Bath Stories and Tips

Bath at it's most elegant - the Royal Crescent, Queen Square and 'The Circus'

The start of Milsom Street Photo, Bath, England

If I could travel back in time in Britain - top of my list of eras to visit would be the 18th Century.

This was a century to have fun. This was a century which valued elegance and aesthetics. It was a time of great liveliness where people were more natural and down-to-earth. Especially when you compare it with the religious fanaticism of the 17th Century and the po-faced Victorian morality of the 19th.

The apogee of this has to be Bath. Built in yellow-white stone the city epitomises the civilised way of life of those times. The houses, rows and crescents of Bath still retain their Georgian splendour. The blackwood doors of these caramel coloured buildings once housed Jane Austen or Thomas Gainsborough. Those that used Bath as an 18th Century playground stayed at hotels in the leafy crescents and would have snobby competitions with each other to see who stayed at the more fashionable addresses. But three addresses stood out - 'The Circus', Queens Square and the spectacular Royal Crescent. Even today they are some of the most presitigious addresses in the country and a visit to any of these is to see Bath at its most impressive.

Of course to make a city as beautiful and cohesive as Bath then one man must be at the helm. Sir Ralph Allen was the local postmaster, property tycoon and more importantly stone magnate. He knew a good thing when he saw it and he saw that Bath was reaching dizzy heights of fashionability in the early 18th Century. It was time to cash in. He employed the architect John Wood to totally transform Bath from a damp backwater to the glorious Georgian city that it is today. Of course it helped that he owned nearby Combe Down quarry where all this Oolite stone could be found. He even built a canal from the quarry to Parade Square so that his stone could be moved cheaply. As Bath's popularity soared Allen became extremely rich and he built the baroque paradise of Prior Park as his own (outside Bath in Widcombe, £4.00 entry).

But wandering around Georgian Bath has its own pleasures. Life is a lot slower out here in the West country and you may find yourself meandering aimlessly around the streets of Bath. The city is divided into the upper and lower town. The lower town is by the railway station while a walk uphill will take you to the residential area around the John Wood crescents. This was the more fashionable place to live and stay. But the visitors needed something else to do rather then just mingle and gossip so Bath's shopping streets are second to none. Outside the Baths is a traditional, though very elegant, High Street called 'Stall Street' - it houses 'Arding and Hobbs' mens outfitters, GAP and Laura Ashley. As you move west from this area between here and Queens Square the streets get very narrow and twisty. The shops are more individual here and some of them are hundreds of years old. 'Paxton and Whitfield' is a very pungent cheese shop selling 'Red Leicester', 'Blue Stilton' and nearby Cheddar cheese. 'The Salamander' pub/restaurant has a good reputation and concentrates on fish dishes while only serving good quality English ale such as 'Olde Peculiar' and 'Ruddles Old Wallop'.

There is another recent attraction which may be of interest in these streets. Along Hot Bath Street is the 'Thermae Baths'. The idea is to bring people back to the city for modern day baths. The first of these is 'Thermae' which is a reinvigorated 18th Century bath. For £17 for two hours or £35 for all day you can enjoy the bubbling Georgian Hot Bath or the slightly cooler 'Cross Bath. According to the notice outside it also contains Turkish baths, bars and a beauty treatment centre. The rooftop contains a modern-day open-air thermal pool. Perhaps Bath will come back to fashion?

Not far west of here is Queens Square which is one of the great 18th Century set-pieces of Bath. Ornate Georgian houses surround a small park with iron railings. An obelisque stands in the park and the green lawns are used by people walking dogs and relaxing. Featured in many Jane Austen novels the square is authentically Georgian along with wrought-iron lamposts although very expensive. A flat in one of these buildings goes for a million sterling each. That's why most of them are taken up with offices, hotels or music academies.

Then it is a slog north uphill along Gay Street. At the top it opens out into the famous 'Circus' (see photo). Caramel coloured buildings stretch in a great circle around a gigantic oak in the middle of a park. The yellow-brown townhouses are symmetrically proportioned with the same Greek columns and bay windows in each (see photo). Completed by John Wood the younger in 1767 they had some very famous residents such as Gainsborough the painter, David Livingstone the explorer and Clive of India. As the crescent/close is a perfect circle there are only three ways out: south down Gay Street, Brock Street and Bennett Street which leads to the Assembly Rooms. On a warm sunny day the giant Oak in the middle of the 'Circus' is a great place to kick back and relax.

But most people head for Brock Street for a small walk to the sight which is on all the postcards - The Royal Crescent'. Even though you are expecting it - it still comes as quite a surprise when you turn the corner. Stretching in a great half-moon is the most glorious Bath crescent of all (see photo). Twenty townhouses combine in a colossal arc over 500ft feet long and overlook the Somerset Hills. The architecture is so overpowering that you need to step back to get it all in and it is even better as the area in front is a public park with wide green lawns. To walk to one end of the crescent to another takes about ten minutes and by now your feet may be hurting. The park in front of the Crescent is a good place to relax or you can take in the musuem at 1 Royal Crescent or check out the five star Bath Crescent Hotel

You would be in esteemed company if you did. Earlier in the summer the 'Three Tenors' - Pavarotti, Carrera and Domingo performed with the Royal Crescent as a backdrop. The concert was meant to be stunning and I can't think of a better piece of scenery for Opera then this magnificent sight.

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