Quick walking tour of Bath
Here's a one-hour tour of the essentials for you to print out and bring with you to Bath: Royal Crescent and the Circus, the Abbey and the Pump Rooms, a whiff of local colour, and some lovely views.
Start from the Abbey Churchyard.
1. The Pump Rooms
Face the front of the Abbey; the entrance to the Pump Rooms is on your right. If you're in a hurry you won't have time to visit the Roman Baths, but you can 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. Do not attempt to send it back when you suspect it is harbouring the remains of Jane Austen's dog; it's supposed to taste like that.
2. The Abbey
Come back out into Abbey Churchyard and face the front of the Abbey. There's been a church on this site for at least a thousand years, but the present one is 'only' 500 years old, celebrating its half-millennium in 1999. The carvings on the front show the dream of Bishop Oliver King who had it built (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 those upwardly and downwardly mobile was to make the ones descending 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. There are no olive groves in Bath by the way.
Spend a few minutes inside the wonderful Abbey, but don't try to find where the person who called it the 'Lantern of the West' must have stood to see it that way. If you do you'll be there all day.
Facing the front of the Abbey, walk along past the left hand side, pausing to see the inscription on the statue of the woman holding pot of water. The rather uninspiring inscription is from Greek writer Pindar: 'Ariston men hydor', 'Water is best'. Obviously Pindar never tried a pint of Royal Oak.
Walk across to the Guildhall in front and on your left.
3. Guildhall Market
The entrance to the Guildhall Market is clearly marked. It's a small local market with the old table, or 'nail', on which transactions were made - hence the term 'cash on the nail'. Walk through the market and out the back entrance. Cross the road to the balustrade, being keeping your distance from the open-top tourist buses: you're in no danger of being run over, but the guides' jokes are worth staying out of earshot for.
You are now looking at...
4. Pulteney Bridge
The word-famous bridge, with its elegant horseshoe-shaped weir. Spend a few minutes enjoying the magnificent views of the bridge and weir, the river sprawling away to your right, the hills in the distance. What you see up on the hill at about one o'clock is Sham Castle (a folly fašade) while at three o'clock in the distance is Prior Park, once the home of Bath entrepreneur Ralph Allen.
Now walk onto the bridge itself. 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, possibly to stop traffic from crossing it, possibly the remains of a Roman version of chess (in which case it's white to move and mate in two).
Look down the long straight Georgian terrace of Pulteney Street with its fountain and the Holburne Museum right down at the bottom.
Now about-face and walk away from the bridge. Keep on in that direction (you have to sidestep right a few yards) along Upper Borough Walls. Just after the ice-cream shop you will see the remains of the old medieval city walls on your right, rather unconvincingly rebuilt by the Victorians (who nevertheless made a better job of this than they did of the house I used to rent in Oldfield Park). Walk a few yards to...
5. Theatre Royal
Admire the front, bolted on by the Victorians to the side of the original Georgian building. Turn right and walk up - you will see the trees in the middle of the Circus a short walk away. En route you go along one side of the elegant Queen Square. This is the professional district of Bath, home to companies with small brass plates rather than large neon signs.
6. The Circus
Spend five minutes walking round 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 as far as we know you don't pay quarter of a million pounds for a one-bedroomed flat in Salisbury Plain. But Wood was certainly obsessed by arcane symbolism, hence the 528 carvings, taken from a 17th-century fortune telling book. He made the Circus represent the Sun and the Royal Crescent, just over to the west, the Moon, and that Brock St which links them runs along an old line of psychic energy. So it's said, anyway, by the more imaginative guides.
Walk along Brock St (the cobbled lane with the no-coaches symbol). Five minutes later you come into the magnificent...
7. 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.
Bath has always been a playground for people who have lots of money and plenty of time. Sadly, we don't. The hour is nearly up; it's time to get back...