A tour guide’s all-time favourite UK places.
This September, Visit Britain, the marketing arm of the British tourist industry, is launching its ‘Great British Staycation Campaign’ to encourage people to holiday in the UK.
Soul City Wanderer (aka Frank Molloy) is one of the UK’s most accredited and experienced tour guides. Over three decades he has visited nearly every part of the country, touring many of the places that Great Britain and Ireland has to offer.
In a new blog series, he will list his all-time favourite five places by area (spiralling out from London*). These are personal choices, some obvious, some obscure.
This week, the area of England that includes the counties of Gloucestershire, Somerset & Wiltshire.
With so much history, it’s not surprising that since 1987, the whole city of Bath has been designated a World Heritage site. A small city, really, with a population of only around 85,000, it is nevertheless one of the world’s most visited cities and it is very walkable.
The local university and college lend Bath a youthful chilled-out feel. There is a vibrant shopping centre, with all the British favourite stores on the main street plus alleyways of independents.
Bath is renowned for its naturally occurring mineral waters, the only hot water springs in the country. Rainfall from 10,000 years ago bubbles up from springs a mile beneath the Earth’s surface at a rate of 250,000 gallons a day, and at a constant temperature of 46.5° centigrade (120F).
The Romans took advantage of the hot springs and made their sandal-print on history here by building the stunning Roman Baths. They called the town Aquae Sulis after a local goddess. The baths were unearthed at the end of the 19th century. Now, a museum has been added. It is an amazing experience and well worth taking a guided tour.
The Anglo-Saxons renamed the town using the Germanic word for spa, ‘Bad’, but they allowed the Baths themselves to fall into ruins and be swallowed up by mud. In medieval times, a magnificent abbey church was built nearby, its outer walls adorned with carvings including the famous ‘stairway to heaven’. Bath Abbey is also known as the ‘Lantern of the West’ because of its exceptional stained glass. One window commemorates the crowning of Edgar, first King of England, which took place in Bath in 973AD.
There is a great variety of places to eat in Bath. Lunch options include riverside restaurants and traditional pubs. Or, you could plump for an elegant afternoon English tea experience in the Victorian Pump Room, and try a glass of the famous spa water there.
Bath, has changed little architecturally since the eighteenth century, Clean and orderly, it was the first town in the UK that was laid out with proper planning in its streets, squares and parks. It was also the first place to have paving, lighting, and local transport.
Take a jaunt along the Georgian streets: the whole city, entirely carved out of the local honey-coloured Bathstone, reflects architectural achievements past and present. Aerial photography has revealed that by following a certain path around the city you are paying homage to the secret symbolism of Freemasonry: Lansdown Crescent and Sion Hill represent the serpent; the obelisk section of Royal Avenue is the all-seeing eye; The Crescent, a crescent moon; The Circus, based on the ancient dimensions of Stonehenge, is the sun, and the massive grouping of The Circus, Gay Street and Queen Square, also with obelisk, represents a key.
Bath was at the heart of the Georgian social scene, and fans of writer Jane Austen will discover much of her writing was inspired by the city. She wrote part of ‘Northanger Abbey’ here. Indeed, there is delightful Jane Austen Museum dedicated to her on Gay Street. The Assembly Rooms are also worth a visit. It now houses a fashion-through-the -years exhibition.
Bath: vibrant, historic, walkable, magnificent. What’s not to like?
Note: All sites mentioned were operating pre-lockdown. Please check relevant websites before embarking on any potential visit. Another recommendation will appear tomorrow.
For the very best in guided private tours of the UK visit www.yourlondontours.com
*Operators in the UK tour industry often separate the areas of the country according to what touring can be achieved in a region in one day. As a London-based operator, my ‘map’ spirals outwards from the capital and is separated thus:
- Northern Home Counties (Beds/Herts/Cambs)
- Eastern Home Counties (Essex/Suffolk)
- Southern Home Counties (Kent, Surrey, Sussex)
- Western Home Counties (Ox/Berks/Bucks)
- South coast (Hants/Dorset)
- Western England (Somerset/Gloucs/Wilts)
- South West England (Devon & Cornwall)
- Wales (north & south)
- Welsh Borders (Herefordshire/Shropshire/Cheshire)
- Western Midlands (Brum/Worcs/Warks/Staffs)
- Eastern Midlands (Northants/Leics/Rutland/Hunts)
- Northern Midlands (Notts/Derbys)
- East coast (Norfolk/Lincs)
- Yorks (all ridings)
- North West (Manchester/Merseyside/Lancs/Lakes/Cumbria)
- North East (Durham/Tyne & Wear/Northumberland)
- Southern Scotland (Borders/Lowlands)
- Northern Scotland (Highlands/Islands)
- Ireland (Northern/Southern)