Original Photo by David Iliff Attribution CC-BY-SA 3.0

We have mentioned Bath before in the Travel Articles, but it's now been voted one of the "best city breaks" on Visit Britain.  So, what makes this city such a "must see"?

Bath is in South West England: It is 97 miles (156 km) west of London and 13 miles (21 km) south-east of Bristol. It was granted city status by Royal Charter by Queen Elizabeth I in 1590, and was made a county borough in 1889. The City of Bath was inscribed as a World Heritage Site in 1987.

 

 

It is what we call a 'spa town'; the Romans called it Aquae Sulis ("the waters of Sulis"), and it probably owes its existence to the fact that the Romans liked their spas, so much so that when they found hot springs in the area they built baths and a temple on the surrounding hills. Much later, it became popular as a spa town during the Georgian era, which led to a major expansion that left a heritage of the fantastic (and fantastically expensive) Georgian architecture which gives Bath its unique look as the buildings are often crafted from the local, golden-coloured, Bath Stone. It really became the leading centre of fashionable life in England during the 18th century. And has had something of a revival, with the 2010 Google Street View Best Streets Awards giving the Royal Crescent second place in their "Britain's Most Picturesque Street" award.

The history of the city is displayed at the Building of Bath Collection which is housed in a building which was built in 1765 as the Trinity Presbyterian Church, aka the Countess of Huntingdon's Chapel, seemingly she lived in the attached house from 1707 to 1791. Bath has had more than its share of historic moments, Edgar was crowned king of England at Bath Abbey in 973.

On the cultural side, the city has a variety of theatres, museums, and other venues, and these have helped to make it a major centre for tourism. It is also home to the Victoria Art Gallery, the Museum of East Asian Art, and the Holburne Museum of Art, and there are more art galleries than you can possibly visit in a day. Alongside this there are the museums, among them Bath Postal Museum, the Fashion Museum, the Jane Austen Centre, the Herschel Museum of Astronomy and of course the Roman Baths themselves. This all attracts over one million holiday makers, and 3.8 million day visitors to the city each year.

Bath has been imortalised in several books: Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey and Persuasion are largely set in the city and feature descriptions of taking the waters, social life, and music recitals. Taking the waters is also described in Charles Dickens' novel The Pickwick Papers in which Pickwick's servant, Sam Weller, comments that the water has "a very strong flavour o' warm flat irons", while the Royal Crescent is the venue for a chase between two of the characters, Dowler and Winkle. Moyra Caldecott's novel The Waters of Sul is set in Roman Bath in 72 AD and Sheridan's play The Rivals takes place in the city, as does Roald Dahl's chilling short-story, The Landlady.

On a culinary note, Bath is linked to a variety of foods distinctive in their association with the city. The Sally Lunn buns (a type of teacake) have long been baked in Bath. They were first mentioned by that name in verses printed in a local newspaper, the Bath Chronicle, in 1772. At that time they were eaten hot at public breakfasts in the city's Spring Gardens. They can be eaten with sweet or savoury toppings.

Sally Lunn buns shouldn't be confused with Bath buns, which are smaller, round, very sweet, very rich buns that were associated with the city following The Great Exhibition. Bath buns were originally topped with crushed comfits created by dipping caraway seeds repeatedly in boiling sugar; but today seeds are added to a 'London Bath Bun' (a reference to the bun's promotion and sale at the Great Exhibition). The seeds may be replaced by crushed sugar granules or 'nibs'.

Bath has also lent its name to one other distinctive recipe – Bath Olivers – these dry baked biscuit invented by Dr William Oliver, physician to the Mineral Water Hospital in 1740. Oliver was an early anti-obesity campaigner and the author of a "Practical Essay on the Use and Abuse of warm Bathing in Gluty Cases". In recent years, Oliver's efforts have been traduced by the introduction of a version of the biscuit with a plain chocolate coating.

The Bath Chap, which is the salted and smoked cheek and jawbones of a pig, takes its name from the city too. It is still available from a stall in the daily covered market. And of course it has its own beer, there is a brewery named Bath Ales, located a few miles away in Warmley, whilst Abbey Ales are brewed in the city.

It gained its UNESCO World Heritage Site status because of its international cultural significance. All significant stages of the history of England are represented within the city, from the Roman Baths (including their significant Celtic presence), to Bath Abbey and the Royal Crescent, and the more recent Thermae Bath Spa from the 2000s, which with its opening has allowed Bath to recapture its historical position as the only town in the United Kingdom offering visitors the opportunity to bathe in naturally heated spring waters.

To get around, several companies offer open-top bus tours around the city, as well as tours on foot and along the river, and if you do visit, there are plenty of places to stay, with almost 300 choices of accommodation to suit most pockets, including over 80 hotels, and over 180 bed and breakfasts, many of which are located in the striking Georgian buildings. There are also two camp sites located on the western edge of the city, and there's no shortage of places to eat out either, Bath contains about 100 restaurants, and a similar number of pubs and bars.