Bath was at the top of my list of “must see” sites in England. Ever since reading Persuasion and Northanger Abbey (and seeing the movie adaptations), I had fallen in love with the idea of “taking the waters,” exploring the Roman baths, having a cream tea in the Pump Room, and walking along the Royal Crescent. Our very first weekend in London, I was already begging Stephen to take a short trip to my Regency paradise. Stephen was nice enough to agree, even though he was overwhelmed and exhausted from his first week at his new job.
The train from London to Bath runs frequently, so we headed out on Saturday morning to Paddington station. This was to be my first time on a UK train. Stephen had been taking the train to work all week, but a coworker had helped him that first time to buy his ticket, check the departures board, and find his platform. This was my first time doing any of this at all, and Stephen’s first time doing it without help. We were stressed and a little manic trying to figure out which ticket to buy (Anytime, Off-peak, Peak, Super Off-peak? And does Return mean roundtrip or is it just the return leg?). On top of wrapping our heads around all of these fares, we were running late, so we had to run to our platform in order to catch our train, just like in the movies. It would have been exciting if we weren’t so desperate.
Once we boarded the train, I got out my kindle to read some Jane Austen to set the mood. I was only a few pages into Northanger Abbey before the surroundings proved too tempting to ignore. The scenery rolling past the window was one long swath of green, and around each turn there was some new vista to delight, whether it was a field of sheep, rolling hills with patchwork-style hedgerows, or a large manor house coming into view in the distance. All of this was such a marked contrast to dry, dusty Los Angeles, where the only wildlife we saw on a regular basis were lizards, and the grandest houses were sleek, modern types newly-built by Hollywood producers.
To add further to my distraction, a kindly-looking man soon came down the aisle with a food trolly. “Tea? Refreshments?” I nudged Stephen in the ribs, whispering loudly “It’s like in Harry Potter! The trollies do exist!” He rolled his eyes because while it might be new and notable, it didn’t hold nearly the amount of interest for him as it did for me; I’ve always been thrilled by vending machines, snack shops, and food stands. I resisted all of the exotic potato chip flavors and exchanged far too much money for a cup of tea (although I didn’t know it at the time, still being a little confused about the exchange rate).
With all of these welcome distractions, the journey whizzed by, and before long, there was a break in the pastureland and fields. Up ahead in the distance, I saw a city situated along a winding river, with honey-colored buildings climbing from the valley below up to the hills in the distance. Bath. We were here!
Directly after leaving the station, we grabbed a map and attempted to find our hotel among the circuses and squares. We looked and looked, and finally found it way off in the corner, across the center of town and over a bridge. We weren’t centrally located, to say the least. I was practically vibrating with excitement to see everything, and encumbered with luggage as we were, I reluctantly agreed to check into the hotel first and drop our things off. Half an hour later, we finally walked up to our hotel, which was located in a grimier bit of town. Despite its scruffy surroundings, there was an Indian restaurant across the street that looked pretty fancy and smelled divine. Our stomachs began to growl, but I had already made breakfast plans, so we hurriedly left again since we had another half-hour walk across town to get to our destination. However, we ended up eating at the restaurant, the Mint Room, the next night, and it is still some of the best Indian I have ever eaten. If you’re ever in Bath, I highly recommend it!
Sally Lunn’s, our breakfast stop of the day, is also the oldest building in Bath, known throughout the country for its buns. Sally Lunn’s buns (get it?) are famously delicious and decadent. A cross between a cake and a roll, each is about the size of my head (no, really!). The buns are halved, split open, toasted, and then topped with sweet or savory items. Each order comes with only half a bun, which may sound stingy, but even eating half requires dedication and commitment. The tops are generally used for savory toppings, and the bottoms for sweet.
I got a bottom half liberally spread with their homemade cinnamon butter, while Stephen got a top piled with buttery scrambled eggs. I have always had an aversion to eggs, especially scrambled, but after seeing his raptuous expression, I cut off the tiniest of bites to see what all the fuss was about. And this was the moment my breakfast world was turned upside down. These eggs were so fantastic. I had never tasted eggs like these before. I ended up eating half of Stephen’s bun, and I had to offer him half of mine to make amends. Fun fact: eggs here aren’t refrigerated in the store, although they do recommend you put them in the fridge when you get home. Because the UK vaccinates the chickens against salmonella, they don’t have to undergo the same pasteurization process like US eggs. These radically different methods of treating eggs result not only in the ability to keep them unfrigerated, but it also makes them taste more wholesome and delicious, like eggs straight from the farm. There is a lot of food that tastes better in the US: Twix bars, pancakes, and fried chicken, to name a few, but eggs are not one of those. Plus, since the risk of salmonella is virtually non-existent, you can fearlessly eat all of the raw batter and cookie-dough you want.
After eating half the size of my head in Lunn’s buns, we went downstairs where they have a small exhibit set up showing Sally Lunn’s original setup, and the remains of Roman and medieval foundations. That didn’t hold our attention for long, and after exiting the shop, we walked two blocks over to the Avon river and gazed out at the Pulteney Bridge and weir. The Pulteney Bridge in Bath and the Ponte Vecchio in Florence are two of only four bridges in the world that are still lined with shops.
After Stephen explained the workings of the weir to me several times, I dragged him away from the water towards the Roman Baths.
On the way we walked by Bath Abbey, which has my favorite cathedral facade in the world. The front has ladders to heaven carved into the stone, with fallen angels climbing up them, desperate to rejoin God in heaven. Their desperation and eagerness is so perfectly translated in their posture that one can’t help but be moved.
Our remaining time that day was spent at the Roman Baths, and the next day, we dedicated entirely to Jane Austen. You can read about both in my next post!