And did those feet-treading the ancient pathways of the Royal Bath Spa

by Robin Westley Martin

A few days after the long flight from Bangkok to Birmingham two pairs of feet had sufficiently recovered to venture out again — my own, and those of my Thai daughter. Thailand is fortunate to have beautiful islands, beaches, and delicious food, that combines well with the hundreds of beautiful golden temples and other exotic architecture and lifestyle to attract well over 30 just under 40 million tourists a year, from all parts of the world. But the reverse is also true … while the West does not have the wonderful weather of the tropics, what it does have is history, artefacts, and ancient buildings in abundance – something that travellers from Thailand and the Far East find fascinating.

On the flight over my daughter, Anchalee Sara, told me that one of her friends had visited Royal Bath on a trip to England, and Sara begged me to take her there on our trip. Bath is a place I had missed out on whilst I was living in the UK-, and I was more than happy to agree.

A town grew up during Roman times, on the site of Bath, in about 60 to 70-AD, which was then known as Aquae Sulis (the waters of Sul, a Celtic deity). In the late 2nd Century a ditch was dug around the Roman Baths, that had been built a  century before to take advantage of the natural hot springs, and an earth rampart was erected. It probably had a wooden palisade on top. In the 3rd Century, this was replaced by a stone wall and other ornate constructions, during the heights of the Roman Civilisation. This, then, was the ancient origin, but let’s jump forward in time to the 1800s. 


In the 18th Century Bath became a much more genteel and fashionable place. It boomed in size. This was largely due to the efforts of Richard ‘Beau’ Nash 1674 – 1762 who was granted the title Royal Master of Ceremonies. Many of the finest buildings in Britain were erected in Bath during the 18th Century. A Pump Room was built in 1706 (although the present one was built in 1795).

Architect John Wood the Elder 1704 – 1754 built Queen Square in 1728 – 1739. He built The Circus in 1754 – 60. His son John Wood the Younger was born in 1727. He built Royal Crescent in 1767 – 1774. He also built the Assembly Rooms in 1769 – 71. The Octagon was built in 1767 and Margaret Chapel was built in 1773. Pulteney Bridge was built in 1774. It was named after William Pulteney the first Earl of Bath and it was designed by Robert Adam. The legacy of the Wood family is what now draws tourists to visit Bath, and they come from around the world.

In the 21st Century Wellness has become a fashionable buzz word, and pre-occupation, but ancient Bath has been doing it for nearly two millennia. Constructed in around 70AD as a grand bathing and socialising complex, the Roman Baths is one of the best-preserved Roman remains in the world, where 1,170,000 litres of steaming spring water, reaching 46°C, still fills the bathing site every single day. 

The Roman Baths is the site of extensive ruins and an interactive museum, that is filled with many treasures and visual snippets that transport you back to Roman times and the lives of the Aquae Sulis people. You can walk on the same ancient pavements as the Romans did 2,000 years ago, and explore ancient chambers, changing rooms, and warm plunge pools. While my daughter and I were visiting the Roman Baths (on a somewhat cooler day than we are used to in Bangkok) we were both awed by the beauty of the ancient building, and fascinated by the lucid green waters, with steam gently rising from the surface. Sara also felt quite at home, as she had soon found a bunch of people visiting from Thailand … in fact, I was quite surprised to find I was one of the few western tourists … well outnumbered by the Chinese, Thai, Korean and Japanese visitors!

Head down to the water to Pulteney Bridge. This covered bridge was built in the 18th Century for William Pulteney to connect Bath to land on the other side of the River Avon to help drive up land prices. It’s one of few bridges in the world which have shops built into the sides and the facade is still really well preserved. Though if you take a look around the back it’s a bit more DIY as extra windows and extensions have been added over the years.

Bath definitely has a deserved reputation for history, architecture and literature – but there’s more to it than that. There are gorgeous views everywhere for your Instagram selfies, plenty of great foodie spots, cool boutiques and plenty more, as you walk through the historic streets and 18th Century shopping arcades.

A good way to end this wee introduction to Bath is with the way my daughter and myself also ended our trip there – with a  traditional English afternoon cream tea. There are many places in Bath to have such … the Regal Pump Room of the Roman Baths, for example, but we chose to go more intimate, and found a little place about 10 minutes walk from the train station, Sweet Little Things. This place was chosen by my daughter, as she loved the look of the place, and its pink flowers everywhere you looked. I am more of a black or brown guy myself, but as it turned out her choice was perfect. The delicious tea came in an ornate teapot, with china teacups, but the accompanying freshly made, still warm crumbly scones with sweet strawberry jam, topped with clotted cream were to die for. It was the perfect end to a day we will long remember. You could do a lot worse than to follow in our footsteps.


Royal Bath — upcoming in 2020

Great Western Railway super-fast London to Bath train route will be added to off-peak hours from 15th December 2019 

The new route will make rail travel for visitors to Bath quicker than ever in the new year. On certain peak-hour trains it will take 1 hour 11 minutes to travel from London Paddington to Bath Spa, calling at Chippenham only. 

New Attractions, Projects and Restaurants

The Roman Baths’ Archway Project 2020 

The Archway Project will convert former Victorian spa buildings close to the Roman Baths into a new learning and visitor centre with cutting-edge facilities. Due to open in 2020, the project will transform the learning programme, offering more activities and events for visitors, and create stimulating spaces for schools and groups, providing a hands-on and accessible learning experience set among Roman remains. 

Sanditon 

Airing in autumn 2019 early 2020

The TV adaptation of Jane Austen’s unfinished final novel will air on the BBC in autumn 2019 in the UK and early 2020 on PBS in the US. 

Upcoming anniversaries 

20th anniversary of Bath Christmas Market

In addition to the usual festivities, there will be lots of celebratory activities taking place to mark Bath Christmas Market’s 20th year. November – December 2020. 

Major Events

Bath Bach Festival (March and May 2020) 

Bath is joining in with the global celebrations in 2020 for the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth.

Bath Festivals will present the entire cycle of all 16 of Beethoven’s string quartets.

There will be 3 concerts in March (27 – 29th March) and 3 in May (22nd – 24th May) put on by two quartets.

Bath Comedy Festival (31st March–19th April 2020)

Bath Comedy Festival presents household names in the world of comedy and promotes the big names of tomorrow while encouraging young hopefuls in the form of the New Act Competition, plus events involving children, women’s comedy and disabled performers.

The Bath Festival (15th–24th May 2020) 

Multi-arts festival bringing together some of the world’s leading writers, musicians and cultural figures.

An evening with Michael Bublé at The Royal Crescent – 24/th and 25th July 2020

Jane Austen Festival, Bath (11th–20th September 2020) 

Celebrating all things Jane Austen including a Regency costumed promenade. 

Bathscape Walking Festival (September 2020) 

It offers 50 free walks covering a variety of themes and distances, led by knowledgeable leaders and supported by volunteers. Walks start at various locations around the city and explore Bath and its surrounding countryside. 

Bath Children’s Literature Festival (September 2020) 

The largest dedicated children’s literature festival in Europe, always offers a vibrant array of talks and activities for children.

Bath Digital Festival (October 2020) 

The Bath Digital Festival brings people and technology together, allowing everyone to explore the thriving digital scene in Bath and get hands on experience with the latest projects.

FilmBath Festival (November 2020)

Previews, special events and question and answer sessions with filmmakers, screenings of world cinema, LGBT films, documentaries and make up the diverse and vibrant programme.

Bath Mozart Festival (November 2020) 

Bath ‘Bachfest’s’ counterpart, ‘Mozartfest’ showcases the eminent Austrian composer through nine days of classical concerts, often recognised as one of the country’s best celebrations of classical music.

Bath Christmas Market (beginning of Dec 2020) 20th Year anniversary! 

The award-winning Bath Christmas Market will be back for 18 days of magical merriment! With over 180 twinkling chalets spread out across Bath’s picturesque Georgian streets, it’s the perfect place to do a spot of Christmas shopping.

Exhibitions 

Peter Brown: Bath Is It

30th Nov 2019–9th Feb 2020

The Victoria Art Gallery

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Sally Muir: The Dog Show

30th Nov 2019–9th Feb 2020

The Victoria Art Gallery

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Glove Stories 

2nd Mar 2019–1st Mar 2020

The Fashion Museum Bath

Browse one of the best collections of gloves in the world. Woven throughout A History of Fashion in 100 Objects with Glove Stories will showcase exquisite examples of historical gloves from the past 400 years, many of which have never been displayed to the public before. 

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Grayson Perry: The Pre-Therapy Years

24th Jan–25th May 2020

The Holburne Museum

The first exhibition to survey Grayson Perry’s earliest forays into the art world will re-introduce the explosive and creative works he made between 1982 and 1994. These ground-breaking ‘lost’ pots will be reunited for the first time to focus on the formative years of one of Britain’s most recognisable artists. Many of the 70 items on display have been crowd-sourced from across the UK following a hugely successfully appeal to the public in 2018.

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Canaletto – Painting Venice 

12 June to 20 September 2020

The Holburne Museum 

The Woburn Abbey Canaletto paintings were commissioned by Lord John Russell (who became 4th Duke of Bedford in 1732), after he had visited Venice while on his Grand Tour in 1731. It is thought that he had met with Canaletto’s agent Joseph Smith, and requested a series of views of the city, as a souvenir of his time there. These paintings will leave Woburn Abbey for the first time to make a stunning display in the Holburne’s Roper Gallery.

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Toulouse-Lautrec and the Masters of Montmartre

15th Feb–27th May 2020

The Victoria Art Gallery



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