A relaxing Bath awaits in England

PHOTO: The Nation/ANN

October in England is notorious for its changeable weather, so it is with delight that I wake up to blue skies and sunshine every morning during my four-day visit to Bath.

Bath, 90 minutes from London's Paddington station by train, is well known for its Roman baths, Georgian architecture and its bond with author Jane Austen.

The city was named a World Heritage Site by Unesco in 1987 and archaeological evidence indicates there was human activity around the hot springs, on which the city of Bath is built, at least 8,000 years BC.

Peter Rollins, director of marketing and communications at The Gainsborough Bath Spa, says: "Royal visits in the 16th and 17th centuries increased the fame of Bath, especially the visit of King James II's wife, Mary of Modena, whose royal physician recommended that she take the waters in the Cross Bath to improve her fertility. Soon afterwards, she fell pregnant. To celebrate this event, the elaborate Melfort Cross was erected in the Cross Bath."

Though still very jet lagged after a long flight from Bangkok, the clear blue sky, cool gentle breeze and warm sunlight are too good to waste, so I take a short walk around my hotel, The Gainsborough Bath Spa, to explore the city.

Less than five minutes into my stroll, I am standing in front of two honey-coloured Georgian buildings: St John's Hospital and the Cross Bath, the open-air thermal bath where the Celts revered their goddess Sul.

Legend has it that the Cross Bath gets its evocative name in commemoration of the body of St Aldhelm resting there on its final journey from Doulting to Malmesbury Abbey in 709 AD. It was officially declared a Sacred Site by the World Wildlife Fund in 2000.

Built around 1174, the St John's Hospital was founded by Bishop Reginald Fitz Jocelin next to the hot springs of the Cross Bath to allow for a constant supply of hot water.

The hospital was originally designed as an almshouse for poor men, but with Bath evolving into a resort town, the demand for lodging houses grew. The hospital then leased blocks of property to the Duke of Chandos, who employed young architect John Wood, the Elder, to rebuild the lodging houses in 1727. The architect's first work in Bath is now a beautiful example of a Georgian building.

Most buildings in Bath are made from the local, golden-coloured Bath stone, and many date from the 18th and 19th centuries. The dominant style of architecture in the Central Bath is Georgian, which is known for its harmony and symmetry with pale colour schemes and woodwork.

As I walk along Beau Street to Stall Street, I can hear music and I follow the sound to the magnificent gothic Bath Abbey. Outside the old church, a busker with an operatic voice is entertaining passers-by in the bustling square and I am totally overwhelmed, both by her vocal range and the magnificent architecture.

For a moment, I allow myself to imagine that I have travelled back in time. I can easily picture a lady dressed in 18th-century finery and a gentleman enjoying the warm sunlight as his spaniels and corgis run around. The moment doesn't last, though, with a loud round of applause jerking me back to reality.

The Roman Baths museum and The Pump Room restaurant are immediately to the right of the abbey. The Great Bath, at the centre of the complex, lies below the modern-street level. There are four main features in the complex: the Sacred Spring, the Roman Temple, the Roman Bath House and the museum, which is home to artefacts from the Roman Baths. The buildings above street level date from the 19th century.

According to legend, Prince Bladud of the Britons had contracted leprosy and was banished from the court. The prince took a job as a swineherd but soon the pigs became infected with the disease. Observing that the pigs were cured after rolling in the hot mud around Bath's springs, the prince tried his luck in the hot murky water and he, too, was cured.

He then returned home and became the ninth King of the Britons and the supposed father of King Lear, who was immortalised by Shakespeare. The King founded a city at Bath and dedicated its curative powers to the Celtic goddess Sul.

Nine hundred years later, the Romans started the development of the city Aquae Sulis - the waters of Sulis - as a sanctuary of rest, and then built a sophisticated series of baths and a temple dedicated to the goddess Sulis Minerva.

I join my friends for a light lunch at Sally Lunn's Historic Eating House close to the Roman Baths. Sally Lunn's is one of the oldest houses in Bath (circa 1482) and serves the most famous local delicacy - the original Sally Lunn Bun.

After our buns and tea, we have a two-hour walking tour led by local guide, Tony Abbott. From Bath Abbey where Edgar was crowned as the first King of all England in 973 to Pulteney Bridge, designed by Robert Adams - the only historic bridge apart from the Ponte Vecchio in Florence to have shops built into it - we walk along to The Circus.

Originally called King's Circus, the building was designed by John Wood, the Elder, and completed by his son, John Wood, the Younger, when his father passed away just three months after the first stone was laid.

Wood, the Younger, proved that he, like his father, was a great architect with his magnificent Royal Crescent, a row of 30 terraced houses laid out in a sweeping crescent. It is one of the greatest examples of Georgian architecture in Britain.

Walking on cobblestone streets through and around the city of Bath is really like travelling back in time, from the Celt to the Roman eras and onwards to 18th-century England.

The well-preserved buildings, hot springs, parks, museums, theatres and fine tea shops offer endless possibilities for spending a restful day.

I am quite sure there are other less attractive parts of the city, but for me, Bath will always be a sanctuary, a place to rest and relax - and take in the waters.