A jaunt to Bath

There is much to recommend a jaunt to Bath.  This is a sentiment that has been long shared.

‘The advantages of Bath to the young and pretty are generally understood”- so claims one of Bath’s most famous residents in her novel Emma.

While we profess to be neither that young, or pretty-  Bath was where we ventured for a premature celebration of our five year wedding anniversary. The criteria was simple. We were after somewhere no more than 90 minutes on a train from central London. We wanted a nice hotel. Some cake. A good coffee. A sturdy pub meal. And some time wafting about in thermal waters wouldn’t go astray.

So, for those like us who are also in search of a perfect 24 hours in Bath, here it is, sourced (and there’s even a handy map at the bottom so you can see how it all fits together).

10 am – Train from London Paddington to Bath Spa

Buy a newspaper and a decidedly average cup of tea . Be sure to have booked your tickets ahead of time -it’s  both cheaper and you’ll get definite seats. Glare at those talking in the ‘Quiet Carriage’. Look out the windows at some rolling green fields. Before you know it, in 90 minutes you’ll have arrived at Bath Spa.

You can buy tickets ahead of time from http://www.thetrainline.com. 

12.00 pm – Lunch at The Bertinet Bakery

Richard Bertinet is a man who knows his breads and pastries. As the author of the award winning  Dough, Crust and most recently Pastry, his bakery and cookery school in Bath expanded to include a cafe in 2012. Lucky us.

Upstairs from the bakery counter you’ll find a light filled white walled space, boasting a casual, order-at-the-front sort of cafe, with daily specials written up on chalk boards. There are toasters on some tables, so you can supervise the shade and crunch of your own brioche or bread slices to accompany your bowl of coffee or hot chocolate in the morning. At lunch time, you’d be hard pressed to go past either a rustic croque monsieur, with blistered cheese, oozing bechamel and thick cut ham, or a comforting bowl of one of the soups of the day with a hunk of house-made sourdough.

Though a warning; you may find it hard not to pick up a brownie or almond brioche to have for dessert, but perhaps it might prove wise to share. Bath is not a town that’s short of places for tea and cake. Thank heavens that corsets are no longer in fashion.

The Bertinet Bakery
6 New Bond Street Place,
Bath BA1 1BH (on the corner of Upper Borough Walls, just off Milsom Street).

2 pm – Check into The Royal Crescent Hotel

Image courtesy of www.bath360.co.uk

The Royal Crescent itself is a spot you should take a look at when you find yourself in Bath. An  impressive bowed half moon of 30 terrace houses designed by John Wood the Younger, it’s a sterling example of Georgian architecture. It’s also home to a particularly indulgent hotel. There are men in uniform at the front door. If it’s nippy, there’s a fire smouldering in the drawing room, where you can take tea, or sherry. The rooms are grand (as you’d expect from a Relais & Chateau property), with Queen beds, downy pillows and oversized bathrooms stocked with Penhaligons Quercus products.

If you can plump for a night, it’s an indulgence it (bear in mind that for some reason Bath is just, if not more expensive than London). But make sure you don’t miss out on a dip into their complimentary spa facilities in the vintage bath house. The 12 metre pool is heated to 32 degrees and there are a variety of saunas and tubs to float about in. Just lovely.

The Royal Crescent, Bath
Nb, the hotel is about a 25 minute walk from the train station, or a 7 minute taxi ride.
16 Royal Crescent  Bath BA1 2LS

2.30 pm – Tea and Cake at Bea’s Vintage Tea Rooms

Bea’s proved a charming surprise on our way to the hotel- so charming that we vowed to come straight back after we checked in. Stepping inside is akin to being transported to your grandmother’s drawing room- so long as your grandmother still wears bright red lipstick, listens to doo-wop and ties jaunty scarves around her head. Decorated in authentic 1930s/1940s style here  there’s everything from dainty china tea sets and embroidered tablecloths to bevelled mirrors and wartime posters. And then there are the cakes.

It’s mighty tempting to dive straight into a pot of one of the eight loose leaf teas on offer ( £2.45), buttermilk scones, homemade strawberry jam and clotted cream (£4.55). In fact, I did and didn’t regret it for a second. Except for the fact that for a brief window of time across the table from me was a slice of chocolate cherry cake  (I don’t call him The Hungry One for nothing). I’m assured that it was also very, very good. Nb, this is not a particularly masculine place. It’s whimsical. Frankly, it’s girlishly delightful. So if your very blokey husband requires a fat slice of chocolate cake to keep him entertained while you ponder the underside of the embroidery on the table, far be it for any of us to judge.

Nb, Bea’s also has a charming breakfast menu, with eggs and soldiers and proper West Country porridge. Their full high tea menu also looks a right treat.

Bea’s Vintage Tea Room
6-8 Saville Row, Bath, BA1 2QP
Tel: 01225 464552

3.30 pm- Thermae Baths

Image courtesy of http://www.thermaebathspa.com/

You can’t very well come to Bath, without going to the Baths. The Thermae baths are famed for being Britain’s only thermal spa, with water warmed to 33.5 degrees, accented by more than 42 different minerals.

It’s a well oiled (and not particularly cheap) operation. A two hour pass will set you back around £26. Towels, robes and slippers are extra. Park you stuff in one of the lockers and make your way up to the roof. The Minerva pool on the ground floor is nice, but reminds me a bit more of a shiny, anonymous aquatic centre. And on a cold day, there’s nothing nicer than being immersed in warm water in the roof top pool, watching steam waft up to grey skies over the spires of Bath Abbey.

There are massage treatments available (though probably best to book earlier for them), steam rooms and showers and even a spot for lunch or tea if you can’t go a few hours without eating some cake in this town. But for those who are squeezing in a visit between other sight-seeing excursions, here’s the most important bit; there are showers, hair dryers and on your way out the door there’s a very nifty machine which will wring out your togs for you- all before you wrap them in the plastic bags that are thoughtfully available right next to it.

Taking to the waters in Bath may be an ancient concept, but there’s not a lot about this place that isn’t as slick as anything.

7.30 pm – Dinner at The King William

It’s not that hard to make me happy on a Saturday night if  we’re on a jaunt somewhere. As long as there’s a local pub which serves good, honest food, making use of regional produce, doesn’t try to hard (no unnecessary foams please) and has some original charm, I’m chuffed.

If only it was always that easy.

Luckily, in Bath it is- particularly if you find your way to The King William. Downstairs, it’s a charming place to pull up a stool, sip a Somerset Cider and tackle a steak sandwich, or plate of ham, double duck eggs and triple cooked chips. But if you’re after something a little more romantic- then upstairs in the cobalt blue dining room is where you want to go (though watch your head on the banister on the way up).

This is serious food, in a cosy, candle lit atmosphere, with not a whiff of pretension.  A main course of half a roast chicken, with dauphinoise potatoes, peal barley and kale comes not as half a bird, splayed on a plate, but as a rolled ballotine, with burnished skin and a frenched, confit leg. At just shy of £15 it’s a staggering bargain.

Pork proves a highlight on the menu- from the roast pork and apple sauce sandwich available in the bar, through to the slice of roast pork belly with black pudding, apple, celeriac and red cabbage available as one of the mains. This is the sort of food you want to eat when there’s still frost on the window sills in the morning. It’s also the sort of food that deserves a brisk walk to and from dinner.

With that in mind, you also want to make sure you reserve room for dessert.

Chocolate mousse with honeycomb and blood orange is like the product of a brilliant, illicit affair between a Terry’s Chocolate Orange and a Violet Crumble, artfully layered into a balloon glass. And the kitchen’s pairing of goat curd ice cream with lemon polenta cake is both restrained and inspired.

Please, like in so many of Britain’s regional centres, here in Bath you’ll find plenty of chain restaurants; Jamie’s Italian, Carluccio’s, Pizza Express et al. But just don’t do it to yourself, or the city. Particularly when there are local gems like this to be savoured.

King William
36 Thomas St, Bath BA15NN
Nb, if you’re trying for a Friday or Saturday dinner in the dining room, or Sunday lunch, it’s wise to book in advance.

10 pm – Retire for the night

Get a whiskey from the bar at the hotel. Drink it by the fire. Make use of a nice hotel room. See you in the morning.

10 am – Coffee at Colonna and Small’s

For caffeine addicts like The Hungry One, the prospect of not finding a decent coffee when away is a real concern. Luckily, in Bath there’s a cracking spot, which manages to out geek him in the espresso stakes. Colonna and Small is a modern, bright room where plenty of locals and tourists will join you in a scrum to secure a spot to eat a croissant or piece of carrot cake, sip a flat white and flick through the news papers on a Sunday morning. Here’s how serious Colonna and Small are about their coffee. They run three espresso coffees at a time (single origin and blended). Behind the bar there’s a tasting board where they’ll explain the flavours they’ve identified in the espresso, and then what kind of flavours you can expect when that’s combined with milk in a latte or cappuccino.

There are other single origins matched to aeropress, pour over and siphons. The dapper staff will be more than happy to talk you through why each blend has been matched to a particular extraction method.

But mostly you’ll want to just sit, sip and then grab a take away to tote on your way back to the train.

A perfect end, to what should have been a terrific and restorative 24 hours. Ms Austen was right. If we weren’t young and pretty when we arrived in Bath, we certainly felt much more like it by the time we left.

Colonna and Small’s
6 Chapel Row, Bath, UK, BA1 1HN

 Other activities/hints and tips

The Jane Austen Centre is just a skip away from Royal Crescent.  For an £8 entry fee it offers a 15 minute presentation every 20 minutes on Jane, her family and her time in Bath and an exhibition of costumes and memorabilia. I’d put it in the ‘sure, if you feel like it’ column, rather than a must do- particularly if your time in the city is pressed.

Jane Austen Centre
40 Gay St  Queen Square, Bath BA1 2NT

View 24 Hours in Bath in a larger map

  1. After going to the Jane Austen museum I put it in the “If you like being goudged by shysters” pile. On the other hand, I am told that the afternoon tea at their tearoom is absolutely wonderful. I do love a jaunt to Bath!

  2. Oh I love Bath, dying to head back there and check out Colonna and Smalls – I think one of the baristas just won British Barista champ or similar.

  3. MUST get back to Bath. I’ve only ever spent an afternoon there and it was not enough. What great suggestions–I’m am bookmarking this post. Happy anniversary!

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