Blissful Bath

Originally posted September 21, 2011.

I was really nervous about leaving for my trip today.  Even though I flew over here by myself, I thought I would be traveling with friends instead of entirely solo.  But when faced with the options of either traveling to Bath alone or not at all, I had to take a leap of faith and trust myself.  And it was beyond worth it.

When I got to Bath, I expected to struggle with a map or a bus schedule, but after just a quick walk up one street, I found myself in the center of a courtyard with the Bath Abbey to my right, and the Roman Baths on my left.  I was almost too excited to decide what to do.  I had watched the Rick Steves special and various Jane Austen movies filmed in these locations and I couldn’t believe that I was seeing them with my own eyes.  But in the end I knew exactly where to go first: the Jane Austen Centre.

I turned a corner and I knew I was in the right place by a sign on the door and the man dressed in Regency era costume waiting there just to greet me.  Inside the other guides were also dressed in Regency era costumes: men with breeches, white shirts, and patterned vests; women in simple linen/mock-muslin dresses—empire-waisted of course.  The tour at the beginning was actually helpful.  I learned a lot more about Jane Austen’s life.  I’ve read all her novels by now, but besides that, my only knowledge of the women behind the books comes from Becoming Jane.  And there was only one mention of Tom Lefroy in the entire museum so I doubt that film’s version of events has much to do with the truth.  Best of all, I learned that Jane came to visit Bath for the first time when she was 21.  It was fate that I was to visit this year.

After the tour and the museum, I was at a loss for what to do again.  It’s not that I don’t have enough to do in these cities; it’s that I have too much.  It’s liberating but also overwhelming to make all these decisions.  I’m used to fighting my mom, sister and dad on what to do next!  Anyways, I decided to keep walking down to the Royal Crescent. Both it and the Circus demonstrate the gorgeous Georgian architecture.  Everything is so symmetrical and geometric.  I can see why it was so fashionable to live in this area of town during Austen’s time, and why this place is still so iconic today.  I didn’t get a chance to go into Number One, but I’d love to go back.  The city converted the house into a museum to demonstrate life in a Georgian townhouse, complete with all the luxuries of the time.  For the meantime, I took lots of pictures and marveled at the green lawn.  All the rain over here is good for something.

After that I walked up the street to the Assembly Rooms.  Back in the Regency era, they built these rooms for concerts, teas, and balls.  It’s muted and elegant inside.  When I was there it was also quiet and rather empty so I could pace down the hallways and imagine this place in its heyday.  It helped that they filmed portions of the 1994 Persuasion here so I could visualize Wentworth and Ann slowly walking toward each other across the room.  I’m so glad my mom and I decided to watch that movie right before I left.  Even better, the building also houses the Fashion Museum in the basement.  I used to not care so much about fashion, but after designing costumes for a play and doing a project on Regency costuming last semester, I couldn’t wait to see what they had collected.  Overall, I loved the museum.  They started off with a special display of wedding dresses—in honor of the Royal Wedding of course.  I liked seeing all the different variations of the wedding dress, how it changed from century to century.  I have to admit my favorites were more from the 1930s than from today.  And in the 1800’s section, they had the traveling pelisse that Byron’s second wife wore after their wedding and Queen Victoria’s black mourning dress.  Those were my favorite parts of the museum.  I only wish they had displayed more of that era.  And more men’s clothing.  I know from my research that collars went up and down, tails grew then shrank, and then breeches turned slowly into longer trousers.  Most museum visitors probably didn’t care since most of them were women, but I would’ve liked to see both sets of clothing displayed.

For lunch I walked back toward the Abbey Courtyard again because on my walk I had noticed the West Cornwall Pasty Company.  When my family visited Windsor, my dad and I saw this shop after we had already eaten lunch and we regretted not getting to try some of the more local fare.  Dad, you would have loved the pasty I had.  It was warm, had a buttery crust, and was stuffed with chicken, mushrooms, and potatoes. The pigeons leapt around my feet to snatch the crumbs, but I didn’t leave them any substantial pieces.  I loved it so much that I decided to have another one for dinner, this time cheese and onion.  Plus, I got the second one for only a pound.  At the end of the day, one of the shop workers comes out with a bell and shouts, “Pasties now only one pound, pasties now only one pound!”  It sounded like an old town crier, which I loved even more.  It set the mood of Bath back in the Austen era.

After lunch I visited the Roman Baths.  They were packed and at times I got bored of listening to so much information.  But, I felt that I had to visit.  The hot springs are at the core of Bath’s history.  It’s why the Romans first built up the city, it’s why the English eventually gravitated there, and it’s why the city is a world heritage site today.  I did learn a lot about the Roman religion and how the baths changed over the centuries.  You can literally see the different layers of stone and how the area changed over time.  Plus, I got to take a lot of pictures and play with my new camera.  In this time before my studies start I’m really trying to take advantage of my “tourist” status.  And that means being super annoying with the camera.

All of this was great, but my favorite part of the day by far was my afternoon visit to Sally Lunn’s house.  Sally Lunn’s is a tiny teahouse and restaurant, which also happens to be the oldest house in Bath.  I had passed it on my walk into town and knew I had to come back.  My mom visited this teahouse on her trip and I knew I had to do the same; it sounded like a delicious tradition to uphold.  They seated me in the very front of the shop, right by the window.  As it started to sprinkle outside turned to a steady rain, the waitress brought me the house tea with plenty of tea and sugar.  And then she brought out the Sally Lunn bun.  With lots of raspberry jam and clotted cream (think butter, only a million times creamer), it is probably one of best non-chocolate desserts I have ever eaten.  I couldn’t even finish it and that’s crazy considering I can almost always have more dessert and it was only half of a bun.  I can’t imagine how anyone could eat one entire bun at one sitting.  The tea felt very English and helped me recharge for the rest of my adventures in Bath.  I am suggesting Sally Lunn’s to anyone and everyone who visits Bath.

The rest of my day was still enjoyable, but less eventful.  I walked through Bath Abbey and took a tour of the towers, even though it was still raining outside.  I also took a walk through the other side of town, over the Pulteney Bridge and down Laura Place.  At that point I was simply trying to waste time before my train, which was difficult to do considering all the shops closed and it was raining steadily.  But, I made the best of things.  As my study abroad shirt says, “If it’s raining in London, you’re still in London” (although in this case substitute Bath). I caught my train back to London on time and made it back to my friend’s flat just before 10 pm.

Overall, I had a successful first solo trip.  I was a bit lonely at first.  I loved the freedom, but sometimes I wanted to share my joy and love of the sights with someone else.  But, I have to return to the city.  Even though it’s tiny, there are still lots of things I would still like to see.  I didn’t get to participate in the Jane Austen festival at all because I misjudged the times/botched the location for one of the other tours, I didn’t get to visit Number One Royal Crescent, I wanted to take a better Jane Austen walking tour of the city, and I would have liked to enjoy tea at the Pump Room, too.  It’s too bad there isn’t a superstition like the plaque in front of Notre Dame in Paris for Bath.  If there was, I would definitely make sure to complete it.  I’m going to find a way to return to Bath.


About austinausten88

Playwright in love with Classic films, afternoon tea, and Noel Coward. She recently graduated from Rice University. In the fall, she will be exchanging her English major undergraduate status for that of Theatre & Performance Studies graduate student.
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