Southwestern England

After the festivities and crowds of London's Platinum Jubilee for Queen Elizabeth II, we could hardly wait to get to our next destination. Our arrival in Bath reminded me of our first night in Lyon. First impressions can make you feel you've made a huge logistical mistake. Should we have stayed in Bristol instead? The weather when we stepped out of our hotel in Bath was cool and windy and the streets were dusty and messy. Then, one of the city's ubiquitous seagulls took aim at my head! For a town that was the epitome of style and manners in the 1700s, this didn't feel like a gracious welcome!  

Comes the morning, the streetcleaners and the sun, and the city reveals itself in all its Georgian glory. Like a lot of this part of England on or near the vast Salisbury plain, almost every building is a sandy hue from the ancient oolitic limestone it's built with. The buildings glow especially in the early morning and at sunset. 

Bath Spa

That's still the name on the train station, Once a royal claimed the mineral water of Bath cured her whatsit, the city became the place not just for treating all manner of real or imagined ailments, but the place to see and be seen. It was the Southhampton or Riviera of its day.  During the high season, parties and balls, promenades, bathing in and drinking the waters--all were part of the social networking of the time. People from London and the manors needed places to stay and richly detailed accommodations and homes were built. 

Bath wasn't just for aristocrats. Wealthier members of the middle classes could be found there, too. Handling the entertainments and setting the rules of decorum was a famous entrepreneur, Beau Nash. A gambler and man about town, he lucked out when a previous master of ceremonies was killed in a duel. Nash made sure both the well-to-do and the trying-to-do classes enjoyed themselves and, in the assembly rooms where he held sway, behaved the best with each other with the fewest faux pas.  It was one of the first times in social history in which a young man or woman could get the attention of someone wealthier and matches were made or encouraged. Just look to Jane Austen or Bridgerton for how manners made for more than comedy, Austen, though she lived there two separate times, purportedly did not like the place, probably because of the elitism.

Sadly, by the time Austen's Persuasion was published, Bath society was on the wane. A new king preferred Brighton and society's playgrounds shifted. But for close to 100 years, the Royal Crescent, Queen's Square and the Circus (an elliptical set of Mayfair-like, 3-storey, attached homes) teemed with carriages and beautiful people. Waters don't express themselves--the original Georgian-styled 'Pump Room' is there, now a tea room and restaurant. Unforch, we didn't see it. 

Eating in Bath

The Raven is a wonderful Bath pub serving enormous meat pies. Sally Lunn's is in Bath's oldest building, from the mid-1400s, serving her famous bread. She was a Huguenot refugee from France who brought a soft, brioche-like white bread recipe with her in the 1600s.. This eatery has kept her recipe and serves sweet and savory courses using the daily baked fresh bread. It's like early sandwich loaves and was a favorite in the early U.S. In fact. James Beard has a Sally Lunn bread recipe in his cookbooks.

More About Those Waters

Hard to tell if folks from the Georgian and Regency eras were aware what lay beneath the mineral waters and mud baths they took, because it wasn't until the later 1800s that ruins were found that showed an extensive set of hot and cold pools, recreation rooms, other buildings and temples where Romans took the waters, worshipped Minerva and otherwise relaxed, Men and women were in close proximity, with apparently no qualms about the occasional tryst in the near presence of the goddess and the priests. And, you can even do as the Romans did, or the Brit aristocrats--drink the water! I did; tasted warm and minerally. Not bad.

And before that? Springs gurgling up from fissures and staying at an evenly hot temperature have been there for ages. Now, banking on all its history, Bath has a brand new Thermae Spa for New Agers. And, if you want to further get in touch with the earth and its mysteries, just over an hour away is...


There are stone circles all over the British Isles, but the one that still draws visitors from all over the world is this set of enormous stones set in a circle and semi-circle within it. Is it ancient site for gatherings, a holy place, a calendar? No one still knows for sure, but it is defies expectations, It rises from the Salisbury fields and grass-covered burial grounds around it almost majestically.  In the past few years, more artifacts were discovered and an interactive visitors center and cafe round out the visit. 

A day trip to the Cotswolds was lovely and relaxing. Our van took us along what has for centuries been the old Roman road through farmlands filled with cows and many, many sheep, giving new meaning to bucolic. No longer ancient centers for shearing, soaking, dyeing and weaving wool, the towns are now home to the upper middle classes and a few celebrities. When not used for scenery, the animals are part of English dairy farming. 

One village was used ages ago in the Dr Dolittle film. Apparently a charming lane and stream were turned into a seacoast. Yet another village, the best, Arlington, I believe, had been considered by the late-1800s designer William Morris to be the most beautiful. A son of Arlington in the 1700s made his way to the colonies, married into Martha Custis' family (George Washington's wife) and one of his descendants ended up in Virginia, naming his land Arlington. So it goes,