Europe · UK and Ireland

Taking a Bath in Bath, England – Europe Travels August 2022

When putting together our trip, I found that we needed to visit one additional spot before going to London. I scrutinized my planning map. Where to go? Once again, I consulted my Rick Steves “Europe through the Back Door”. He gave Bath a solid three red triangles, meaning that it is a definite should-see destination.

In the travel chaos that was the summer of 2022, shortly before we left for Europe, Rick posted on Facebook about crowd management options. He suggested in his post that one should consider touring the less-visited cities that are less full of tourists. One of the examples he gave was Bath. “Instead of Bath, go to Bristol.” But Rick, you told me to go to Bath!

By now we were into late August, though, and the crowds in Bath were manageable. We knew what to do: see the places with the heaviest tourist traffic in the morning, avoid shopping areas in the afternoon, and have a plan for the day. We had come from several places that weren’t heavy tourist sites, so it was a little different, but we enjoyed so many aspects about our stay in Bath.

River Avon runs through the city of Bath, and we needed to walk alongside of it to get to the city center. There was a bridge over a canal that flowed into the river, and most every time a boat was making its way through the lock. A family with two kids was coming through one morning, and even the kids were helping to operate the manual locks.

Waiting to open the gates

The river is always beautiful, at any time of day.

But are there really baths in Bath? Yes! In Roman times, it was considered to be one of the great religious spas of its era and the town was actually called Aquae Sulis. There are three hot springs, and the one with the most water in it is special to the goddess Sulis Minerva. She was worshipped even before the Roman era. A stone inscription dates the complex to 76 AD. We visited the Roman baths with a main bath and ruins of the temple and other bath rooms, housed in a museum with artifacts.

Lest you get a sudden urge to jump into the pool, it is sealed with lead, so your bath wouldn’t be so good for your health. There would have been a roof over this pool in Roman times, but now algae grows because it is open to the sky. For the average Roman bathing here, the baths would have been the biggest building they ever entered in their lives.

Inside, we walked under modern-day Bath through ruins of various smaller baths, cobbled Roman streets, and Temple Sulis Minerva. If we were Roman, we as commoners would not have been able to enter the rooms of the temple. There are altars and a tomb with a skeleton still in it. Many objects such as jewelry and coins that people left behind in the baths are displayed. There is even a gym.

There would have been a full gilt bronze statue of Goddess Sulis Minerva in the temple. The head is all that remains and it was splendid to see. I didn’t get a picture of it, but found a postcard in the gift shop.

Also surviving is a large ornamental pediment, which would have been over the entranceway, with a fearsome head of a gorgon. As with many of the ruins and stones we saw, it would have been brightly painted. The Romans borrowed the gorgon from Greek mythology. It is thought to be was a symbol of Sulis Minerva.

We wandered around through the maze of rooms, all under the city of Bath. These rooms were at bath level.

Of course, the spring is still here, and today there are modern baths. We celebrated our anniversary while in Bath, and took a bath in Bath at Thermae Bath Spa. We carried our bathing suits in our luggage all over Europe just so we could use them this one time. It’s not something we would normally do so it was a great experience. The pools in the baths are not heated because the water comes out of the spring and into the pools at about 93 degrees Fahrenheit. It feels like pleasantly warm bath water. A few floors up, there is an outdoor pool. It was raining so it was very strange to be in the warm water at the same time as the rain, but we could look out over the city as we lounged about. We spent most of our time in the floor-level indoor pool where there was a nice whirlpool and a lot of interesting jets.

Credit: Thermae Bath Spa, Bath, England

After our bath, we had tea (lunch) at Sally Lunn’s. Dating to 1483, the restaurant is in Bath’s oldest house. Sally Lunn came to Bath in 1680 and began selling her delicious French buns, and the rest is history. A Sally Lunn bun is like a brioche. It is part bun, part cake, part bread. This really wasn’t a great place for the real “tea” experience, but our buns were delicious.

Sally Lunn’s buns

For tea, we were each served one bun. One half, cut into quarters, had smoked salmon on top. The other half was served with butter, jam and clotted cream. I was just about full after having just the one half with the salmon, but who can resist all the goodness on the sweet side?

In the basement, a view of the kitchen as it would have been long ago

The other unforgettable experience here was a tower tour of Bath Abbey. The Abbey was founded in the 8th century as a Benedictine monastery and, like Shrewsbury Abbey, lost the monastery during the reign of King Henry VIII. The church itself has gone through many cycles of ruin and repair since 1090, and was even bombed in World War II. She is standing proud over the city of Bath today.

It was 212 steps up to the top of the tower! Along the way, though, our guide had many things to show us. After climbing a little, we were on an outside balcony where the priest could address his congregants on special occasions. There was a long narrow walkway on the roof, some more climbing, and we were in the room where the bell ringers gather. There are ten bells, and each person needs to pull their rope at the proper time to produce the correct melody. I’d be tired from the hike to this room at least twice a week before even proceeding to ring my bell. And several of the ringers are elderly. It’s a matter of great pride to be a bell ringer.

We ducked into some narrow passageways for a look at the bells and the rafters of the cathedral. There was even a tiny peek-a-boo spot where we could look down into the cathedral below. The very top of the roof vaults are only four inches thick!

And then, we were behind the clock.

Finally, we were up at the top of the tower, and given a marvelous view over the city of Bath and the Roman baths below.

After the tour, we visited the inside of the cathedral. The very first king of England, King Edgar, was crowned at the monastery here in 973 and there is a large window with a depiction of the occasion. We looked at the beautiful fan shapes in the soaring ceiling, now more interesting since we had seen the attic. There were large flat gravestones (ledgerstones) on the Abbey floor, 891 of them in total. I don’t know if I walked on all of them. It took twelve years to repair the cathedral after World War II, but repairing the ledgerstones was a whole other project.

Cal needed some fortifications after all that time climbing around the cathedral, and we also took time to listen to the buskers on the street.

From our vantage point on top of the cathedral’s tower we had been able to see that there were three different places where the buskers performed, and they rotated around those places throughout the day. This woman was a classically trained opera singer who performed a lot of songs from musicals that I was familiar with, and we enjoyed an early lunch while sitting on a bench and listening to her.

This little piece of advertising on the cathedral plaza always caught my attention.

In a tucked-away corner of the canal leading to the river, we found this little swan family out for their evening swim.

The day we left Bath, Cal enjoyed an English breakfast. These large breakfasts had lost a bit of their excitement for me after having had haggis and blood sausage in Scotland, and all of them in the UK are similar, so he did the honors while I just had a poached egg and toast.

English breakfast: poached egg, tomatoes, tattie scone, sausage and ham on a large mushroom, and beans

My next Europe posting will cover our visit to Stonehenge and the Cotswolds. First, though, I’m coming back to the present — February is a big traveling month for us, and I already have much to report. My posts will return to the United States for a little while. We’ll be on one of those travels next week so it will be two weeks before I’ll post again. I just returned from a long weekend in New Orleans, so stay tuned for the details!

Next time – Mardi Gras in New Orleans

Europe · UK and Ireland

Higgledy Piggledy Streets in Shrewsbury, England – Europe Travels August 2022

Shrewsbury is likely not the kind of town you would know about if you are trying to decide where to go on a trip to England. And indeed, if you don’t have a lot of time, you probably wouldn’t put it on your list. Tourists are here, yes, but not in droves that we saw elsewhere.

The town lies in Shropshire, in the far west side of England, right next to the border with Wales. It is the setting for a detective series about a 12th century Welsh Benedictine monk who solved crimes in Shrewsbury. Ellis Peters wrote 22 books in the “Brother Cadfael” series. I read all of them, although I enjoyed the earliest books in the series most. A few years back, I looked up what it might be like to visit here, and dismissed it for some reason. Of course, things are not going to look as they did in Cadfael’s day.

But then, a Facebook blogger that I follow called “Florry the Lorry” visited Shrewsbury. The pictures she took of this town are gorgeous. I’m sure that when I commented about a possible future visit here, she replied about the medieval buildings and streets going all “higgledy piggledy”. I can’t find that thread now, but I was ready to go based on her pictures and remarks. Plus, it was right on our path through England.

We spent a lot of time in Shrewsbury just wandering about, admiring the crooked buildings, and peering into shop windows.

For centuries, Shrewsbury has been a designated “market town” which gives it the right to have a weekly market. It was held here, under the archway and the square:

In the 1960’s the need for a new market was evident. The town built a modern indoor market that retained none of the character of the original, but I’m sure the vendors enjoy being out of the weather. We walked through and I did a wee bit of shopping, as well as to have the requisite tea and cakes. I bought some much needed socks, a foldable tote bag, and – a steal – 3 vintage postcards for forty pence each. We had all the fruits and vegetables that we needed back in our apartment.

Charles Darwin was born in Shrewsbury. There is a statue of him in front of the building where he went to school as a boy. It is now the town library.

There are always so few statues of women that I feel that I should give Mary Webb her due. Her statue was near Charles Darwin’s.

The Shrewsbury places featured in the Brother Cadfael mysteries are Shrewsbury Abbey, the River Severn, and Shrewsbury castle. All of these places still exist…sort of.

The “Castle Foregate” and the “Abbey Foregate” are two place names often mentioned often in the books. It is simply the roads leading up to the gates of the castle and the abbey, and they are street names used today. It’s interesting to think about how old street names can be in a country that has been inhabited for so long.

We walked up the foregate to the castle.

The castle contains an armament museum. Looking down into the knights’ hall, I tried to imagine it as it might have looked in the 1100’s without all the displays.

Shrewsbury Abbey, the home of the fictional Brother Cadfael, still exists too. It was founded in 1083. However, King Henry VIII did away with all the monasteries in England and made himself head of the Church of England. The abbey was destroyed in the 1500’s. The church retained its name although there is no abbey and was no longer Catholic after that point. The Romanesque church that was erected in the 11th century still stands, although parts of it have been rebuilt over the years.

A side gate which would have led to the Abbey is all that is left of that:

Inside Shrewsbury Abbey church

One of the stained glass windows paid homage to the Benedectine monks. There are also two statues of the same man laying down, one which depicts the man with a sword and the other shows him wearing a religious robe of some sort. Perhaps this was an inspiration for the books?

The window and artifacts below honor the memory of St. Winifred, a 7th century Welsh saint. The acquisition of her relics surrounds the plot of the first Cadfael book, “A Morbid Taste for Bones”, and is the story which hooked me into the whole series.

The church organ was purchased in 1911. Installation was never totally completed and by the 2000’s it needed some restoration. The update was finished in 2021. There was a surprise treat in store for us: an organ recital by a professor at a nearby college. He performed excellently and now that the organ could be played to its fullest potential, he (literally) pulled out all the stops.

Especially after visiting the church, I was very impressed with all the research Ellis Peters had done with her books. She wove all of her stories in and around the actual places and historical events that were happening in that era.

We crossed the River Severn often in our forays around town.

We took a boat ride, too. Although unfortunately we chose a rainy morning to do it, the top of the boat was covered and the rain held off until we were almost done. A spot of tea felt great in the chilly weather! The boat captain helpfully gave us a little Shrewsbury tour as we rode.

From the river, we could see little vignettes of the town that we would not have seen otherwise:

Once off the boat, we visited Quarry Park. An old part of the park called the Dingle dates back to 1879 and contains sunken gardens and a pond. It was the city’s way of dealing with what had been a medieval stone quarry. Charles Darwin used to look for newts and salamanders in the pond. The rainy morning made all the flowers look especially bright. Of course, with the off-and-on rain, we had the place to ourselves.

One evening, we headed down the street and saw a footpath called “Pig Trough”. Now, who could resist this? I read somewhere that, in the middle ages, streets would be named after the main enterprises that went on there. Was Pig Trough where everyone kept their pigs? I’ll never know the answer to that, but it will go down as one of our best evening walks. We had no idea where the path was going to go but we followed it all around and eventually it came out farther down the road.

We were in Shrewsbury for a long weekend and that was enough time to see it in a leisurely fashion. I was so very glad that this town had been on our itinerary!

I have been traveling for the past few days. There will be a blog coming up about that and our life in Texas this winter. First, though, I will have one more blog about our Europe trip before I leave it again for a little while.

Next time – we visit Bath, England

Europe · UK and Ireland

A Literary Journey to Haworth, England – Europe Travels August 2022

Historic downtown Haworth, England

It was a day’s train ride from Inverness, Scotland to Haworth. Down we went, back through the Cairngorms with sheep grazing on the heather in bloom and mountainsides dripping their waterfalls. Back down past Edinburgh and into England. Past towns like Berwick-on-Tweed, walled and right on the ocean, where we seemed for awhile to be skimming right on the water. The train was running slow due to some flooding down the track. We were late coming into York, missed our connection to Leeds but found another train, and both the train to Leeds and the train to Keighley were packed. Finally, in Keighley, a cab took us to Haworth. It had been a seven hour journey, and Haworth looked pretty good after a long day!

Coming here was a pilgrimage for me. My favorite book since my high school years is “Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Bronte. I pull this book off my shelf and reread it every now and again, and I still find it entertaining. If you are not familiar with it, perhaps you have heard of “Wuthering Heights” by her sister, Emily. I always dreamed of walking on the Yorkshire moors as Charlotte and Emily described in their books. If reading isn’t your thing, hang in there, I’ve also included a hike on the moors and a ride on a steam train here!

Haworth (pronounced, as I learned, “Howorth”) was the home of the Bronte family. Patrick Bronte was the minister at Haworth beginning in 1820, and he and his wife Maria had six children. Maria, and the two oldest daughters, died young. That left Charlotte, Emily, Anne, and Branwell. Anne was also a novelist and poet, and Branwell was a failed poet and artist. The four siblings were extremely close and lived in the parsonage with their father. After their mother’s death, their aunt came to help raise the children. Whenever the siblings ventured out into the world, all came home to Haworth as soon as they could. A signboard in the house stated that “it was at home where their creative lives flourished; in each others’ company and close to the wild moorland landscape that was such a source of inspiration to them.”

The parsonage, pictured here, is now a Bronte museum and much of the home is still furnished as it was when they left it. I cannot begin to tell you how exciting it was to walk through those doors.

Here I am, next to a picture of Charlotte on the wall

This is the room, their dining room, where “Jane Eyre”, “Wuthering Heights”, and “Agnes Grey” (Anne’s book) were all written. In the evening, the siblings would be together, and the sisters would walk around the table discussing what they were writing. Cal knew how important this was for me, and made sure to get a picture of me standing here. And then, I just stood and looked a long time at everything.

After the dining room, there was the rest of the house and museum to see. The kitchen:

And the grandfather clock that Patrick would wind every night before going up to bed:

Branwell was a bit of a free spirit, as evidenced by his room. Their setup of it was very honest. Unfortunately, the Black Bull Pub in town was one of his favorite hangouts. You can see a corner of it in the top picture and we had lunch there in the afternoon.

The whole family’s history is interesting but it was Charlotte I had mostly come to see. Even though we live centuries apart we may have had some common interests. I’d love to have a spot of tea and a chat with her. She spent some time as a governess and wasn’t happy in her job. She wrote about it in a journal. Remembering my own working years, I could certainly relate!

As with most women in those days, Charlotte did needlework, as I do too. She made a Berlin wool work bag for her friend’s mother. The work bag was something fashionable to create in its day.

Here is the first American edition of “Jane Eyre”, published in 1848. It was an immediate success. Currer Bell was a pseudonym she used until her book was known and celebrated.

The church parsonage is located right next to the church cemetery. In the Bronte’s time there were no trees, and the stones stood straight and tall. It is thought that this cemetery was part of the cause of so much mortality in the village. The spring which provided the village drinking water flowed right underneath it.

The Bronte siblings’ story is a tragic one. Branwell, Emily and Anne died of tuberculosis. Branwell was the first at age thirty-one, and heavy drinking probably hastened his death. Emily and Anne died within a year of Branwell’s passing. I can’t imagine what it felt like for Charlotte to lose all of her siblings so young and so quickly. She lived a few more years and married, but died from complications of her first pregnancy. Patrick outlived all of his children.

The family is not buried in the graveyard but underneath the church. Anne was buried in Scarborough, where she died.

When we visited the church I was a little distracted by this piece of artwork, made entirely from toast! It was created by Adam Sheldon in 2010, who sadly died in early 2022 at the age of 45.

There were a lot of shops to explore in the quaint village. This part of Haworth is made for tourists with its restaurants and small inns.

The other highlight of this visit, and one of many on the entire trip to Europe, was a hike to the “Bronte Waterfall”. This walk took us out to the windswept moors. Every step was a delight.

The trickiest part was finding the correct path. First, there was a narrow walkway, probably a horse path in days of old, with tall stone fences on each side.

Then, up Penistone Hill and across the Haworth moors. There were open fields of blooming heather, land spread out wide, and farms receding into the distance. Pastures of sheep grazed between endless stone fences. I tried to imagine how this would have looked in the mid-1800’s. Although indistinct in the picture below, the lines in the hill are all stone fences.

Then: through a cattle gate and sheep running loose. Now we were on the gorgeous South Pennine moors.

After passing a wonderland of ferns, we came to a pretty little river. No waterfall in sight.

I was pretty sure we had the right spot, and it was time for lunch anyway. We sat on a rock to enjoy the delicious sandwiches that we had purchased in a meat shop near our AirBnb. Other people came and went, some local and some not, and the missing waterfall was a topic of discussion. Someone finally filled us in: it was simply not there. It had dried up ages ago.

The Bronte siblings would come here for picnics, too. They would sit on the “Bronte Chair” – a big rock – to tell each other stories. We didn’t find the rock either at first, but someone was helpfully sitting on it on our way out. The missing waterfall would have been right behind it. Today it is a waterfall of heather and fern.

Our hike had been seven miles long. It had been longer than we thought it would be, and Cal deserved a reward after putting up with all my Bronte excitement. We totally negated the positive effect of our long hike with this mid-afternoon treat! His is a cream-filled meringue with hot cocoa, and mine is an apple turnover with of course, tea and cream.

We stayed in Haworth for only three nights, but after making sure I saw all of the Bronte-related sights we had time on our hands. If we’d had a car, we certainly would have visited other sights like the Yorkshire Dales. Instead, we looked into the possibility of an old steam excursion train that runs to Keighley. Haworth used to be a mill town which produced worsted yarn and cloth, and the train opened in 1867 to transport coal, textiles and workers to the mills. We rode Keighley and Worth Valley Railway from Haworth to Keighley, one stop short of the whole five-mile line.

On the platform and waiting for the train!

Some folks use this historic steam train to hitch a ride to Keighley because rail regular service from Haworth no longer exists. I mentioned that we had taken a cab to Haworth; when we left, we took a bus. Keighley is a much bigger city than Haworth, but we found nothing of note to see there.

I didn’t initially get a picture of our train because we were busy getting on it. But there is also a historic diesel train which we took on our return to Haworth, and another steam train passed us on our way. We made a stop at a manual switching station and Cal saw that the conductors made a swap of something. He said it was a mail bag. Would they deliver the mail in this way? I’m not sure. Maybe it was the day’s receipts.

The steam train, and a manual switching station

At Damems, we came to England’s smallest train station. Only one train car fits on the platform.

I can’t leave Haworth without showing you a picture of our little Airbnb cottage, which was very old. Cal is standing at the door and he always had to duck to go through. People were shorter in the old days.

The stairs going up to the bedroom were very precarious. At the top there was a measurable gap before one left the stairs and entered the hallway. The cottage was totally renovated, but the stairway was left as it had been. The steps were stone and I could just imagine the generations of weary feet that had climbed those stairs and worn them out in the middle. I hung on to those rails for dear life every time I slowly crawled up and down! It was a sweet little place and I loved our stay here.

The bonus to our stay was a chippy – a fish and chip shop – that did a steady carryout business in the evenings just a few doors down. We had a delicious dinner al fresco on one of their picnic tables. It wasn’t far from the meat shop that sold us our picnic sandwiches, and we purchased the same sandwiches for our train ride south on the day we left.

We are following the Masterpiece Theatre series “All Creatures Great and Small” on PBS weekly. In the last episode, the housekeeper, Mrs. Hall, goes to a train station to meet her son. As she was sitting at the station waiting for him, the name of the station was shown in big letters: “KEIGHLEY”. I shot up, and exclaimed excitedly, “Keighley! That is where we were!” And right there is an aspect of travel I most love: the sudden connectedness to places you had not ever heard of previously, and are now quite familiar with, thousands of miles from home.

Next time – moving on to Shrewsbury, England