This autumn marks ten years since I first came to Bath, as a timid fresher with my very first saucepan, working out how to be a grown-up. I never really expected that I’d want to live anywhere other than the place I grew up, but while it’s always wonderful to go back to Devon for fresh sea air and green hills, Bath has become home to me as an adult, the perfect place for who I am now. It’s been a crucial part of my career, which I love and feel astoundingly lucky to have, it makes me happy, it’s a constant source of excitement and yet it always feels safe and comfortable too. This, then, is a love letter to my adopted city, a part of me that is all the more important because I chose it for myself.
These are the best things about Bath:
Every time I visit the Roman Baths (which is often, because I get in for free, which is just one part of how fantastic it is living here) I’m awed and excited all over again by Bath’s incredible connections with the past. To stand by the sacred green waters of the Great Bath, on stones where actual Roman sandals have been, and in your mind’s eye, see the great temple complex rising above you, is a profoundly awesome thing.
Bath is proof that good things come in small packages. The size of this city makes itself known in a hundred lovely ways – the fact that you can go pretty much everywhere on foot, the way everyone knows each other, the way the city has just one centre where you can find all the brilliant stuff in one place – and yet it’s big enough to have lots of amazing theatre, and new restaurants opening all the time, and two universities to constantly refresh the place with hundreds of bright new faces.
|Tiny details outside the old bank building on Milsom St|
Bath’s beauty owes a lot to the gorgeous, honey-coloured stone with which it is built, soaking up the sunshine and giving it back tenfold. The majestic, symmetrical sweep of the Royal Crescent would be far less elegant in red brick. But it’s not just about the grandest buildings – Bath is full of tiny beautiful details, from doorbells and stained glass to the ghostly remnants of old signs. And it’s a brilliant place to be a pedestrian, built as it was in a time when cities were for people, not cars – you can see this in the luxuriously wide pavements of Great Pulteney St, and the little paths and cut-throughs and steps that you will discover everywhere, if you explore this city on foot.
In spite of the fact that this is a city with two universities and tens of thousands of people packed into it, Bath is also a gorgeously green place. My favourite park of all is the Botanical Gardens, lush and dense and full of tranquil corners that are perfect for whiling away a few hours with a good book. But equally lovely are the sudden pockets of green scattered throughout the city – Abbey Green, the Circus and Kingsmead Square with their towering, wise old trees – and the views outwards, towards rolling untouched hills. It’s amazing to me that you can stand on Cheap Street, in the very heart of the city, and see green fields.
|The Bath Botanical Gardens looking positively tropical in the summer|
The Street Performers
Before I ever lived here, my number one memory from brief shopping-trip visits was the buskers, who fill Bath’s streets with music and laughter. Only today I was listening to an opera singer, whose voice soared above the crowds and gave me genuine, honest-to-god goosebumps. There’s a man all in black with a trilby and a trumpet, hunched over like a question mark, who looks like a kindly grandad but who, when he sings, is Frank Sinatra come again. And then there are the less serious ones, but no less talented – the guys who juggle chainsaws on a unicycle, or the bloke who plays the violin whilst walking a tightrope. It’s rare that I can resist the temptation to join the huge crowd and see what’s going on this time.
For a little city, Bath has a huge amount going on, and barely a month goes by without its festival or event, covering a huge breadth of interests and passions – the Great Bath Feast, the Bath Film Festival, Bath Digital Festival, Bath Carnival. The Bedlam Fair, which celebrates street performance in all its weird and wonderful incarnations, is one of my favourites, and so is Party in the City, the opening night of the Bath Festival when there are free concerts all over town, from jazz bands playing in tiny cafes, to choirs singing in the churches, to a huge dance party at Komedia. All of Bath takes to the streets and the atmosphere is infectious.
|The fantastic Horning Glory leading a Bath Carnival procession at Party in the City|
Another of my favourite parts of the buzzing Bath scene is its markets – most famously the Christmas Market of course, which is fabulously picturesque, threaded through the old streets around the Abbey like twinkling tinsel. Then there’s the Bath Farmers Market (at 20 years old, the first farmers market in the UK, I’ll have you know), bursting with delicious fresh goodies and some of the very best local producers. All year round, you can find some of my favourite and most-visited tiny shops beneath the domed roof of the Guildhall Market – Snooks, the best second-hand bookshop ever, Nibbles Cheese, Gillards with its huge fragrant barrels of coffee beans, and Sew and Sew the haberdashery. Last but not least is the Independent Bath Market, a newcomer this year but already one of my favourites, and an Instagrammer’s paradise.
|Wrought iron and blue sky outside the Guildhall Market|
The Independent Businesses
Part of what makes Bath such an incredibly popular destination for a day out is all the unique businesses here, from incredible coffee shops to gorgeous designer boutiques, fresh original restaurants to stunning galleries. I sometimes feel like there are born and bred Bathonians who don’t realise how unusual and special this is – okay, we have a lot of chain shops now too (you’ve got to have somewhere to buy pants and washing up liquid) but really, honestly, Bath is blessed. It’s up to us residents to support these guys and make sure they don’t disappear.
The Food & Drink
Since I mentioned the restaurants, here’s another subject dear to my heart – Bath’s amazing foodie culture. Bear in mind that this is a miniature city compared to most, with an extremely compact centre, and yet it’s stuffed full with brilliant food and drink from all over the world. Markets, delis, restaurants, cafes, bars – you could eat and drink constantly and never get bored (I should know, it’s what I do for a living). It’s impossible to mention all my favourites, but check out this post for some highlights.
|Cheers! Legendary cocktails at Circo|
…and all the rest
Ten reasons just aren’t enough to describe my love for this beautiful, buzzing city, so honourable mentions to everything else: the Abbey, towering over the rest of the city, where I had my first graduation and was transported to Hogwarts, Milsom Place, a beautiful golden stone warren full of sunny courtyards and sudden views, where on a hot day you could easily imagine yourself in Florence, elegant, classical Pulteney Bridge, one of only four bridges in the whole world to have pretty, pocket-sized shops all the way across it on both sides, the Assembly Rooms, where you can imagine yourself attending a ball, back in Jane Austen’s era. The Bath Boules tournament, full of people in berets cheerfully drinking in the morning, in aid of brilliant local charities. Huge, stately hot air balloons lumbering off the ground in Victoria Park in summer. Bath, baby, I love you. Here’s to another ten years together.
|The view from the top of the Abbey down to the Orange Grove – Bath looking beautiful even in the rain|