Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Bath, Lacock, and Devizes

Last month, we finally managed to visit Bath. It was full to the brim with tourists, but it was such a beautiful city that we could understand why the whole of Europe wanted to visit! On Friday afternoon, Adam played a cricket game with a team from his London workplace vs a team from the Bath office. The Bath team play quite regularly, so I won't tell you the score, but I will show you a picture of Adam with his teammates. 
Handsome devils, aren't they?!
The main attraction in Bath is the Roman Baths, which we visited early on Sunday morning. Bath was founded by the Romans in AD60, when they discovered a hot spring. In those times, hot springs were beyond understanding and were considered to be the work of the gods. Beside the spring, the Romans built a temple to the goddess Sulis Minerva, who was supposed to have healing powers. 

The ornamental pediment (which is a sort of gable at the front of a temple) has survived and has been reconstructed and displayed in the museum at the Roman Baths. The temple was a focal point until late in the 4th century AD, when the dominance of Christianity caused the closure of pagan temples throughout the Empire. The temple at Aquae Sulis (what we now know as Bath) eventually collapsed. 
In Roman times the Great Pool was enclosed with a vaulted ceiling, not open to the weather as it is today.
The terrace features statues of Roman Governors, Emperors, and military leaders.
These were carved for the grand opening in 1897.
Bath Cathedral, beside the Roman Bath complex.
At the site of the ‘sacred spring’, 46°C water rises at a rate of 1,170,000 litres per day! The Romans surrounded the hot spring with a large complex of baths, and would visit the complex to bathe in the mineral-rich waters.  At that time, engineers channelled water from the spring into a main large pool and enclosed the area with a 40 metre high vaulted ceiling, held up by stone columns. This helped to enhance the pool’s air of mystery. The vaulted roof eventually collapsed (estimated to have been in the 6th or 7th century) but the oak piles that supported the pool still stand strong today. 
Me beside the Great Pool.
In the remainder of the complex, a network of steam rooms and plunge pools were created. There were both East and West pools and saunas, and these provided separate facilities for men and women. The steam rooms were heated with a sophisticated underfloor heating system, whereby the floors were raised on ceramic tiles, and heated water circulated around the columns of tiles. In Roman times, the floors were so hot that you had to use special footwear to walk on them.

The tiles used to raise the floors for the underfloor heating system.
One of the circular plunge pools (or 'frigidariums').
Even today, coins are still thrown into the pool for good luck.
Roman engineering was very advanced, and the complex featured a network of lead piping that uses gravity to carry water around the complex, as well as an overflow drain that helps to channel surplus water away from the baths. This water is expelled through a drain that carries the water 400 metres to the Avon River.
The overflow drain, still in good working order 2000 years after construction.
Over time, parts of the Baths collapsed, and the complex was flooded. It underwent some restoration in the 1200s, but was mainly expanded in the Georgian and Victorian periods. In the late 1700s, Bath became Britain’s premier spa destination; a place to relax, to be entertained, and to meet with others. The city underwent large expansion, and population rose almost 1200% in a century. Construction utilised the local sandstone and the popular architecture of the time – neo-classical style (based on the buildings of ancient Rome and Greece). Today, Bath is still very architecturally uniform, with all buildings in a central zone all built from what is now known as ‘Bath stone’, and all keeping to a similar style. As a result, the city is very pretty, and even the less desirable parts of town look lovely!

The Pump Rooms, beside the Roman Bath complex. First opened in 1706, though redeveloped later in the century. They were a place for the wealthy to meet and take the waters of the Bath spring, which were thought to have healing properties. 
The (King's) Circle, designed by John Wood in the style of the Colosseum and completed 1768. 
In 1942 a Luftwaffe bomb destroyed some of the houses, though these have since been recreated to match the rest of the Circus.
The Royal Crescent, also designed by John Wood. The 30 houses were built between 1767 and 1774.
A lower and upper lawn, separated by a ha-ha, lie beneath the Crescent.
The River Avon and Pulteney Weir
After leaving Bath, we travelled to the small village of Lacock. Much of the village, the Abbey, and 284 acres of land were given to the National Trust in 1944. The Trust is a conservation organisation that protects historic places and sites throughout England, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

Lacock looks like the perfect English village, with its mostly pre-18th century houses that are all in very good condition. These days, it is often used as a set for period programmes or films, including the 1995 BBC Pride and Prejudice, and Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone.  

We bought an ice-cream at this pretty general store and bakery
The stunning Abbey
After leaving Lacock, we visited the Caen Hill Locks near Devizes. The locks are on the Kennet and Avon Canal, which links waterways leading from Bristol (on the West Coast) to the River Thames. On the 140 km long waterway there are 105 locks, and 29 of these are situated in one section of the canal, at Caen Hill. 16 of the locks are in one small section, and there is a lovely walkway beside the towpath.

We walked about halfway along the locks, and watched two long boats make their way down the canal together. It looked like hard work for the two women (!) who were operating the locks while their partners steered the boats, as it was a lovely hot day of around 27°C. Adam tried his hand at assisting with the locks, but we quickly decided that a boat ride along a stretch of water with 16 locks would not be on the cards anytime soon for us!!

Afterwards, we had a cool drink at the cafe beside the canal, and piled back into the car for a long, hot ride back to Kent.

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