Bath was en fete for the Diamond Jubilee, and the Highgrove shop was doing a roaring trade. People were queuing outside the famous Roman Baths and Pump Room. (When you visit, just be warned – the water tastes … well, let’s just say that it must do you good!) The glorious Cathedral nearby has been recently renovated and in the square opposite a young woman in a red coat serenaded shoppers with operatic arias.
The River Avon runs through this World Heritage city and the Robert AdamPulteney Bridge, its broad street lined with quirky little shops and inspired by the Ponte Vecchio in Florence was busy with shoppers intent on enjoying this special holiday. Another well-known sight is the oh-so-very elegant Georgian Royal Crescent, the first of its kind built anywhere in the world, with its imposing Ionic columns, Palladian cornice and inviting doors.
The city attracts pilgrims of one of our most famous writers and a visit to the Jane Austen Centre, just up the road from where she actually lived, was at the top of my list. A guide gave us a brief history of the author, with special reference to her time in Bath – it seems she was NOT keen the city considering it rather shallow and concerned with frippery things! We wandered round the charming little exhibition exploring Jane’s life, family, homes and society goings-on in Bath. Then it was a really excellent lunch in the tea room at the top of the house.
Stepping back in time even further, the medieval village of Laycock is familiar to many as the setting for numerous TV and films, including Cranford and Lark Rise to Candleford. There was a Scarecrow competition throughout the village which went over into the grounds of ancient Laycock Abbey (National Trust), which was getting ready for their Jubilee Picnic. Roses clung gracefully to stone wall and in the kitchen garden bees made tentative forays in the warm air. Harry Potter learnt the Dark Arts in one of the vaulted rooms. In the Fox Talbot Museum of Photography there was an fascinating exhibition of photos from Michael Palin’s travels around the globe.
A friend and I were staying at the Best Western Blunsdon House Hotel, near Swindon, ideally situated for Bath and a whole variety of places to suit even the fussiest of visitors. For train buffs the Steam Museum of the Great Western Railway in Swindon will get the pistons going. Kiddies can splash to their heart’s content at the Cotswold Water Park and fans of world music can groove the day and night at the annual WOMAD festival in Malmesbury. Fashionable Cheltenham has festivals and racing almost every day. The pretty villages of the Cotswolds are only a short drive away and for ancient history enthusiasts, Stonehenge and Avebury are at the very top of the itinerary.
The hotel ticked all my quirky travel boxes … With a huge bedroom and balcony we had plenty of space to spread out and unwind with a glass of wine on the balcony whilst enjoying vies across the gold course and splendid gardens. On the first night, before our evening meal I had a quick swim and sauna in the Leisure Centre and then a very satisfying roast dinner from the excellent buffet in the informal surroundings of Christopher’s restaurant.
Dinner the following night in Nichols a la carte restaurant was superb – no other word for it. An asparagus fan with frothy, light-as-air Hollandaise sauce, venison cooked to perfection with beetroot and pan fried potatoes, then a scrumptious frangipane tart, home-made ice cream and berry sauce. Hotel owner Carrie Clifford joined us after the meal and regaled us with stories of the hotel’s fascinating history, the staff who seem to be with them from cradle to grave and the gardens with over 16 thousand plants.
The next morning, after a substantial breakfast to set us up for the day, I treated myself to a rejuvenating facial in the Spa – so lovely to lie back and be pampered! The friendly reception staff sent us on our way with directions to Cirencester, a very attractive old market town, ‘Gateway to the Cotswolds’ and a whole lot more places to discover …