When my friend initially suggested a weekend away, my mind immediately went to warmer climes – could we go to Spain, Portugal… maybe the Canary Islands? Mostly through lack of decision-making capabilities and the postponing of any organisation at all, we eventually ended up with just one night away, and in England. We quickly booked an Airbnb (all hotels in the city were full on booking.com) and off we went with little idea of what to expect. After our little trip, though, I’ve come away with a newfound appreciation for mini-trips and above all for staying in the country!
I’ve always wanted to go to Bath. In fact, I did go there for a weekend many years ago to visit my sister, who was studying a semester there as part of her masters, but she had already done the touristy things so many times that the only thing I remember from that visit was going to buy some fudge! Most famous of course are the Roman baths, but Bath is also known for its link to Jane Austen – so the two of these things were definitely enough of a draw for me to come back and see the sights!
Before getting to Bath, though, we made a little stop along the way in Castle Combe. Voted the prettiest village in England, it wasn’t exactly at its best when we arrived in the rain but it was still well worth the stop and it really is very picturesque. This is also where scenes from War Horse were filmed, with Steven Spielberg bringing in 300 extras and 30 horses for the filming.
I found the city of Bath itself to be a beautiful place, a World Heritage Site set against the hills of Somerset and with a dominant Georgian architecture seen throughout.
The baths themselves were constructed by the Romans around 70AD, built on England’s only hot springs. There was a caldarium (hot bath), a tepidarium (warm bath) and a frigidarium (cold bath) alongside a Sacred Spring and Temple. Confusingly, for me, there is a mix of the Roman ruins within the museum and the later buildings and statues that exist above street level, which are rather from the 19th century – though of course that’s just common sense, that the building could not have been in such good condition if it had been 2,000 years old!
On the way back from Bath, we made a second little stop in another quaint though slightly larger village (we counted four pubs!). Lacock (pronounced lay-cock rather than the more French “la coque” that I wanted to call it) has also been seen in Hollywood, appearing in Harry Potter (the Abbey provided classrooms for Hogwarts in the very first film, while the village itself provided Slughorn’s house in the Half-blood Prince) as well as in Downton Abbey and the BBC’s adaptation of Pride and Prejudice.
The practical bit
- Find out more about this little village on the website. It’s about half an hour from Bath.
- We had lunch at the Old Rectory Tearoom, where you can also choose to have afternoon tea or cake (okay, we had some cake too – each portion was two slices!!).
The city of Bath
- The Roman baths are definitely a highlight. If you want the modern-day equivalent, visit the Thermae Bath Spa, Britain’s original natural thermal spa.
- Bath Abbey is stunning from the outside and if you’re interested in visiting the interior as well there is a suggested £4 donation that they take on entry.
As far as Jane Austen goes, we ended up not doing anything at all. If you do end up in Bath, though, there are plenty of things to be done – especially in 2017, the 200th anniversary of her death:
- You can in fact stay in Jane’s family house from the early 1800s, in a self-catering apartment at 4 Sydney Place
- There’s the Jane Austen Centre, a small museum that also offers walking tours around the city
- You can visit the Assembly Rooms, where there would have been many evening balls where young ladies would hope to dance with eligible bachelors
- Lacock is part of the National Trust – read more on their website. The parking is just a short walk from the village. You can stay in one of the old houses (it was open for a free visit when we were there) or have coffee and cake in one of the tea rooms.