Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Jane Austen, Choirs and Sally Lunn: Bath Day One

I've spent most of today contemplating the soreness of my feet. I have done a lot of walking, and it's starting to take its toll. Definitely on the itinerary tomorrow is a visit to the baths... In Bath!

That's where I am at the moment, sitting in a coffee shop waiting for my (walking) tour to start in an hour and a half. I got the train from Cardiff this morning and, after my breakfast of Welshcakes and chocolate eggs (it's Easter. I'm allowed), arrived in Bath at half past eleven.

It's amazing how long two hours can last when you're walking everywhere with a backpack and bag that didn't weigh quite this much before, surely. I followed the people into the centre of Bath and joined a line outside the Roman Baths, then decided it would be more tactical to go later on. Instead I wandered the streets with their beautiful Georgian buildings, following street signs and information panels to a Jane Austen centre (she lived in Bath for about seven years) and the famous circle and crescent of grand houses.

The Jane Austen centre had a young man dressed as Darcy standing outside, which was very nice, and had lots of Jane Austen gifts inside including signs saying 'Keep Calm and Read Jane Austen'. I got one of Jane Austen's earliest works, and sat and read it in its entirety on the lawn in front of the Royal Crescent Georgian houses. Then another walk back to the train station to catch a bus up the hill to the hostel, which had just opened for check-in.

The Bath Abbey had a choral evensong at 3.30 which I was determined to catch, so I didn't have long to rest my feet. I got to the bus stop just as the bus was supposed to arrive, but then it didn't. At 3.15 I decided to see if it was possible to run into town in fifteen minutes. It is possible... But tiring and probably not very good for my poor feet.

The Abbey is impressive from the outside, but the inside is absolutely incredible. It's probably the lightest naturally-lit church interior I've seen, with huge diamond-paned clear windows and some beautiful stained glass at the far end. The pillars stretch up and out into fans reaching across the ceiling and the floor is set with memorial gravestones, as is usual in most churches here. A bit strange to think you're walking over people buried below...

There was a boy's choir and a men's choir singing, and they were extremely good, singing by themselves at first and then accompanied by the organ as the procession reached the choir stalls. I'd forgotten that an evensong service involves a lot of standing, but I didn't mind so much because the singing was so good and the church so beautiful.

Next on my list was the Sally Lunn house, where the French refugee Soli Luyon started making brioche-like buns that were named after her. A real Sally Lunn bun doesn't have raisins or icing - a Bath bun does. The museum charges an exorbitant 30p entry fee, but I didn't have exact change and tried to offer 50p instead. The lady waved my silver coin away, saying no one had been charged today so it was free entry.

The museum is tiny and shows the original Sally Lunn bakery, lots of kitchen implements of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and also an excavation of the floor levels right back to Roman times. What is now the basement was the ground level in Sally Lunn's time, because when the Georgians remade Bath they lifted many of the streets to reduce flooding. Below this are the seven different medieval floors, some Saxon floors and the original Roman floor about two metres below Sally Lunn's floor level.

I bought one of the last buns and went to sit beside the Avon to sample it with some blackcurrant jam. Very good (better than brioche, in my opinion, and a bit like challah though with less salt and more sugar), and I'll have enough for breakfast tomorrow too.

In the evening I went on the Bizarre Bath tour, which (as advertised) involved virtually no history or facts. It did involve us following the blindfolded guide up and down a few streets searching for ley lines, as well as a toy bunny who managed to escape being chained, tied in a post bag and thrown into the River Avon. At one point one of the locals rode past on a bicycle, tooting a horn and blindfolded. Our guide was more shocked than we were and said the locals were getting to know the tour a bit too well.


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