We finally made it to Bath. A little late, but standing in front of the Grand Pump Room, grinning and waving like a lunatic at the red-head in DMs and floral trousers at the other end of the street, it didn’t seem to matter. Once we had shared hugs and greetings, we addressed our most pressing needs… where was the fudge shop… and a bathroom… and something to eat. Not necessarily in that order. It had been a long time since we had left home that Friday morning… and even longer since we had seen our long time friend, fellow author and blogger, Alienora, a woman frequently responsible for the parlous and coffee-stained state of my computer screen through her unparalleled use of language.
Bath is a beautiful town. Known today for its fine Georgian architecture and as the setting for many a Regency Romance. Once upon a time, I was an avid reader of Georgette Heyer, so the street names and buildings were familiar in a way that had nothing to do with an all-too-brief visit long ago. It is famous too for its Roman infrastructure, its healing waters and the glorious Roman Baths.
Taking advice from a concierge, we were directed to the public facilities in the Pump Room. I had long wanted to see what now lay behind the elegant facade, but as our muddied state and natural inclination for something earthier precluded us from dining in such elegance, this was about as good an opportunity as you could get. Feeling rather like intruders, we walked through a room of chandeliered gentility, where fresh flowers, pristine napery and polished silver evoked another age and a pianist coaxed beauty from the grand piano for those patrons enjoying elevenses.
It was definitely not our cup of tea. We had too much to talk about… and would undoubtedly be laughing too loudly for such prim and proper surroundings. Our ‘raid’ on the facilities, though, did give me chance to see more of the Pump Room and a good look at the Roman Baths too. I’d have loved to have visited them properly, but the entrance fee is a small fortune for three, so this really was a gift and we were able to see the fountain of the King’s Spring too, where doubtless the fashionable would once have come to imbibe the curative waters.
One need attended to, we set about finding a place to nourish the inner writer… and a Cornish Pasty shop seemed the perfect place to start. Alienora has a rare and, I think, unconscious gift… it doesn’t matter where you go with her, people soon start talking and laughing. You can’t help it with Ali… you immediately feel like children sharing mischief, and with the three of us together, that wasn’t so far from the truth.
There is a fragility and vulnerable sweetness about her; beyond the bright colours and confident mien she exudes an earnest eagerness for life and laughter that seems to draw a similar response from all those she meets. No matter where we went that day, it seemed as if each time we were walking into places filled with old and familiar friends. It was a lovely thing to watch as faces lit up… especially as I really don’t think she sees this in herself… it is just her presence that somehow lights the room.
She took us to the fudge shop and we had barely walked through the door before Ali was greeted like a regular… though it was her first visit… and we were plied with samples of the utterly wicked deliciousness of freshly made, fresh cream fudge. Several slices of compact heaven were wrapped and removed from the premises before we went off to visit the Abbey. After which, it seemed a pub was in order.
There are probably rules about spreading fudge across pub tables, but the combination of tart cider and that calorific confection was too good too miss and we sampled the tissue-wrapped delights as we talked… and talked… Then we walked, drooling over the expensive confections in the chocolaterie windows, exploring tiny sweet shops in tinier alleyways and finally coming to rest in yet another pub for further refreshment. We would need to put more time on the car park ticket after the time we had spent in the Abbey and it was a long walk… we needed fortifying.
Beth is an odd place. Roman remains nestle within and beneath the structure of the Georgian town and the modern shops are built within ancient buildings. Sally Lunn’s house, dating to 1462, is the oldest house in the town, still serving as a bakery and eating house since the 17thC. Even the truly modern buildings of the shopping precinct are sympathetically designed, yet somehow you get the sense that the place is much older than anything you can now see.
The long walk across town and back again to the old town sent us in search of further sustenance and a place to talk in the warm… a cream tea seemed an appropriate choice. We probably wouldn’t need to eat for a week… but hey, we don’t do this often. Not often enough! We barely had chance to catch up at all… but it won’t be quite as long before we see each other again. April isn’t far away now.
The day went all too quickly… it always does with friends…especially when you are exploring. None of us knew the town well… certainly not well enough, but there is a gentle charm about the old streets and the place leaves you with a desire to go back and get to know it better… like some grand old lady with interesting wrinkles and stories you want to uncover.
Well fortified, we finally made our way back across the town, towards station and car-park, with Stuart carefully guarding the remnants of the fudge in its neat little bag. The day seemed to agree with us that it was time to go and the rain, which had kindly held off while we were out and about, began to fall as we hugged at the station and went our separate ways.