Bath Stories and Tips

Pulteney Bridge - the most elegant bridge in England?

The Pulteney Bridge from downstream Photo, Bath, England

The is something faintly Tuscan about Bath. Something Italianate with it's honey-coloured column's, topiaried gardens and cream coloured buildings.

No where is this more evident then at the Pulteney Bridge which looks like something out of a Da Vinci painting. The Florence connection is also backed up by the fact that this is the only bridge - apart from the Ponte Vecchio - that has shops, restaurants and galleries along its length. The view of the bridge from the footpath on the river Avon is one of the best in this lovely city and one that you will return to again and again.

This whole area is very impressive. The river Avon cuts through the eastern part of the city of Bath, carving through parks, meadows and rows and rows of Georgian houses. But the part we are interested in lies between the Abbey and the river. This always formed the border of Bath and in medieval times housed the market gardens and fisheries of the Abbey monks. Nowadays the whole river bank is a good place for strolling with its pubs, parks and even river trips taking you under the bridge and up the river Avon. The river Avon is particularly idyllic here. And below the bridge is a gushing weir which sometimes has fishermen standing in frothing water waiting for trout or breen to go through. Also mallard ducks can be observed on the Avon as well as families of white swans gliding slowly by.

To get there just take all roads east of Bath. From the bus/train station walk up Pierrepont Road. At its northern extent the Georgian Terraces have been turned into luxury hotels. These border the greenery of Parade Gardens, but if you head east a little you will find the river banks and another Georgian bridge crossing the Avon. This is about 100m downstream of the bridge and is a good point for photographs catching its entire width.

But you will probably approach from Bath town centre. Just east of the Abbey comes Terrace Walk. A stonewalkway looks over the Parade Gardens and the Victorian Imperial hotel overlooks both. One of my few quibbles about Bath is the Parade Gardens. Granted, they are very beautiful and set at water level they have extensive views of the river - but does Bath Council really have to charge £1.50 to visit? Most cities in the world do not charge for visiting their public parks. The park itself is beautiful with statues, flowerbeds, deckchairs, topiary covered lawns and a bandstand; perhaps the charge is due to the upkeep? Or maybe it goes back to the times when they wanted to keep them exclusive and the resort of the beau monde?

Grand Parade curves above the river and gives even better views. Now you can get a better look at Pulteney Bridge. The entire bridge is enclosed in stone with only a few windows. Three colossal spans cross the river and the amount of grey weathered stone is staggering. There is no doubt that it is delicate. This elegant structure was designed by Robert Adam in 1770. Once you step onto the bridge the river disappears. Cars can drive across and it is still lined with the original booths for shopkeepers. The shops and restaurants are worth a look. First of all is a Cornish pasty shop whose delicious smell hits you as you approach. Further on are galleries, souvenir shops, Indian restaurants, tea and antique shops. On the other side a step of stone steps descend to the river bank. From here you are just below the bridge and can view its great span from another angle.

This is where the footpath along the Avon starts and there are superb views across to the Grand Parade. From here you can actually see the baroque columns that support the Grand Parade from beneath. The footpath also houses the 'Boater' pub whose wooden benches are set outside for patrons to enjoy their beer in the sunshine. Further along the footpath the Bathonians really make the most of their river. The weir was under renovation when I was there but there were plenty of people messing about in boats and cycling along its banks. There was a sense of relaxing and letting off steam in this part of Bath. It's a good place to take a picnic and relax.

Back on the bridge head east along Great Pulteney Street. An 18th Century fountain greets you at the end and here Great Pulteney Street is truly epic. It was the widest street in Europe at the time and its cream coloured Georgian buildings make it look as elegant as any boulevard in Paris. Just off this is the very English Henrietta Park. Green lawns stretch forever and are covered in flower beds, duckponds and shrubbery.

Henrietta Park is a good place to relax and dwell on what you have just seen. Bath is a very open spacious city and the inhabitants have lots of room to let off steam. Despite having high house prices it may be one of the most enjoyable places to live in the whole of the United Kingdom...

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