On our first full weekend back in metro London — and with a rental car now in our possession — we decided to depart the area for the day to visit the town Bath, which lies about 2 hours West.
Our first stop upon arriving was the historical site we presumed helped provide the town with its name, the Roman Baths Museum. What we thought would be a quick 1 hour walk-through turned into a delightful and amazing 2.5 hour stay. With the help of an audioguide, we toured the remains of a bigger-than-expected complex containing bath houses, courtyards, and a temple, all while recognizing we were walking where Romans walked nearly 2,000 years ago. We did not, however, bathe where the Romans bathed as the water in the Great Bath was filled with algae – in Roman times, there was an impressive roof over this section of the complex, preventing the algae-nurturing sun from shining on it.
Some interesting tidbits:
- the temple portion of the site was discovered first, and only about 300 years ago. The bath portion was discovered only 130 years ago, and by accident at that. The story is that in 1880 a local resident was having problems with a persistent leak in the basement. The people brought in to fix this investigated, and in the course of their repair work discovered the baths and their treasurers.
- the site sits on the only natural hot spring in England, and is one of the few Roman baths worldwide whose waters are supplied via a hot spring.
- the Great Bath, despite its age, is still water-tight. It is completely lined with about 2 cm of lead, and the seams connecting the lead pieces are still intact.
- the water in the Sacred Spring (the source for the bath complex) is 115 degrees Fahrenheit, and rises at a rate of about 240,000 gallons a day.
- the Romans at the site used "curse tablets." The tablet is nothing more than a small sheet of lead or pewter with a carefully worded inscription on it to the goddess Minerva, asking her to mete out justice to someone who wronged them. They were then rolled up, and thrown into Sacred Spring for her to read. A large portion of the ones found at the site deal with the theft of one's clothes from the changing rooms in the complex.
- We did get to sample the water from spring. Being quite warm and containing 43 minerals, it sure is an acquired taste.
We grabbed some lunch after the tour in the self-proclaimed "small pub in Bath" — and judging by the insides, I can't imagine they're wrong – and then split up... Chloe and Peggy went to the Fashion Museum to see the exhibit on Lady Di's dresses, and I went strolling around the streets, alleys, and parks with my camera.
We reconnected eventually and took a tour of Bath Abbey, a marvelous piece of Gothic architecture in the center of town. A church of some manner has been on the site for the last 12.5 centuries — Edgar, the first King of England, was crowned there in 973 AD — but the current structure was completed only in 1611. Afterward, we walked some more... over Pulteney Bridge, along the River Avon and eventually to the Parade Gardens, where we found some vacant deck chairs and relaxed some in the afternoon sun, listening to the Abbey bells ringing (they went on for an hour!)
A slide show from the day can be found here.