Stonehenge and Bath

Part 1: Bath

On Tuesday David and I joined a day trip tour to Stonehenge and Bath. My two favourite historical periods: Neo-lithic and Roman Empire, although, both Stonehenge and Bath had histories longer than I thought, Stonehenge stretching to Bronze Age, and Bath’s turn-about in Victorian times.

The pool, the actual bath in Bath, is quite impressive. I know the water isn’t supposed to be green; that it only is green because of algae and the fact that the pool is not treated for human use. But it looks like tarnished copper. Magnificent, yet hiding its glory. Old, but recognisable.

Because we were on a day tour, I knew we would only have a couple hours in the town of Bath. I did not know the tour of the actual baths would take me the whole two hours. I wandered the through the displays without being able to fully enjoy them due to our being chronologically limited. In spite of time constraints, I lingered over the audio tour. One of my favourite authors and hero of travelling, Bill Bryson, has been given the honour of providing commentary for parts of the audio tour. I used up much of my time listening to him!

I walked quickly past gravestones, past coins, past lead pipes (the Romans loved their lead), past stone-carving demonstrations and over the courtyard of what was once a grand temple. Apparently only two temples have been found in Britain, this one for the goddess Minerva. The temple was dedicated to Sulis-Minerva, the hybrid of the celtic goddess Sulis, already being worshipped at the site before the Romans came in.

Any good conqueror knows the way to assimilate people is to convince them to keep doing what they had been doing before the conqueror showed up: “Hmm, you worship Sulis in these relaxing and healing waters? Okay, we’ll do that, too. This Sulis sounds just like our goddess Minerva. They must be the same goddess, don’t you think? We’ll re-dedicate the temple to Sulis Minerva.” And life continues as normal.

Bath the city is not at all what I expected. Built between seven hills, I did not expect the city to have grown so large as to be built on, over, and around the seven hills. The hills are lined up and down with Georgian townhouses. Ringing the tops of the hills are the luxurious Crescents, houses for wealthy residents to have sweeping views of the valleys.

Bath was in Roman times and in Victorian times and is again now, a resort town. For many years it was not. Bath housed woollen mills and factories, driving away respectable residents and in the end giving the town a bad name, one known for carousing, drunkenness, and crime. It is hard to imagine that, today, given all the glitz and sparkle in the city now saturating the city. Boutiques and movie stars and royal residents and spa treatments all shine in today’s Bath.

We drove past 4 Sydney Road, Jane Austin’s former residence. 8 Circus Crescent, Nicholas Cage’s former residence. Rumour has it Johnny Depp recently bought property in the town, but I didn’t see a gaggle of women with cameras lingering outside anyone’s door, so I assume we didn’t pass it.

Nobles and Stars. Millionaires and the merely wealthy. They live among the blue-jeaned tourists who come for the day. On the other hand, someone has to work in the shops and coffee houses. People have to clean the mess tourists and rich people leave behind. I wonder where they live? Someone asked our driver about how people make a living in the town, and he said it’s all connected to tourism. But tourism doesn’t usually pay individuals well enough to live in a resort.

We only saw one side of Bath, but we were not there long enough to discover if there was a “wrong side of the tracks.” The train connects the town to others on the way back to London. Perhaps they live in other towns and commute in. I wonder if I had time, would we have found where the normal people live? Or is it so well hidden that we never would?