I booked a day trip to Bath, on the hunt for all things Jane Austen…
… and was completely enthralled by the city.
Bath was non-negotiable on my UK trip because I love Jane Austen. If Austenland was a real thing, I would have gone there full-stop. "Persuasion" is my favorite Austen book and it is set in Bath, along with "Northanger Abbey" (not a fan of that one and didn't bother reading it). The 2007 "Persuasion" movie had long, sweeping shots of Bath's Georgian buildings and I could not wait to see them myself.
On a non-Austen note, other favorites reside / have resided in this UNESCO heritage city as well: The Michalaks (who upload some of my favorite vlogs on YouTube every Sunday) and Tears for Fears.
I could have easily taken the train to Bath anytime, but like most places I visited on this trip, I didn't want to go without a tour guide. The city would have been equally enthralling if I had gone solo, I'm sure, but I wanted to put my visit into some kind of historical, Austen-centric context.
As I was doing my research months before leaving Manila, I quickly realized that Austen-themed tours of Bath do not come cheap. In fact, most of them require you to be part of a group, and involve three-day two-night stays, a private chauffeur, and spa days, even. It wasn't until I had reached the halfway point of my trip, googling randomly in my Airbnb in Berlin, that I stumbled upon Tours By Locals.
After a couple of email exchanges with resident Bath guide Sue, I learned that I could book a private tour (YES) for $147.55 (fluctuates according to exchange rate). I purchased my train tickets (an off-peak round trip from Paddington Station cost £57.50), then immediately booked my three-hour walking tour. Sue was great—she gave proper advice on what time it was best to leave London, where we would meet, how I would find her, etc.
Armed with some coffee, I hopped on the train and still fell asleep on my way to Bath Spa Station. I woke up just in time to see the view—something you'll not want to miss if you're taking the train to Bath Spa.
I wish I had woken up a few minutes earlier so I could have gotten my camera on the ready for the rolling hills and the rows of Georgian houses that curve and undulate through the city. Instead, I have a very sloppy Instagram story that I will not even bother screen-capping for this post.
Sue was standing right by the exit of the train station wearing a name tag. It boggles my mind how everything is (mostly) exactly on time here—to say "I'll see you at x spot at 12:28 pm" is next to impossible in Manila but absolutely acceptable in Bath.
As soon as we got the introductions out of the way, Sue took me to the Bath Abbey area and started our deep dive into history. The buildings in Bath are all mostly Georgian in style and derive their unique look from their Bath stone finishes. I did also get a walk through of a row of houses that went up before the transformation (pre-18th century).
We stopped by Sally Lunn's, home of the famous Bath Buns (which Austen, herself, probably snacked on) and reportedly the oldest house in the city (c. 1483). Even if you're not going into Sally Lunn's for the buns, you can take a peek at a little museum they have inside that showcase the history of architecture and construction in the city (from Romans to present day).
Sue packs in a lot of information on the walking tour—I wish I could have gotten the entire tour on video, just to backtrack and rewind. I tried to write everything I could remember from our tour that night, while the facts were still fresh.
We walked to Pulteney Bridge, where Susan talked about the history of the city itself—how it grew, how it was a popular resort town for a while (royalty and the upper class came here to be healed by the waters), and how it's known as a university town today.
From the bridge, we walked through the city via some crosswalks and a lot of stairs (it was a walking tour, after all) until we reached a lovely canal. I didn't know Bath had waterways like this!
While trying to catch my breath, I remembered how all of Austen's books made mention of taking walks—the (short) distance we covered was probably nothing compared to what people in the Regency period were used to.
By the time we had reached one of the Canal's gorgeous cast iron bridges, my scarf was flying everywhere (someone going for a jog had pointed out how I had dropped it several paces behind), my camera strap was getting tangled with my bag, I was sweating under my coat and my jacket, and my hair was all over my face. :P PSA: Do not expect to look your best when taking a walking tour.
Under the bridge, Sue pointed out how the blocks had masons' symbols on them—it was a way of figuring out how much to pay the builders (I'm pretty sure I'm recalling this correctly… but apologies in advance if I made this detail up!).
Pleasure gardens were a thing during Austen's time and we walked into one of the parks she frequented while she went on visits with her aunts. If I had more time in Bath, I would have probably lingered in Sydney Gardens a little longer. The path eventually led us to Holburne Museum, where an attendant scolded me for taking a video of one of the paintings on display. Oops.
The back of the building was completely renovated and modernized, and I only realized now that I was too busy trying to keep pace that I had forgotten to take a photo of it.
Just across the museum, we caught a glimpse of the actual house where Jane Austen lived (it's the white door to the right, Number 4). You would think there would be more fanfare around this place, but it looks pretty run of the mill. Here, I learned about how Jane's feelings toward Bath changed later on in life because it was her father became ill and eventually passed. (She didn't want to go back to the city after that).
We walked further along a beautiful boulevard and into Old Bond Street, which is bustling and lined with shops. It's cool how Sue points out specific scenes from Austen's two books set in Bath complete with quotes. "This is where x and y would have gone shopping, and this is where so-and-so character would have said so-and-so line…" (and this is why I wish I could have recorded my entire tour because then I would know exactly who said what and where).
We walked into one of the prominent department stores which used to be an actual residence, just to get a feel of how these buildings were utilized during Austen's time.
There was hardly a street where Sue didn't run into a friend, neighbor or acquaintance. Bath is a small town and running into someone you know wherever you go is certainly a thing there.
Our next stop gave me a chance to see Bath's unique architecture up close. The Circus showcases the typical Bath townhouse—Sue talks you through how everything's set up (the help stays in the top floor, you have a drawing room which comes from the word "withdrawing," and other interesting trivia). Fun fact: Nicolas Cage took up residence here.
Perhaps the most famous part of Bath is The Royal Crescent, which deserved a panoramic shot (which I did not take because I was too busy ogling all the gorgeousness). Damn it.
After a couple of minutes at the Royal Crescent (watch out for tourists, school groups, and selfie sticks everywhere), Sue took me into a secluded garden at the back of one of the townhouses. If I remember right, this building is actually being used by one of Bath Spa University's fashion design courses—if you squint well enough, you see the mannequins through the windows.
Next up, we got a glimpse of the Jane Austen Centre from across the street. One cannot miss the oddball looking Jane statue at the entrance. Martin, who Sue knows (natch), stands guard to greet guests. Sue herself dresses in Regency regalia every now and then—Bath is home to several conferences and events that have everyone dress in costume (hello, Austenland!).
Bath got its name for—you guessed it—the Roman baths that were built here. It's amazing how these structures still exist and are still in full use these days. We leaned over one of the grates on the street to feel the steam rising up from the hot water beneath the ground.
The site of another I-hope-I'm-remembering-this-correctly tidbit, the portico leading to the entrance of the Roman Baths is the place where the confrontation between Anne and sleaze bag William Elliot happens in "Persuasion" (if this isn't the case, then let's just appreciate this beautiful walkway).
Sue recommended getting a ticket to walk into the Roman Baths so I could see the entire structure, but toward the end of our tour I was exhausted and slightly delirious from hunger. I decided to skip the tour, but at the very least, I was able to walk through the entrance, which gave me a peek into one of the many baths inside.
We made our way into the Pump Room, which was a social hall during Austen's time. Today, they serve high tea there and walk-ins can also grab a cup of water (it's very warm, which feels weird to take in when you're super thirsty). I can't believe I didn't take any photos here, since it is one of the big highlights of the tour. That said, I can at least say that I had a go at "taking the waters" in Bath.
Another big landmark I had missed out on was the assembly rooms which also figured prominently in Austen's life. There was some kind of medical / health / wellness conference going on so we couldn't make our way in.
Our last stop was Bath Abbey, very near the train station where we started our tour. I didn't venture in because I was ravenous at this point.
I did have to stop and take a photo of this fun, sardonic statue.
I ended my day at Bath grabbing a hotdog just outside the church and sitting amidst a bunch of Japanese tourists (there are a lot of them here!). Too exhausted to venture around even if I still had two hours before my train's departure, I was able to hop on the earlier train back to London.
One thing I remember most about my tour were the two questions that had Sue a little stumped (reminds me that I need to do some post-tour googling…):
- There was mention of Bath's "Master of Ceremonies" (he was also apparently, a VIP, amongst the circles that permeated through Bath). My question was, who elects the Master of Ceremonies?
- We walked by one of the theaters in the city where Jane may have watched a play in her day. I asked what kind of plays she watched? Sue didn't know but speculated that Shakespeare may have been on the menu 🤔
Looking back, Bath was every bit as picturesque as I expected. I love watching videos by The Michalaks and recalling certain spots.
Would I stay in Bath for a spa vacation? Probably not. But I would go back to take more scenic photos on my own time. I'm happy I got history out of the way on my first trip there, though. I learned so much thanks to Sue.