The city had an established reputation as a spa and resort, and it needed more and more housing to accommodate the aristocracy who visited in increasing numbers. The now-famous honey-coloured Bath stone was mined from the surrounding hills, which architects John Wood the elder, and the younger, used to build the identical townhouses. They are responsible for the Royal Crescent and the Circus, which are as famous now, more than 200 years after their construction, and are no less beautiful than when they were built.
It was during the Georgian times that Bath was established as a centre for fashion and the arts. The Pump Rooms, the Assembly Rooms and the Theatre Royal were all established during this time, and all are still popular attractions. With its many boutiques, museums and theatres, Bath remains a cultural hot-spot. There is always something to do to expand your mind, whether that involves taking in a concert at the Abbey, or browsing in an old book shop.
The great thing about being a World Heritage City is any development or change to existing buildings must be approved by an extensive planning application. Although developers find this annoying, it means Bath has kept its beauty. Unlike London or Bristol, the beautiful old buildings are not hidden amongst modern monstrosities. The city must look similar to what it did during the Georgian era, except cars have replaced carriages, and some new developments have crept in at the edges and any holes the Blitz may have left. Stepping out the door is like stepping back in time.
I came to Bath a year and half ago, and I fell so deeply in love with it that I haven’t yet left. I love that even though I live in the city I can look out my window and see narrow boats and sheep. I love that there is always somewhere new and interesting to walk, either through one of the parks, or along the canal. I love that I can afford to live somewhere that others consider posh. I love that forever walking up the hills has given me a bum I can be proud of. But what I love most about Bath is the people. I love watching the people wandering around the city for the first time, and seeing the visible delight on their faces, delight that says they can’t believe places like this do exist. Delight that says they’ve fallen in love with my city too.