Bath And Stonehenge

I confess I’ve wondered about this a lot- do we call a bath after the town of Bath, or is it Bath because of the baths there?  I’ve been doing this a lot in Ireland and the U.K. actually- discovering place names that I already know as other places or whatever and having an “aha!” moment about the origin of the word or name.  The county Bath is in, for example?  Somerset.  Not at all like the one I immediately think of an hour from Pittsburgh, but there you go.

Anyway, I ended up in Bath for no real reason other than I’d gone down to Manchester and that was so non-touristy that after a night I needed another place to visit and all the outdoorsy stuff was booked solid due to a bank holiday. (They have a lot of these around here- this particular bank holiday was the second in May!) Somehow Bath came up in my survey of opinions, and I’m glad it did.  It’s a lovely town I quite recommend checking out at some point.

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The cathedral square in Bath dominated by a religious building of some sort.  No really, the abbey in Bath is stunningly lovely, and I say that as someone who has seen a huge number of religious buildings in the past few months!  If you don’t sit around for awhile slowly noting every lovely flying buttress and gargoyle from your side I’m guessing the never-ending English rain is falling down in buckets again.

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The main tourist attraction of Bath are, of course, the baths!  Specifically the ancient Roman ones- about a century ago a house built up on this area kept getting water in its cellar, and they started digging around and discovered some of the most wonderfully preserved Roman baths in the world today.  The reason they’re here is there is a hot (45 C) spring that wells up from underground that the Celts in the area worshipped, and Romans being Romans it was only natural for them to build a marvelous set of baths here once they took the place over.

Another fun detail because I have nowhere else to put it- if you go to the Roman baths you get a free audio guide, but do yourself a favor and just listen to the kids version.  This is because the grown-up audio guides are notorious for some producer saying “hey, let’s put in a lot of random music that sounds old with a guy doing a voiceover of some marginally related text- that would totally excite everyone!” and all the grown-ups stand around politely listening to the crap because they’re trying to be cultured.  The kids version, on the other hand, quickly tells you the important dates, what said object is, and an interesting fact or thing to notice about the object.  Simple.  That’s what I want over “and now we will recall what Sillyfus the Ugly had to say over the Roman practice of caldera use…”

Oh, and the baths got Bill Bryson to go around and sort of talk about what he was thinking and put that in a special audio guide tour as well.  I happen to really like Bill Bryson though, so I will approve of this.

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Anyway, back on my mini-tour where you are captives of my commentary until you decide to stop reading, one of the reasons the baths in Bath are so famous is because of the amazing amount this stuff was preserved- when the Romans left the subsequent English kings just built their baths on top of this bath, so all the Roman stuff is remarkably well preserved really.  This face here was at the front of the Roman temple dedicated at the spring to Sulis Minerva, patron of the healing water at the spring.  The “Sulis” part comes in because the Celts here had her as their god of healing, so the Romans diplomatically said “oh yeah, must be the same goddess!” rather than causing a fuss over it.

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The heating tiles that used to hold up the Roman floor of the warm room in the baths- you had air heated via furnace moving about the pillars that were holding up the floor, which thus warmed up the room.  I include this because anyone who took Latin in any detail probably studied Roman baths to death, and can understand my excitement to see “hey they actually did do that!”  The Roman baths here are really great at giving you a visualization of what the place was like, really.

The other tourist thing I was looking forward to seeing in Bath, by the way, was the house of a certain famous astronomer named William Herschel.  Herschel was famous for his discovery in the 18th century of the planet Uranus, one of the most revolutionary scientific discoveries of all time, in addition to being an awesome astronomer in general.  And hey, I found the house!  It’s a nice house, on a nice residential street.  But I never got to go in the house- it turns out the darn museum is closed on Wednesday of all days and I was already set to leave Thursday, thus ensuring that the only person planning to voluntarily go to the Herschel astronomical museum in weeks was deprived of seeing it.  Sigh…

To make sure I get a new stamp on my astronomy geek quota card though, because if I get 10 stamps they send me a decoder ring, I did make a trip to Stonehenge which is an hour away from Bath.  Besides the lure of a decoder ring the St. Christopher’s hostel in Bath threw in a free Stonehenge tour if you booked two nights with them (thanks, guys!) so I headed out.

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A rather fascinating signpost on the Sailsbury Plains on the way to Stonehenge- they say the miliatary does excersises here.  Fascinatingly this is also the “crop circle” area of England though I arrived too early for the season of seing pretty patterns flattened out in fields with pieces of wood.  Darn?

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Stonehenge!  Which is really, really windy!  I admit this place isn’t half as exciting as you’re led to believe- it looks nothing more than a pile of rocks, so you have to spend a lot of time reminding yourself that it’s a really important pile of rocks over 4,000 years old with stones dragged here as far away as Wales for reasons we’re not entirely certain of.  So if you get something like a free tour go as it’s worth contemplating this with your own eyes for a bit, but probably not worth going out of your way excessive miles to see.

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The astronomy-related part of Stonehenge is, of course, how the stones correspond marvelously with the sunrise.  This view specifically is showing where the sunrise is in midsummer, ie June 21, with the heelstone in the appropriate gap.  Apparently modern-day Druids show up here on June 21 every year to mark the occasion, but it should be noted the ancient Druids never actually did anything at Stonehenge, so the modern ones are just full of it.

And that is my journey in the Essex region of England.  Unlike Bath though I actually know what Essex is from though- it refers to the Saxons that used to live here, once they beat the Romans out.

One response to “Bath And Stonehenge

  1. great – best online guide yet i’ve found to bath, with is rather convenient since i’m headed there… tomorrow!

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