Part 2 of a series of indeterminate length
Day trip to Bath
The town of Bath, in Somerset, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It has a long history, and was apparently well known for its healing waters even before the Romans built a spa there around 60 C.E.
They dedicated this temple and bath to Sulis Minerva, a hybrid British-Roman goddess…because the Romans hardly ever reinvented the wheel; they were far more likely to let a couple of goddess wheels smash together (like Sulis and Minerva) and see who crawled out of the wreckage.
As fascinating as the history and mythology was, however, we might never have cared much about Bath if not for Jane Austen (and later, especially for Sis, Georgette Heyer). The Bath we wanted to see was the Bath of the Royal Crescent, the Circus, and the Assembly Rooms, all built out of warm. golden Bath Stone.
According to our guide Viv, local legend had Bath being discovered by Prince Bladud, who was banished from the royal court because he had leprosy. In order to keep body and soul together, he became a swineherd, but unfortunately his pigs also contracted his disease. One day, he noticed them wallowing around in some hot springs and—wouldn’t you know it?—coming out completely cured. He hopped in the springs himself, was also cured. When he later became king, he built a city at this magical site out of gratitude. That explains why you see acorns (which Bladud’s pigs liked to eat) all over Bath.
We found some other interesting symbols around Bath, especially in the Circus. Wouldn’t it have been fun if the Circus was filled with animals and acrobats? No such luck. The name actually refers to the fact that the buildings in this area of Bath are built to form a circle (aka “circus” in Brit-speak) around a park. There were designs above the columns that are reputed to have Masonic origins. I was so delighted to think of Freemasons being responsible for building large portions of Bath, I could barely contain myself, but instead of dancing, I just took pictures.
After oohing and aahing over the Royal Crescent and the Circus, we headed for the Assembly Rooms.
From 1705-1760, the balls and other social activities at the Assembly Rooms were organized (and apparently ruled with an iron hand) by the town’s Master of Ceremonies, John (aka “Beau”) Nash. He was good at getting people to mingle, but my favorite story about him hearing how he kept an eye on the eligible young ladies who were seated, bleacher-style, on one side of the ballroom. If a young lady wasn’t asked to dance within a certain period of time, she would be escorted to a bleacher near the back wall, out of the light, so people wouldn’t have to look at her pitiful loser-hood. Viv thought this was the origin of the term “wallflower. Seems like a legitimate explanation, but holy cow! This Nash guy was harsh!
Then it was on to the Jane Austen Centre.
It’s possible that the door above leads to one of the places Jane Austen lived when she lived with her father, mother and sister in Bath. At any rate, it’s in one of her neighborhoods; the family lived in about four different spots during their time in Bath.
We went to the Roman Baths as well, but unless you’re a huge archaeology fan (or you have more time than we had allotted to Bath), you might not want to spend a lot of time there. Cream tea in the Regency Tea Room was much more fun!