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Bath walking tour, England: I went for a beer with Tony Abbott

TIME : 2016/2/27 11:00:43

Keith Austin discovers there's far more to this charming tourist mecca than just its famous Roman Baths.

After taking a walking tour around Bath I went for a beer with Tony Abbott. We went to The Bell Inn (Bath Campaign for Real Ale pub of the year 2014) and the Old Green Tree, where a sign warns that anyone caught smoking will be hung upside down and pummelled with a wet carp.

Mr Abbott, it turns out, is a real ale bird of a feather and by the time I am supposed to meet my companions for dinner I am slightly worse for wear and he has had to ring one of his two daughters to drive him home.

On the bright side, neither of us has been "carped".

Tony Abbott is a professional Blue Badge Tour Guide, based in Bath, whose knowledge of the area runs from Roman through Regency all the way up to where to get great beer (always an advantage in a guide).

We first meet him in the tourist office in the town square outside the small, but perfectly formed, abbey and alongside the famous Roman Baths. A former surveyor with the Ordnance Survey office he is now a full-time guide and is today taking us on a whistle-stop tour of one of Britain's most stunning small cities.

A popular destination for short visits – some 3.8 million day trippers visit each year – Bath more than repays a closer look. First settled by the Romans in about AD 60 it got a second lease of life in the 18th century when the Georgians "rediscovered" it and swarmed to take advantage of the supposedly life-enhancing properties of its natural geothermal springs.

The result of this second wave of spa-goers is an architectural heritage of sweeping Georgian crescents and terraces made from the butter-coloured local stone. As one newspaper put it, it's a "strong contender for England's most beautiful small city".

It's certainly compact enough to be eminently walkable, with all the main attractions contained within a bend of the River Avon as it weaves its way through the city.

As we stand in the square in front of the abbey, Abbott tells us that Bath is essentially three cities in one: "You've got the Roman city, which is about 20 feet beneath this one and not much of which has been rediscovered and then you've got the old medieval city with all these little narrow streets, and then you've got the Georgian city as well, the upper town, which was built in the 18th century."

The area, he adds, "was a sacred place for the Celts, before the Romans; the Romans with their culture of bathing very quickly established a resort here … [but] it all changed really in the 1600s when the royal family started to visit. And of course when royalty came everyone else had to follow. In 1700 it was still a small medieval city but by 1800 Bath was a very fashionable resort."

Our walk takes in the striking swish of the Royal Crescent, the circular magnificence of The Circus with its classical townhouses, the Fashion Museum where, if you're so inclined you can try on period clothes, and past the popular Jane Austen Centre, which has costumed guides and a Regency tea room. Austen, I am reliably informed, was a popular writer of chick lit who lived in Bath from 1801-06. 

To my mind, though, the highlight of the visit is the Roman Baths. The newish Thermae Bath Spa nearby (it opened its doors in 2006), with its hot pools, massage rooms and four aromatherapy-infused steam rooms is well worth a visit – especially for the rooftop pool with its astonishing views across the city – but for pure historical value it's pipped at the post by the baths.

Beautifully restored, they are brought to fantastically vivid life by clever animations, an excellent audio guide and interactive exhibits. Go early, before the crowds arrive, and sit in silent contemplation while steam hovers over the 1,170,000 litres of 46C spring water that still pump through the place every day.

With Australia's Wallabies based in Bath for the Rugby World Cup opening matches in September, an influx of Australians is anticipated.



For more information on Tony Abbott's tours of Bath and surrounding areas visit


All of the major airlines operate frequent flights between Sydney and Melbourne to London, including British Airways, Qantas, Singapore Airlines, Emirates and Cathay Pacific.

Bath is 90 minutes from London Paddington station by train and a short drive from both the M4 and M5 motorways. It is also only 19 miles from Bristol Airport and well connected by regular bus services. The train, coach and bus stations are all in the heart of the city centre.