When invited by Bath Tourism Plus to spend a day in Bath, taking our advice on what to visit from twitter, Pete and I jumped at the chance. We started asking for suggestions in the run up to our visit and by the day itself, the advice was flowing in at a great rate.
Both twitter friends and complete strangers came to our aid and between them, gave us lots of great ideas on how to spend our day.
The Pump Room Restaurant
We started our day with breakfast in the Pump Room restaurant at the Roman Baths. Shown into a vast and elegant room with a trio playing live classical music on the stage.
Starving after an early start, I went for the enormous Beau Nash Brunch (£12.95) which resulted in two enormous and very good eggs benedict, a pot of tea, a small glass of fresh orange juice and then, when I could barely eat another mouthful, toast and jam.
Pete, being far more restrained, opted for the Tompian Treat (£6.25) and enjoyed two hot-buttered crumpets with blackcurrant jam, a pot of coffee and an apple juice.
The food was excellent and seemed reasonably priced, especially given the grandiose setting and live music. However, service, was slow and it proved extremely difficult to attract attention despite the high number of staff working in the dining room.
The Roman Baths
Wanting to cram as much into our day as possible, we opted to skip the headset audio tours and do a short sweet walkaround.
Most visitors took advantage of the audio guides, which lead to an oddly quiet crowd meandering slightly myopically around the attraction but the lack of annoyingly voluble and high volume chatter was actually a relief. That said, on our weekday visit in late August, it was frustratingly crowded.
There’s a huge amount of information to please history buffs and if I could go back and spend a few hours there, without the company of the madding crowds, I would love to take it all in properly.
This under floor heating system took me immediately back to (happy days) studying history at school.
This golden head of the goddess Minerva was found in the old temple ruins. We’ll come back to her head later.
Adult entry is £12. £7.80 per child. Or buy a family ticket (for up to two adults and four children) for £34.
After our visit to the Roman Baths, Pete and I went in different directions. I was invited to a special chocolate workshop with Philippe Wall, chocolatier and founder of Minerva Chocolate.
I confess, I seem to have a bit of a thing for French men at the moment; I can’t help myself. Especially ones that humour me and let me rabbit away in French to them. Yes, yes, Philippe is Belgian but he’s a French-talking Belgian which, as he put it himself, is totally the same thing as a Northern Frenchman anyway!
It didn’t take long for me to fall utterly for Philippe’s charms. I challenge you to find a more jovial, affable chap in all of Bath!
I only just resisted sticking my mouth under the tap of hot, melted chocolate. But was quickly distracted by a cup of rich, delicious hot chocolate.
Philippe gave me and Tim (this year’s Masterchef winner) a short workshop on working with chocolate.
First we tempered some of the melted chocolate and then we made chocolate buttons, dipped whole English black cherries, finished off some pralines and Tim poured a tonne of chocolate into a strange Buddha mould.
Philippe has many custom moulds including some in the shape of Minerva’s head, the Roman goddess for which his shop is named.
I’m hoping to return to Bath and do a full length chocolate workshop with Philippe when I do.
Do visit Minerva Chocolate for a drink and tasty snack (takeaway or eat in), to buy some great chocolates or to attend a workshop with Philippe.
Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution
Initially planning to visit the Herschel Museum of Astronomy but finding it closed until later in the day, Pete turned to twitter and was quickly pointed towards the Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution.
He enjoyed a quick tour of ‘Earth + Fire = Vessel’, an exhibition of pottery and artefacts from throughout human history.
Entry was free and the institution has a wide range of exhibitions, talks and events on offer.
The Star Inn
Pete’s next stop was The Star Inn, a small traditional pub which is the brewery tap of Abbey Ales, who describe themselves as Bath’s only brewery. Of course, Bath Ales may disagree! However, Abbey Ales are the only brewery still physically located within Bath itself.
Next on Pete’s list was a visit to The Raven for another quick pint. It’s a small, attractive pub serving decent real ale including a few beers brewed especially for them by Blindman’s Brewery. Likewise, they are well known for delicious pies, made for them by Pieminister.
Bath Ales’ The Salamander Pub
We’re no strangers to Bath Ales, and have a great twitter friendship with their social media guru so it was great to finally meet Moussa for a Bath Ales lunch at The Salamander, where we also reunited after our solo explorations.
It’s a lovely pub, just the place to stop and rest weary bones, grab a pint or two and indulge in some simple but very tasty food.
In the photos above, is Mark Dredge, one of the UK’s top beer bloggers. He organised our lunch time meet.
The Salamander has a great location and a very warm welcome.
Paxton & Whitfield
I can’t imagine there’s a single reader of Kavey Eats who hasn’t picked up by now that I adore cheese. So it’s no surprise we popped in to Paxton & Whitfield on John Street.
(Sorry for the variable photos, some were taken on my phone).
Martin, the Bath store manager, talked us through a number of cheeses and we tasted a few, my favourite of which was the truffled Brie. Unlike most versions of this that I’ve tried, which have a vague smell but no real truffle flavour – even though you can clearly see a smear of black truffle across the centre – the Paxton & Whitfield version was heady in it’s truffly aroma and then, to my delight, kicked in with a very clear truffle taste. So heady that I was unable to leave without buying a generous slice to take home!
It’s always great to buy cheese from genuine turophiles, like Martin, who can educate you about the cheeses on offer and help you work out the right ones for you.
Sally Lunn’s Buns
Sally Lunn’s is not the only provider of Bath buns in Bath. But it’s probably the best known.
According to the ever handy wikipedia, a traditional Bath bun is “a rich, sweet yeast dough shaped round that has a lump of sugar baked in the bottom and more crushed sugar sprinkled on top after baking. Variations in ingredients include candied fruit peel, currants or larger raisins or sultanas.”
The cafe’s website relates their version of the history of the Bath bun: Sally Lunn was a Huguenot refugee (better known as Solange Luyon) who came to Bath in 1680 via Bristol, after escaping persecution in France. Finding work with a local baker, she introduced the light and delicate bun to the town. The bun quickly became popular and its fame spread far and wide. Apparently, the original and secret recipe is passed on with the deeds to the house and still made there by hand. Strong insistence is made that their true Bath bun differs greatly to the London copycat version which is also called a Bath bun.
On the other hand, I have found reference to the claim that the Bath bun descended from the 18th century Bath cake, devised by one William Oliver, a doctor treating visitors who came to Bath for the famous spa waters.
Whatever the truth of its history, we were determined to sample the famous buns and chose to do so at the most famous purveyor.
The buns are available with a range of toppings including butter and strawberry or blackcurrant jam, cinnamon butter, traditional thick cut orange marmalade, rich raspberry topping, lemon curd, coffee and walnut butter, chocolate butter, ginger butter or brandy butter, most of which are homemade.
The menu also offers a wide range of savoury and sweet snacks including sandwiches, soups, rarebits, pates, a small range of full hot meals and sweet cakes, pies and tarts.
Pete chose half a Sally Lunn Bath bun with homemade lemon curd and I went for the homemade coffee and walnut butter on mine.
When the buns arrived, we were a bit aghast – they looked huge and we’d not long had a generous lunch. But they were much lighter than we expected and we polished them off pretty quickly.
They’re simple buns, and those expecting a truly novel experience or a bun utterly distinct from all they’ve tried before, may be disappointed. But we were glad we stopped here. They may be simple but they’re awfully good and we appreciated the homemade toppings.
We will be hunting down recommended recipes to recreate the Bath bun here in North West London!
As an added attraction, the kitchen museum at the same site shows the actual kitchen used by Sally Lunn back in the 1600s. Entry is 30 pence.
Thermae Bath Spa
Although I am a huge fan of spas, I probably wouldn’t have taken time out of our day in Bath to go to the Thermae Bath Spa had we not been given complimentary 2 hour entry. And that would have been a huge, huge mistake as I truly loved the experience!
Located just a short stroll from the Roman Baths, the Thermae Bath Spa has been built to give modern-day visitors the opportunity to take the famous Bath spa waters in a modern-day setting.
The main building is called the New Royal Spa and comprises a large indoor mineral pool called Minerva, which has a ‘lazy river’ current that moves floating swimmers slowly around the pool, a series of steam rooms, each with differently scented steam and a roof top thermal pool with magical views over neighbouring rooftops and Bath Abbey.
There is also a small separate facility just opposite, which offers a small open-air thermal bath with its own changing facilities. This is known as New Cross and is ideal for small group bookings. Entry for New Cross is not included with entry to the New Royal Spa facilities but we were taken across to have a quick peak before starting our own spa session.
Of course, spa treatments are also available, including regular, hot stone and hydro massages, body wraps, facials and so on.
Image courtesy of LuxeGuru, another bathtwitrip participant
During our visit we enjoyed the Minerva thermal pool, the steam rooms and the roof top thermal bath.
The steam rooms were wonderful but the enormous waterfall shower in the centre of the room was underwhelming and the individual foot baths around the edges of the room were difficult to access, tight and more than half were broken.
It was the roof top pool that stole my heart; bobbing in warm waters and admiring the magical view out over the historical city of Bath is an experience I will not quickly forget.
Images from Thermae Bath Spa website – New Cross, New Royal Spa rooftop thermal bath, Minerva pool and steam rooms
There were only a couple of frustrations: The cleverly designed lockers were operated by electrical keys integrated into unusually poorly designed wrist bracelets which constantly came loose. It was also frustrating that showers and toilets were on a different floor to the changing rooms.
To my surprise, prices for entry are very affordable with New Royal Spa charging £25 for 2 hours, £35 for 4 hours and £55 for a full day providing access to the indoor and outdoor pools and steam rooms as well as a cafe restaurant. Entry to the more limited facilities of New Cross costs just £15 per person for 1.5 hours or £150 for private group hire for the same period, for up to 12 people.
For a really different perspective on Bath, I wholeheartedly recommend the Thermae Bath Spa and will definitely be visiting again next time I am in town.
Other Attractions in Bath
We were very pleased to be able to take in the Wild Planet Exhibition by London’s Natural History Museum. Featuring 80 spectacular images from Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition, we lingered over the wildlife and landscapes whilst enjoying live classical music and singing from buskers in the open square in front of the Abbey and Roman Baths.
It’s down to will power that we managed to visit the wonderful Kitchen cookshop on Quiet Street without making any purchases, though had the bank balance been healthier, we absolutely would have done. It’s a paradise for cooks and I could easily lose hours inside.
Although we packed as much into our day as we could, in the end we had time to visit only a fraction of our twitter recommendations which included favourite cafes, delis, bakeries, restaurants and more. It looks like another trip to Bath is in our future!
We’re also hoping to do a course at the charming Richard Bertinet’s cookery school soon.
If you have your own Bath favourites, please do share them in the comments.
With many thanks to Bath Tourism Plus for their invitation to participate in this hugely enjoyable day.