What makes this charming little town so bloody perfect? Option A: the amazing architecture. Option B: the delicious beers and ciders. Option C: the shopping.
Trick Question: it’s actually the locals who make the town so memorable.
I won’t lie. I am a huge Jane Austen fan and yearned to see the place of her inspiration. But, the real reason I choose Bath as my getaway from London was the architecture. The entire city of Bath is lucky enough to be considered a World Heritage Site. It is like walking through history. The circular maze of streets wind you up and away from the river. When I got off the train from London, my breath was taken away by the beauty of the old buildings. Where 18th century socialites would dine and dane, I would explore what modern Bath has to offer.
I slammed my luggage into a locker at my hostel and started exploring as soon as I could. My first serendipitous find was an old church and graveyard. Of course, I had to investigate further. I walked through thick wooden doors and, instead of pews and a pulpit, there was a dramatic art installation.
The dynamic installation was to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I. Paper sailboats, some painted red, some black, some white, were strategically placed on the floor. The lighting from the stained glass windows shown romantically and forbiddingly on the sailboats. Symbolizing the soldiers who made sacrifices of various sorts during the Great War, the audience could tell that the installation represented a dark memory in local history. I exited the quaint church and strolled through the graveyard. The crumbling gravestones set against the rolling hills of the English countryside side is a vista I won’t soon forget.
I wandered on and found myself in awe of the architecture. The elegantly symmetrical houses lined the streets and curved around the hills they were set upon. The heavy stone buildings create an air of elegance. I ended up stumbling upon a museum dedicated to the architectural history of Bath.
Created in sections, the city was designed by a close group of architects who catered to the elite society of the 1800s. This little museum was one of the many hidden gems I found during my short stay in Bath. The sole attendant at the entrance told me about her favorite piece of local history: the Suffragette Arboretum. Created in the early 1900s, a wealthy family helped female political activists rehabilitate after imprisonment. Planting trees was used to symbolize the activists dreams political equality. Many of the trees are gone today.
I walked out of the tiny gift shopping realizing Bath has always been full of wild women.
Another gem I found was a little bookshop tucked away in the curves of the hills. Topping & Company Booksellers is the quintessential shop. The royal blue entrance pops against the grey stone buildings surrounding the store. The promise of a warm cup of tea and skimming through an amazing collections of British literature was an opportunity I was not going to pass up. Needless to say, I spent most of my souvenir money buying books by Dickens, Austen, and the Bronte Sisters.
I stepped into a warmth that only a good library can offer. I started skimming the first bookcase. I had just got to the third shelf when I was offered a cup of tea. Next thing I knew, I had a pile of books to buy and was chatting up the cute bookkeeper, trying to flirt my way into a discount. “30% of for the Cute American Traveller”
While traveling, I try not to participate in the tourist trap attractions, but sometimes you just gotta hop on a CityBus tour. What I have discovered is that during the off-season, the things that would turn me off to such an activity aren’t present: no long lines, no screaming toddlers, no shoving from sweaty tourists. Having a genuine conversation with my local tour guide changed the whole experience. The charming banter our tour guide created with the group was enchanting. We all listened intently and learned all about the social and architectural history of Bath.
Every night, I would take a lap around the small inner city. The night light amplified the already romantic sights. Each cobblestoned street seemed right out of a novel. I kept expecting to see two lovers loudly confessing their tormented love for each other down each misty alley. Street lamps and Christmas lights were placed strategically to shine on the delicate details of each building’s design. Both nights, I treated myself to some delicious vegan gelato and sat on a bench. I watched a group of teenagers as they walked across the square, staring at their phones and taking quick selfies. The modern socialites of Bath!
Naturally, I had planned to buy some authentic english teas during my visit. I came across a little tea shop during my two nights in Bath and took the opportunity to expand my palette. Two local girls gave me so many great suggestions, I ended up with a full gift bag and a long list of drinks to try. They were trying to covert the coffee snob into a proper British tea drinker. There were so cute, it almost worked too.
I wandered in and out of the shops as I made my way around Bath. Each new store window held hidden secrets and treasures that made the shopkeepers proud. My favorite gallery I discovered was smaller than the ones in London, but filled to the brim with an eclectic collection from local artists. Traditional English landscapes, pop art, and mixed media sculptures captured my imagination.
The Gallery was the perfect spot to escape the constant drizzle. The long hall connects two busy streets trough the middle of the block, housing a variety of local business owners. Hipster coffee houses, vintage clothing, cheap electronics, and miscellaneous stores crowded the tight hallway. I picked up a few Christmas gifts for the family while supporting local business owners. The hall offered warm respite from the damp wind and a great opportunity to help the local economy. Each shop I entered, the staff were only too excited to share their story. I definitely spent more money in Bath than I did in London simply because of the people.
I couldn’t help but be swept away by the town’s charm. Every local I met was warm and welcoming, and most importantly, proud of their “quaint English country town”.