Just twelve miles from Bristol, BATH has a very different feel from its neighbour – more harmonious, compact, leisurely and complacent. The city’s elegant crescents and Georgian buildings are studded with plaques naming Bath’s eminent inhabitants from its heyday as a spa resort; it was here that Jane Austen set Persuasion and Northanger Abbey, and where Gainsborough established himself as a portraitist and landscape painter.
Bath owes its name and fame to its hot springs – the only ones in the country – which made it a place of reverence for the local Celtic population, though it took Roman technology to turn it into a fully fledged bathing establishment. The baths fell into decline with the departure of the Romans, but the town later regained its importance under the Saxons, its abbey seeing the coronation of the first king of all England, Edgar, in 973. A new bathing complex was built in the sixteenth century, popularized by the visit of Elizabeth I in 1574, and the city reached its fashionable zenith in the eighteenth century, when Beau Nash ruled the town’s social scene. It was at this time that Bath acquired its ranks of Palladian mansions and Regency townhouses, all of them built in the local Bath stone.
Although Bath could easily be seen on a day-trip from Bristol, it really deserves a stay of a couple of days. There’s a rich concentration of museums to take in, but some of the greatest enjoyment comes simply from wandering the streets, with their pale gold architecture and sweeping vistas.