Bath is well known as being one of the most picturesque cities in the United Kingdom. Famous for its ancient Roman Baths, Medieval Cathedral and 18th Century Georgian homes. Bath is steeped in history and beautiful architecture. If you started digging into the ground here, you would literally find layers of each period of history built on top of the one before.
About 30 minutes away is the larger, more industrial Bristol. A bit more rough around the edges, there is plenty to see and do. Bath and Bristol are particularly special to us because we have very close friends who just happen to live near both towns. We have gone back multiple times – Josiah has seen all four seasons and I’ve seen three.
Our first visit was in winter, where we experienced a white Christmas for the first time. For many Aussies, Christmas traditions follow those of our predominately British and European Ancestors. We spend our childhoods singing about snowmen and Santa’s sleigh with his reindeer, in spite of the sweltering heat. Oh the irony! While we’ve forged some of our own traditions, there was something very magical about experiencing Christmas in the motherland. Our British friends were not quite as enthusiastic about the white stuff, however. The south of England doesn’t get a lot of it, so some stores closed up and services including transport were delayed during this period.
Winter is a great time to visit Bath. Go in December and explore the traditional Christmas markets, found at the base of Bath Abbey. We took a tour of the church and climbed the bell tower, you might even be chosen to to ring the church bells. The view out over Bath is stunning day or night, but especially at Christmas time, looking down on the markets.
The Roman Baths, Bath originally built by the Romans are great to visit anytime of year (£15.50) although the lines are much shorter in winter, as it’s the most popular sight. The only downside is it’s a museum so you can’t enjoy the relaxing heated waters. However Bath has an array of modern day spas capitalising on the natural mineral water. We indulged at Thermae Bath Spa. There a number of different packages you can choose from. We chose the twilight package (£47 pp), a 3 hour session including a light meal at the restaurant. The highlight was soaking in the steaming rooftop pool looking out over the city while snowflakes drifted down on us. I didn’t have a camera for this one though.
Bath has many other interesting sights to take in, such as the Georgian buildings of Royal Cresent and the circle, Pulteney bridge, the royal theatre or one of the many beautiful parks.
I love to re-visit the same places in different seasons. Growing up on Australia’s temperate East Coast, the seasons don’t play a huge part in how I spend my days. In the UK the Pub is at the centre of daily life, and in the winter you’ll cosy up by an open fire while in the summer you’ll sit out in the beer gardens absorbing the sunshine. Hare and Hounds is one of the MANY great historic pubs in Bath, offering the perfect setting for any season.
We only spent one day in Bristol during our winter visit. It was a bitterly cold day, no snow, just grey skies and ghostly deserted. We found ourselves retreating indoors and I remember little else other than a short walk around Bristol Harbour and finding warmth in Bristol’s oldest pub The Llandoger Trow.
Our friends have since moved closer to Bristol and our subsequent visit was far more enjoyable in the warmer weather. Every September Bristol holds the Bristol doors open day, where many buildings and attractions not usually open to the public are free. We happened to be there on that weekend and visited the Redcliffe Caves. These are artificial chambers under Redcliffe hill, built for mining and were once a storehouse for slaves! I believe you may be able to organise paid tours at others times of the year. Special events are often held there – it was used as an underground theatre at 2017’s Bristol Film Festival.
If you’re a fan of street art, look out for ‘Banksy‘ a controversial street artist hailing from Bristol. His art can be found all over Bristol. If you’re into ships, check out the SS Great Britain. You can even climb the rigging. The Docks heritage weekend is coming up on the 30 September/1 October 2017, with events happening at the M Shed, Underfall Yard and on the ship itself. Victoria Square and the Bristol Cathedral are also worth exploring. The Clifton Suspension Bridge was my favourite attraction. Crossing the river Avon, watching Peregrine falcons fly overhead in summer. Free tours are often held at 3pm on weekends between Easter and October.
Of course the main reason we keep returning is our friends, who are like family to us. There is nothing like travelling to a place that is familiar and feels like a second home. This was also a grounding experience for us as we visited twice during our recent 9 month journey. We miss you all, why does Australia have to be so far away.