City Trail

Here’s our guide, for you to Print out and bring with you to Bath, to the City Trail – an official circular walking tour round the centre of Bath. Follow the bronze plaques set in the footpath. You can buy a neat little guidebook for the trail from Tourist Information. What appears below is our own guide to that route. The numbers correspond to the ones in the official guidebook, in case you’re wondering why they follow no particular logic. Curiously, the official route doesn’t include the Royal Crescent, so we’ve added it in.

We reckon you should allow between 60 minutes (New York pace) to three hours (Chew Magna pace) for the walk itself, plus whatever time you spend in museums. And cafes. And pubs.

 

 

1. The Tourist Information Centre – Abbey Chambers

On a cold day you can see the steam rising from the Roman Baths behind you. On a hot day you can see the steam rising from the Tourist Information officers as they try to find last-minute rooms for visitors. The arrow in the first bronze plaque points to the West Front of the Abbey

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2. Bath Abbey

Bath Abbey

Bath Abbey This being a Roman city, the Abbey, built in 1499, is a mere latecomer. There’s been a church on this site for a thousand years, and England’s first King was crowned here. The carvings on the front of the Abbey show the dream of Bishop Oliver King who had it built (it was the last Tudor church in Britain before the Reformation). Angels climbed up and down a ladder to heaven in his vision, but the only way the stonemasons could distinguish between them was to make the downwardly mobile ones do it head-first. The Bish also saw an olive surrounded by a crown in his vision, denoting his name, and this appears on the Abbey front too. Good job he wasn’t called John.

The Roman Baths and Museum lie ahead on your left.

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3. The Roman Baths

Britain’s only hot springs are right here. The Museum is well worth a visit, with modern audio-visual interactive displays, and you can walk right round the original Roman Baths, which are in an astonishingly good state of repair. The statues on the gallery at the top are Victorian, but the bath itself is original. The plumbing here is 2000 years old and still works; just as well, seeing as parts might be a problem.

In Bath’s heyday of the 18th century this was a hectic place, full of bathers. The lexicographer Dr Johnson condemned the practice of mixed public bathing, calling it “an instance of barbarity that cannot be equalled in any part of the world”, which does rather indicate that Dr J had never seen a scrum collapse at the Rec.

Public access to the baths stopped in 1978 following a health scare, but thanks to the new Thermae Bath Spa the public can once again bath in the thermal waters just a stone’s throw away from the original Roman site.

Walk between the pillars into Stall St.

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4. The Pump Room

The Pump Room was built in 1706 as a sort of rendezvous for the sick. Bath’s doctors specialised in certain diseases – those of the rich. Spend five minutes inside the Pump Room listening to the live salon music and sipping a cup of water pumped up from the spring. They sell it at the far side of the Pump Room from a little counter for 45 pence. Imagine Vichy spring water, with a whiff of fresh grass cuttings, and an aftertaste of elderflower. Well, it tastes nothing like that. It’s vile. They took it for analysis once and the verdict from the laboratory was, ‘This horse is pregnant’.

The Trail crosses Stall St to the corner of Bath St.

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5. Stall St

A lively shopping street and a favourite pitch for buskers.

Walk between the Colonnades to the Cross Bath. Swiftly, if the buskers aren’t much good.

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6. The Cross Bath

Now in private hands, the tiny Cross Bath is open to the public. Just opposite is the now disused Beau St baths building, where the new spa complex will go.

Follow the trail to St Michael’s Place.

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7. St Michael’s Place

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8. Chandos Buildings

Chandos Buildings

Follow the arrow through the alley to Plaque No. 8 and then walk towards the domed building. The next arrow is underneath the balcony.

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9. Seven Dials

This used to be a garden centre selling pot plants. Now it’s a modern complex, designed rather tastefully in the Georgian style, all shops and offices full of pot plants – so where do they buy them from?

Walk up to the Theatre Royal

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10. Saw Close

The elegant Theatre Royal is on your left, and stages regular plays, operas and musicals. It has a reputation as one of the best places outside London’s West End. This is pavement café country too, a nice place to sit and enjoy a drink.

The Garrick’s Head pub was once the home of Beau Nash, Bath’s uncrowned king of the 1700s. He later moved round the corner to what is now Strada the restaurant. Nash was accused of being a whoremonger, but replied that you could no more accuse a man of being a whoremonger for having one whore in his house than you could call him a cheesemonger because he had one cheese. He should have been in politics.

Make for the trees at the top of Barton St

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11. and

12. and

13. Queen Square

The obelisk in the square celebrates the visit in 1738 of Frederick Prince of Wales. It was designed by John Wood, financed by Beau Nash, the stone donated by Ralph Allen, and the top blunted by lightning in the 1800s.

Continue into Queen Square

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14. Queen’s Parade

15. Queen’s Parade Place

You can see two small gate houses where the sedan chair men used to ply their trade. The sedan chair was the way for the gentry to get around Bath’s steep streets and hills but was superseded by the three-wheeled Bath Chair, which could be operated by one man but which could only go about four miles per hour in the crowded streets. This in turn was superseded by the motor car, which does exactly the same. Sedan chair races were regular features of the Bath Festival until a few years ago.

Follow the Gravel Walk up into Victoria Park

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16. Victoria Park

Stroll around here and enjoy the fresh air and views of Royal Crescent. Designed by John Wood the Younger as lodging-houses for the gentry on their visits to Bath, this crescent was completed in 1767. It was in the middle of farmland then and had wonderful sweeping views of the hills and Avon valley. Those views now offer additional interest for fans of gasholder design and housing estate layout, but the Crescent itself remains a splendid sight, with Victoria Park calmly green below. Note the ha-ha, or sunken fence, which kept the sheep, cows and peasants from their front lawns, but didn’t interrupt the view from the apartments. Why is it called ha-ha? I’ve no idea.

Continue into Brock St

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17. Brock St leading to…

18. The Circus

John Wood made the Circus represent the Sun and the Royal Crescent the Moon, and Brock St which links them runs along an old line of psychic energy. So it’s said, anyway, by the more imaginative guides. In the Circus, admire the frieze of carved 528 symbols, each one different, running around the front of the curved terraces. Count the acorns on the top of the parapets and see if there are still 108. This is all John Wood’s masterpiece, designed by him and completed by his son in 1754. It is supposedly inspired by Stonehenge, though the resemblance is not obvious to the untrained eye. Wood was obsessed by arcane symbolism, hence the 528 carvings, taken from a 17th-century fortune telling book.

Continue not down the hill but through Bennett St

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19. Bennett St

20. Assembly Rooms

21. Fashion Museum

The New Assembly Rooms were built in 1772 by John Wood the Younger, and soon became the place for entertainment. Tea-drinking, card-playing and country dancing were the sort of thing that the young people enjoyed, and which the old people tutted about and said the world was going to the dogs.

The Fashion Museum is housed inside with 400 years of fashions, featuring such things as the ridiculous and outdated platform shoes and flared trousers, to modern up-to-the-minute styles such as platform shoes and flared trousers.

Turn left into Alfred St

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22. Saville Row

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23. Bartlett St

Bartlett St is the Antiques area of Bath, with dozens of shops and stalls selling everything from fine filigree jewellery to period furniture to old railway station signs.

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24. and…

25. George St

Cross over and walk left, then right down Broad St

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26. Broad St

Not very broad at all; in fact, it’s a narrow street with some interesting shops and pubs. The name comes from the broad looms that used to weave the cloth peddled by the monks down here in medieval times when it was outside the city. Milsom Place, on the right, is a former coaching yard now given over to pavement cafes and speciality shops. There’s also the Bath Postal Museum here, commemorating the posting of the world’s first stamped letter right here on 2 May 1840, no doubt followed next day by the first instance of a dog biting a postman’s hand.

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27. Milsom Place

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28. Green St

Just as Broad St is not broad, so Green St is not green. It gets its name from an old bowling green that used to be there 250 years ago.

29. The Podium

The Podium

At the bottom of the hill is the Podium, which is not actually a podium, but a modern shopping centre designed with a Georgian feel to it.

Turn left across Bridge St

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30. Bridge St

31. Pulteney Bridge

The word-famous bridge, with its elegant horseshoe-shaped weir – but where is it? As you look down Bridge St all you see is shops, with a fountain in the middle distance and a grand museum right down at the bottom of a long imposing Georgian Terrace.

The Bridge is in front of you. It’s said to be one of only three in the world with shops on both its sides, and was designed by Robert Adam. It also has a collection of strange bollards on either side of the road, definitely not designed by Robert Adam. Their purpose is possibly to stop traffic from crossing it, or maybe they’re part of an abandoned giant chess set (in which case it’s white to move and mate in two). To see the bridge, turn right on to Grand Parade and look over the Balustrade.

Spend a few minutes enjoying the magnificent views of the bridge and weir, the river sprawling away to your right, and the hills in the distance. What you see up on the hill at about one o’clock is Sham Castle (a folly façade) while at three o’clock in the distance is Prior Park, once the home of Bath entrepreneur Ralph Allen.

Behind you is the Victoria Art Gallery.

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32. Victoria Art Gallery

Follow the arrows down to Orange Grove

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33. Orange Grove

You can see the Abbey again, and also the magnificent building of the Empire on the corner, now restored, has three different types of top to depict the three classes of society. Once a hotel, it is now split into luxury retirement flats – a mere quarter of a million pounds will get you a nice little two-bedroomed place.

Orange Grove has no oranges: the name comes from a visit by William of Orange in 1734. An obelisk stands in the circular garden, which is called Alkmaar after Bath’s twin town in Holland. Thank God they didn’t twin us with ‘s Hertogenbosch. Down over the parapet is Parade Gardens, a nice riverside park to spend a while.

Follow the arrows down to Terrace Walk

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34. Orange Terrace Walk

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35. North Parade Passage

An area with plenty of grey plaques commemorating the famous literary figures who lived and worked here.

Parade Gardens

Follow the arrows down the alley by the Huntsman pub

 

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36. Sally Lunn’s House

Was there really a Sally Lunn? Supposedly, she was a French Huguenot refugee who came here to invent a bun in the 1680s, says the legend. Oh yes? Surely French women have names like Monique and Nicole, not ‘Sally’ or ‘Lunn’. Apparently the name of Bath’s most famous native food item may be rhyming slang for ‘bun’ or come from the French for ‘sun-moon’. Anyway, down this lovely little alley you can find refreshment, visit a kitchen museum, or head for a pub.

 

Continue into Abbey Green

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37. Abbey Green

This is journey’s end, a quiet little courtyard-like place with a pub and some discreet shops. From here you can see the Abbey Churchyard again and the Roman Baths, and you’re back to where you started. Now you regret only having got two hours’ parking three hours ago…

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