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Bath and Surrounding Area

As I surmise I haven’t had enough driving while in Europe, the day started with us heading from the loving arms of friend’s flat to Heathrow to pick up another rental car.  I have driven in Scotland and Ireland, how hard can it be in England, right?  I have driving on the left side of the road down, I am up on the manners of two cars, one lane, so I am fully equipped to drive in England!  And then I get to Avis to pick up the car; not so much. Anyone who has seen my own car knows I drive a 2-door BMW sports car that is small and low to the ground; I don’t do SUVs, crossovers, or big cars.  So, what does AVIS have for me when I rented a Mercedes 2-series or similar….a MG small SUV!  According to Avis, in their mind that is similar, huh???? Not in my mind!  Unfortunately, as I require an automatic transmission and Europe is all about their manual transmission cars, this is all they have. So once confident about my driving abilities in the British Isles has now quickly flown out the window and I am behind the wheel of a car than I would feel uncomfortable driving in the US; thanks Avis! It is what it is, so off we go to leave London and head west toward Bath!

As we started the day later than I would have liked and I still had to work that afternoon, we are heading straight to Bath and our accommodations for the next 4 days.  Since most of the drive was on major roadways, despite the size of the vehicle, the drive was smooth and uneventful.  I did notice, however, that unlike the last two cars, this one was not a hybrid and the gas gauge clearly reflected that.  When we arrived in Bath, we found the street without issue; the same cannot be said about the house where we were to stay.  I have learned in my two months in Europe that too often house numbers must cost a lot and are optional and most don’t buy the option. After two rounds around the neighborhood looking for the house, I decided to move on to the grocery store for supplies as it was getting late, and I didn’t want to go back out once we did find the house.  Who knew that finding the grocery store in Bath was also going to be an adventure.  Long story short, 3 rounds around the center of town because of one-way streets and a multitude of pedestrian only areas, we finally were able to get to the store and buy our food for the next 4 days.  On to the next adventure, finding our place to sleep.  

I decided that instead of going crazier, I would call our host for the night and ask her directions.  Annie, owner with husband Martin, is a very nice woman that got me to what we thought was her home. Well almost; it took a second call and Annie waving to me from the sidewalk to end up in front of a house I had passed at least twice before.  Parking was another adventure we will skip this posting.  We have arrived, Annie has now shown us to her lovely rental, and we are in for the night, with me working upstairs on the desk and my grandson playing video games on the kitchen table downstairs.  Tomorrow we are off to the Roman Baths and given my driving experience the first day, we are Uber’ing in and out of the center of Bath during our visit!

The Roman Baths in Bath are something to see if you are in the area.  To see the complexity of the structure, the engineering required for the steam rooms, hot rooms, and other areas is a wonder especially as they were built almost 2000 years ago!  One of the things that I really enjoyed was that throughout the baths they have installed projections on the walls that show actors recreating scenes that would have been typical in Roman Britain in the 1st century; this made the room literally come alive for the visitor.   What else I really enjoyed that the baths did was take pieces of a wall or doorway and put the found pieces inside a drawing of the entire item so the visitor can get an idea of what was once there.  While the artifacts displayed were interesting to me, they lost their appeal on my grandson which seems to be a running theme on most places we go unless animals are involved.  I was impressed; he walked through reading something on his phone.  One more ticket price wasted.

In an effort to minimize some of my grandson’ complaining about the lack of WIFI, because it appears that is the only thing keeping him alive, we are off to find a store to purchase him a European SIM card for his phone and some internet; his mother who has his phone plan, turned his phone off when we left the US so she wouldn’t incur large bills I can only assume.  In Fone Mart in Bath we found the most wonderful and helpful man that provided us with a SIM card, which was free, told us where to buy time and data for it, and even helped us getting it working when we returned with time purchased and it not working for us.  You can find REALLY helpful people everywhere it seems.  With my grandson now no longer needing to find WIFI to survive, we head back to Bath Abbey located next to the Roman Baths.  I already knew my grandson had no interest, so he was parked on a bench, phone in hand (of course!), outside the Abbey while I entered this beautiful building of worship for a look at why it is so talked about.

While documents will tell you that there has been a monastery of some sort in Bath since 757 AD, the beginnings of the current structure was built in 1499 with renovations to a decaying church done in 1620, changes made in 1833 and several times after with the latest still being completed during our visit.  What a beautiful church it is.  While not a church goer myself during services, I love to view the beauty that the faithful put in their houses of worship.  Normally, I visit catholic churches as they tend to be the most ornate, but this structure of the Church of England is one to see. From its beautiful ceiling to the stones in the floor and walls memorializing those gone before us, it is a place I am glad I entered and say a prayer for my loved ones now gone.

Our next day in Bath took us to a place I knew my grandson would enjoy as animals were the sight; off we head to Longleat Safari Park about an hour outside of Bath.  Since you might remember we went to a safari park in Scotland, it will be interesting to compare the two.  Now having been to both, the only way they are really alike is they both have animals, and you can drive through to see lions, monkeys, and other animals up close.  However, Longleat was significantly larger than Drummond as we had to drive over 2 miles through grounds at Longleat AFTER we entered before we got to the animal reserves.  Both were wonderful in different ways so I am glad we saw both.  my grandson hoped at that the monkeys would climb on the car, me not so much as I was driving a rental, but he got his wish at Longleat as from almost as soon as we entered the monkey reserve until we were ready to head out of it, we had no less than one, most time multiple, moneys on the car; my grandson was in heaven!  As I have never been on a ‘real’ safari in Africa and parks like this are the closest I have gotten, it is still cool to see camels up close and look you in the eye wondering why you are bothering him as he is trying to cross the road you are trying to drive down. Or seeing a pride of lions lounging under a tree without having to look through a thick fence to capture a glimpse. Or my grandson petting the deer as we drive by.  It was nice to see him truly enjoying something I had planned for the visit as I know the castle, we are heading to next will not gain the same enthusiasm. 

Safari under our belt we are heading back to Bath with a quick stop to Farleigh Hungerford Castle before we end our day.

Farleigh Hungerford Castle just nine miles outside of Bath was started in 1377.  In ruins today, it is still a sight to see with its high tower and still mostly intact chapel with the tombs of former residents and the crypt with what is said to be the best collection of human-shaped lead coffins in Britain.  Unfortunately for us, the sky decided to open up during our visit, so it was cut short.  However, thankfully not before we were able to visit the chapel and the crypt, but the extensive grounds will have to wait until another visit.

As you can imagine, we have and will see a lot of things during this 4-month adventure that I knew nothing about before planning this trip.  One of those things was one of our destinations on Saturday during our ‘drive about’ in the English countryside; that destination was Bratton Camp and White Horse.  I had it on the agenda after the castle Friday but, like with sports events, we suffered a rain delay so Saturday morning it was out to see what is up with the White Horse.  As so many things that are eager to be seen in England, it is a series of narrow country roads, approximate locations on Waze, and having a lookout to see when you are close.  White Horse was no exception.

Bratton Camp is what remains of an Iron Age fort built over 2,000 years ago. Resting near an ancient historic fort, the Westbury White Horse exists but no one is quite sure why or by whom it was created. The current white horse built into the Bratton hillside was etched in 1778 but something has existed on the hill for over 3,000 years.  While the original horse was cut into the chalk ground and scoured regularly to keep it white, the last recorded scouring took place in the late 1950s, with the horse now being preserved by being covered in white-painted concrete.  While not the largest white horse in England, we saw this horse from miles away as we heading up those winding narrow roads just to get close to it.  It is impressive at a size of 180 ft (55 m) tall and 170 ft (52 m) wide.  Standing on the hill next to the horse provides one with a beautiful view of the valley below.

During this drive about I had planned several stops in Avebury but rain and my grandson’ lack of desire to walk in the rain made most a non-starter.  However, we were able to ‘drive by’ and stop by the side of the road and see West Kennet Avenue. The ‘Avenue’  was originally around 100 pairs of prehistoric standing stones, raised to form a winding 1 1/2-mile ritual link between the pre-existing monuments of Avebury and The Sanctuary. Sometime after the Avenue was erected, it is believed that several shallow burials were placed at the foot of the stones.  In the 1930s Alexander Keiller, heir to the Keiller marmalade fortune, excavated four graves, all belonging to the Beaker period (about 2500–1800 BC).  While the stones are cool, having had enough driving and walking in the rain for that day, it is back to Bath.

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