Whoever said a 4-hour flight was a relaxing and enjoyable ride? No one I know. Next time try the train. No drama getting here from York except for almost, but not quite, missing our connection in Bristol. A perfectly-timed liaison with Geoff, Rachel, and Eleanore in Bath, then a mere 10 minute ride to this ancient/modern booming village in the valley of the gently-flowing Avon. Sporadic internet access has delayed broadcasting it all, but we are managing at last.
We spent a relaxing last day in York. No demon climbs, just garden-and-city-wall-strolling, a museum, an informative but dull walking tour. That city wall contains contributions by Romans, Vikings, Normans, Angles and Saxons, medieval, and moderns. York’s been important since forever, though the Vikings didn’t get here till more than a century after they hit Dublin. Romans were in the way.
We settled up with the hotel, boarded our train, and set out for Bath.
Then what’s this Bradford-on-Avon, you might ask? Good question. Geoff/Rachel/Eleanore decided to meet us there for a couple of days, but finding affordable accommodations for the 5 of us turned out to be a little sticky, so we landed here. And glad we did.
Our super-modern condo’s in an old mill building that we’re told was a complete wreck four years ago. Now it’s a thriving complex of condos and shops. View from our balcony hardly captures the bustling flavor. A nearby real estate office claims low inventory and solicits property to sell. A Mr. and Mrs. R seek a 2-3/bedroom house/flat—even a fixer-upper and are willing to pay up to 450,00 pounds (about $750,000) Bulldozers are at work on a couple of other projects.
All this in a town that boasts a Saxon church that’s been here, probably, since 700 a.d. and shops and restaurants housed in buildings dating back to the 14-1500’s. It’s pleasant to think that one could board a small boat and float peacefully down through the lily pads and past the weeping willows to Stratford and meet Will S. on the way.
We happened into a Sunday mass and met some welcoming people. Our new friend, Ann, introduced us around and showed us a quilt-sized set of embroidered squares recounting the history of the town. So nice here we were tempted to just skip Bath and soak up the atmosphere. But, Odysseyans that we are, we resisted the siren call and set out.
As the name implies, a hot springs is the whole reason for the town’s existence. Those good old Romans set up a resort here starting with Julius Caesar’s first invasion in the A.D. 50’s. They came from far and wide, those Romans, to build and build and build and displace and enslave the locals. That went on for 400-500 years, after which things fell into a decline, as things will, for another millennium or so, until after Charles II ended Oliver Cromwell’s Puritan austerity experiment in 1660, and it’s been back to frivolity and prosperity every since. Not far from London, it turned out to be the perfect place for the hoi and the polloi to take the waters and display their finery. Both Austen and Dickens wrote with wonderful skill of the atmosphere in the 18th-19th centuries, and you can feel it still, theme park though it’s become.
The street musicians are concert-caliber. The tour of the Royal Crescent (a curving complex of Georgian mansion/town houses) is superb. But the center of everything is still that Roman Bath. We’ve toured many a Roman Ruin, but this, I think, beats them all—at least all the baths. The waters still bubble up. The construction and artifacts are multifold and awesome and entertaining, such as, in the first case, the elaborate plumbing, and in the latter, the little pieces of lead on which people wrote curses and threw them into the waters in hopes of revenge. “Whoever stole my cape, whether he be man or woman, slave or free, may the gods kill in a horrible manner and deny children forevermore.” Sincere, but over the top, don’t you think?
As all such places do, they offered bottles of the sulfurous stuff to drink. Curse on those who have the nerve to offer up such swill and double curse on those who keep buying it and encouraging the vendors.
Looks like it could be a pretty good theater town as well.
Anyhow, After a delicious sunday roast, we trained back home to our quiet refuge on the quiet stream.