A Visit to the Roman Baths

Monday morning, bright and early, my taxi picked me up in Port Issac and deposited me back at the Bodmin Parkway rail station, where I caught the train for Bath. That’s pronounced “bah-th”. Once again, I had a lovely, comfortable train ride, enjoyed the rolling green hills and farms we passed, and arrived at my destination about three hours later.

I soon arrived at the local Hilton and found my room had a nice view of the River Avon. Bath is a small, easily-walkable town and I visited several excellent pubs in the afternoon.

The next day, I had a terrific visit to the Roman Baths. The restoration is very well done and the site is fascinating. The natural hot springs that fed the baths in Roman times are still percolating upward today.

A self-paced tour through the site goes down through four levels and features some great exhibits. An audio guide comes with the regular 15 pound entry fee and includes comments by curators, by imagined “you are there” Romans, and by one of my favorite authors, Bill Bryson (of “A Walk in the Woods” fame).

Like so many sites, the modern world has built up around it and that’s why the top terrace where you see people in the picture below is at street level. Everything else is on lower, excavated levels.

The original site had an arched roof over the entire area and, of course, the Christian church in the background came a lot later.

Here’s a scale model of the complex, with the cut-away arched roof over the pool scene in the previous above. Like most Roman baths complexes, it had hot and cold baths, hot and cold rooms, and massage rooms. It also included a temple complex dedicated to the goddess Sulis Minerva. Outside of imperial baths in Rome, this is the largest known bath in the world.

One really cool feature in the tour was at the bottom level. A metal catwalk lets you walk a few feet above the original complex paving stones and you can see the foundations of columns and an altar. Nearby video screens show a succession of views, starting with what you see now and slowly removing the modern features and replacing them with the ancient ones. It’s very well done and has great impact given that you’re standing in the very spot.

Despite the similarity to my “bed head” when I wake in the morning, this is actually a Gorgon carving, unearthed as part of the excavation, that stared down from the temple entrance.

Of course,the whole place was plumbed with lead pipes and we know that’s not good. However, this is a really well-organized historic site and I highly recommend it for anyone who visits Bath.

After a leisurely lunch, I strolled and then took a nap in preparation for the evening’s performance of The Libertine at the Royal Theatre. It was OK as shows go, but I really didn’t engage with any of the characters and found it a bit boring.

Tomorrow I head out for Oxford.

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