UK 2019: Bath

Pictures from this part of the trip can be found in the Bath gallery.

Day 11: Tuesday May 28

Our initial idea was to visit the Roman Baths when they opened at 9am, then go on the daily free walking tour. We arrived at 9am to find a HUGE line, so we decided to visit the baths later in the day, and instead we went to the Bath Abbey at 9:30am when it opened. The abbey had been a monastery until King Henry VIII dissolved all monasteries as part of his consolidation of power. Henry VIII destroyed the Glastonbury Abbey outside of Bath, and after that, many of the others agreed to go along with him. (At the time, the abbeys in England held a substantial fraction of all land in the country, and had a combined income greater than the crown. They were quite a threat.) The abbey had a beautiful ceiling.

We spent the next few hours on the official Bath walking tour, offered by volunteer tour guides who have to go through a year-long certification process with the city. Our tour guide had been doing it for 30 years ("I'm going to retire in a few years after I've done 1500 tours") and seemed to know everything about the city. We would definitely recommend it in the future. It was supposed to take "no more than 2 hours" but was almost 2.5 hours and we skipped the last stop, but it was so good that nobody cared.

After the tour, we went to Kingsmead Square and ate lunch at Mission Burrito (i.e. "English Chipotle"), which was good for the price. The Bath Abbey had a 1pm organ concert, so we decided to go back after lunch, but the concert was done by 1:30pm and we missed it. Oh well. The Roman Baths line was still long, so we decided to go to the No. 1 Royal Crescent museum instead, which was one of the beautiful Georgian-era apartments erected in Bath's heyday in the 1700s.

We also stopped by the Bath Fashion Museum and bought a combo ticket that included the Roman Baths. This type of fashion museum is rare because it's difficult to conserve textiles over a long period of time. We enjoyed looking at the fashion trends, although clearly we were less into the costumes than some of the other museum-goers. The museum is in the Assembly Rooms building which was an entertainment center during the Georgian era. The ballroom, with its big chandeliers, reminded us of the Hilton Chicago.

We finally went to the Roman Baths around 4pm and found them blissfully uncrowded. The Romans had built the baths originally around AD 40-50 The Anglo-Saxons who came later them didn't care about the baths, so they built over them, and they weren't rediscovered until the mid-1800s. We ate dinner at Cote Brasserie near our hotel, one of the best meals of the trip. They had a special fixed-price menu for weekday evenings.

Day 12: Wednesday May 29

After breakfast, we walked to the bus stop with our bags and got back to our car. From the Park & Ride, we drove to Wells and visited the Wells Cathedral. We thought we were parking near the cathedral, but instead it was another local church. We had to walk 10 minutes to the cathedral. We liked the cathedral, which had an interior which was quite a bit different than others we had visited. Unfortunately, Julie put only an hour into the parking meter, so we had to leave rather quickly. On our walk back, we also discovered that Wells was where the movie Hot Fuzz was filmed. If we had more time, we probably would have explored the Hot Fuzz movie map that we found online to see some places where scenes were filmed, but we had other places we wanted to be.

On the way out of Wells, we planned to stop at a place called Wilkins Cider based on the Rick Steves book recommendation. It was down a long series of narrow country roads, off in the middle of farmfields. It was raining hard when we arrived. We walked into their barn somewhat lost and confused, and all we saw were some locals in the corner drinking some cider. Um, now what?? Fortunately, the very friendly and slightly-drunk proprietor Roger Wilkins eventually saw us and said hi. Roger is in his 70s, and has been making cider for decades using nothing but apples. He offered us a (rather large) sample of his cider, which was excellent. Julie drank hers and about half of Ken's while we talked with Roger, who cheerfully told us that he used to drink 15-20 pints per day. He also regaled us with his opinions of Brexit and the EU in general. In addition to the cider, we also got samples of some wonderful local Cheddar and Stilton cheeses, which Roger sells alongside his cider. In the end, we paid Roger £10 for two big blocks of cheese and 2 liters of cider in a jug that looked like it was intended to hold kerosene. Julie thinks the cheese alone would have been $50 in the USA. It was the highlight of the day.

After leaving Wilkins Cider, we drive to the Cheddar Gorge with the intent of visiting another cheese place. However, we had to take a LONG detour to get there, and it turned out to be a big tourist trap with basically nowhere to park, so we made a u-turn and headed to Dartmoor. (There was no chance the tourist cheese would be any better than Roger's award-winning Cheddar anyway.)

We arrived at the Three Crowns in Chagford late in the afternoon. Ken was not feeling well after the long drive, so Julie checked out the local tourist info herself while Ken closed his eyes and took a short nap. The TI turned out to be in a shop that closed at 4pm. Fortunately, Julie was standing outside when the owner walked out to close up the shop. The owner recommended a local hike, and Julie bought a map, the same brand of map we had used in the Cotswolds for our hike there. Around 6:00pm, we went to the hotel restaurant for dinner (ok but not great), and then after dinner we spent an hour walking through and outside of town (past the public pool) to find the start of hike we had decided to take on Thursday.