Friday, March 17, 2017

U.K. Visit: Countryside walk from Bradford to Bath

The city of Bath in southwest England

Since arriving in the U.K. in October, I've been staying in Bristol in the southwestern part of England near Wales. Very close to Bristol is Bath, one of the most picturesque cities I've ever visited. 

Although a lot of the current city of Bath was only built fairly recently, the presence of humans in the area goes back an incredibly long time, all the way to the Mesolithic period (10,000-5,000 BCE.) Romans were attracted by the hot springs in the area and built baths there in AD 60, giving the place the Latin name Aquae Sulis which means the Waters of Sulis.

The Arthurian legend nerd in me got excited when I learned that Bath might have been the location where King Arthur supposedly defeated the Anglo-Saxxons around AD 500. At any rate, a monastery was built there possibly in the 7th century and the place continued to be known for its natural hot water. This quote from Nennius, a 9th century historian, is kind of funny: "It is surrounded by a wall, made of brick and stone, and men may go there to bathe at any time, and every man can have the kind of bath he likes. If he wants, it will be a cold bath; and if he wants a hot bath, it will be hot." (Wikipedia)

Map of Bath from 1610 (photo credit)

Most of the city, as I mentioned before, was built up later during the Georgian period, so a lot of the architecture that you can see there is Georgian using Bath stone, a kind of light, creamy limestone. In my opinion this is what makes the city so attractive; the uniformity of the stone and the warm color. 

One of the most famous residents of Bath was the writer Jane Austen, who lived there during the early 19th century. You can see the house where she lived and there is a museum dedicated to her life and works.

The Jane Austen Centre in Bath (photo credit)

In the center of the city is Bath Abbey, founded in the 7th century, which looks especially impressive when it's lit up at night. It's near the Roman baths, a tourist hot spot that you can pay a pretty high fee to go in and see. Near both is the river that curves through the city.

Entrance to the Roman Baths

Inside the Roman Baths (photo credit)

Bath Abbey lit up at night

Two of the other big landmarks are the Royal Crescent and the Circus. Both are rows of Georgian houses, the first in the shape of a crescent and the other in a circle.

An aerial view of Bath showing the Royal Crescent and Circus (photo credit)

Royal Crescent (photo credit)

A few times this winter Anna and I have caught the train from Bristol to the small town of Bradford on Avon near Bath. Bradford is little but very pretty, with a lot of old buildings and basically how I think most people picture the English countryside to look. From Bradford you can follow the "towpath" to Bath, which for people not from the U.K. means the little path that follows the canal. It's called a towpath because people living in houseboats along the canal used to tow their boat alongside the path.

Anna on the towpath on a frosty day

Right at the beginning of the walk from Bradford to Bath is an old tithe barn that's worth a quick look. It was built in the early 14th century and was where the local abbey kept all the goods that were given by the people living in the area as a "tithe". 

14th century tithe barn in Bradford

Inside the tithe barn

The walk along the towpath to Bath takes about 3 hours, but it's very flat and there's an opportunity about halfway along to stop at a nice cafe for lunch/coffee. Even on a cold day in the winter the walk was really pleasant, passing through beautiful countryside and with the added fun of houseboats all along the way. British houseboats look nothing like the kind I've seen in the U.S. They look much more like actual boats, long and narrow. Ours tend to look more like floating houses on little platforms and seem much less mobile.

Houseboats in Bradford
Along the towpath about halfway between Bradford and Bath

View of the countryside along the path

I really recommend doing the walk between Bradford and Bath, or cycling it, either way it is really beautiful and a nice, easy way to spend some time outdoors. And you'll never be too far from a nice pub or cafe where you can take a break and enjoy some good food and drink. What more could you want?

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