N’s heart must always sink when I say I’ve found lots of interesting places to visit. But he’s good about finding something to enjoy. With historic buildings he loves Horrible Histories so can usually find a fact that he already knows to tell me. Or try and convince the tourist location that he’s right. When in Bath we had to visit the roman baths, and with the Abbey next door, there wasn’t much point not checking it out.
Both Bath Abbey and the Roman Baths are situated in the centre of the city around a square. It’s easy to use them to get your bearings, especially when the buses drop nearby.
It’s worth thinking about buying tickets for the Roman Baths in advance, and definitely get there early (or late) because even though we arrived 15 minutes before opening, there was still a queue.
The ticket queue did move quite fast, and we were soon picking up our audioguides for the tour. As well as the general tour (and a commentary tour from Bill Bryson), children get their own tour about different roman characters read by Michael Rosen. N enjoyed this tour better than previous ones, mainly because you just held the set to your ear rather than worrying about earphones that don’t fit. You were also able to wander as you wanted and just typed in the relevant number at each spot you got to. Much better than ongoing talking because you can pick and choose, and jump past slow people.
The Roman Baths date back 2000 years, and was one of the grandest spas of the ancient times. You can see the ruins of a temple, the bath house and of course, the famous Grand Bath.
You get to walk around the top roof area overlooking the baths, and then head down to the more museum area. As well as parts of the old building works, tiles and more, they project pictures and films of what it might have looked like in each of the baths’ rooms. It brings it much more to life so is a nice touch.
We sped through some areas, and took our time in others. A couple of people went straight through to the baths so they could get photos while it was empty. Once N got a bit bored of learning, we also headed downstairs and out to the famous bath. You can always go back into the museum area, so it’s worth doing to get a selfie or family photo without other people taking photos in the background.
It’s really quite a surreal experience sitting there. It’s warm alongside the baths, a little muggy (although the weather while we were there didn’t help), and a little whiffy with that ‘hot water’ smell. The green is unlike a green I’ve seen before – it almost looks like its coloured with algae which I suppose is the minerals and rocks it’s gone through.
After we’d had our fill and more people were emerging, we headed into the other rooms to find out more about the cold rooms, changing rooms and heating system. I find the ancient roman period so interesting – as a child I had a set of Usborne books on Ancient Rome, Greece and Egypt that I loved to read.
The experience ends with the chance to taste some of the water. Back in the times of Jane Austen, the water from the springs in Bath was thought of as cleansing and essential for good health, with wealthy people drinking glasses of it a day. N decided not to try it, but I did. We have quite hard water in our area so we have lots of flavour in our water, but this wasn’t pleasant to drink. It had a very minerally taste, and the fact that it was warm didn’t help. Certainly one to try, but I’m glad we have much better water nowadays.
The Roman Baths is a really interesting place to visit. We spent just over an hour there, but you could easily spend 2 hours if you take in everything in more detail and listen to every tour point. You can also book in to have twilight dinner there with the baths all lit up which sounds like a lovely experience.
If you’re planning to visit the Abbey, you need to be aware that sometimes it’s closed for services. We didn’t have that problem, and were able to walk straight in. It’s free to visit like churches across the UK, but you can make a donation at the start or end.
For children, there is a trail to spot things as they go round the Abbey, although N was given a pencil but no leaflet. I’m not sure why not. But he wasn’t that fussed and was happy enough just wandering.
There’s so much history – with Bath Abbey starting out as in saxon times, being built as a Norman cathedral, then dissolved by Henry VIII, before being rebuilt again later as an Abbey.
Bath Abbey is much bigger than I expected. It’s a beautiful building with gorgeous stained glass windows as expected. And the vaulted fan ceiling is beautiful above the symmetry of the pews and nave.
You can walk all around the abbey. We even had one of the chaplaincy come and have a chat as we were wandering round before he headed off to lead the hourly prayers.
I always think churches are peaceful places, and while N isn’t so enamoured, he does appreciate that they have a purpose for people and are a place to be respectful as we walk round. Bath Abbey is certainly on a much larger scale than he is used to compared with the little village church he goes to with school.
There was a pretty butterfly display in one of the windows (not easily seen in photos) and we lit a candle to remember N’s Grandma, my mum.
Of course N couldn’t stop but fiddle and want everything that he didn’t really need in the gift shop. Then we emerged into the damp mugginess of the square before heading to our next stop.
If you’re visiting, here’s some tips:
1, Buy advance tickets for the Roman Baths, but also look out for discount vouchers from tourist leaflets.
2, Arrive early if you want quiet photos and even think about skipping past the museum are to the main bath, then heading back in after getting your photos.
3, Use the tour handsets. It’s free, and lets you choose which direction you want to go to next. Great for children who want to do their own thing.
4, If you’re taking babies or toddlers, use a baby carrier where possible. there are lifts for wheelchair access, but it’s not smooth floors, and there are certain parts which aren’t accessible, and pushchairs would be hard to use.
5, Combine with an Abbey visit afterwards, where you can pay to do a tower tour.
Have you ever visited Bath?
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