During our visit to England in 2011, Dorene and I experienced a week and a half of rain-free days. Not so in 2013. While the rain was not constant on our first day in Bath, showers would be followed by sunshine before another cluster of clouds would blow in with more rain. And there was wind. At least the weather gave us a perfect excuse to visit two of Bath’s tea rooms in one day — not that an excuse would ever be needed!
While we spent some time indoors (visiting Bath Abbey and the shops in Guildhall, where we each bought a much needed scarf), most of our sightseeing on this adventurous weather day was outdoors. We walked through the Parade Gardens during one of the sunny breaks. Non-residents must pay a small entrance fee, which is unfortunate but worth it. With beautiful plants and flowers, interesting statues and monuments, lovely views, and a few surprises (an old pet cemetery!), the Parade Gardens offer a wonderful outdoor experience.
Bath also has City Sightseeing hop on/off buses with two routes from April to October. The City Tour passes by or near most of the tourist attractions. Since Bath is walkable, the bus is not necessary for anyone comfortable with walking the slightly hilly streets. Instead, we used the City Tour as a convenient introduction to Bath. The other bus tour, the Skyline Tour, travels out to the surrounding hills. The lovely views of the hills and the city offer a wonderful sense of Bath’s architectural beauty as well as its place in the bucolic Cotswolds. While the exposed, slightly wet top deck of the bus gave us the best vantage point, the wind up in the hills could be fierce.
The Skyline Tour ended a few blocks behind the Roman Baths. There we found St. John the Evangelist Roman Catholic Church on a quiet side street, South Parade. The church celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2013, and while it does not have the historical significance of Bath Abbey, the beautiful and quiet interior has several highlights, including the altar, stained glass windows, and memorials for both World Wars. Like many Bath buildings, it suffered damage during the bombings in World War II and was subsequently restored. The church has Bath’s tallest spire, and later in the day, the crazy weather rewarded us with a rainbow over the spire.
After leaving St. John’s, Dorene decided that it was a good time for tea. Earlier in the day we had enjoyed afternoon tea at the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, so now we were in search of cream tea. Down a side street near the Roman Baths we arrived at Abbey Green, which has a small green with a very large plane tree that was planted more than 200 years ago. In one of the buildings surrounding the green we found The Bath Bun. While we did not order a bath bun, which is a type of sweet roll, The Bath Bun’s website includes a bit of history about the treat.
- Tea – There was a good selection of tea. Dorene ordered Lapsang Souchong, and it was served with additional hot water to add to the teapot, which Dorene always appreciates in case she wants more tea.
- Scones – There was a choice of fruited and plain, and Dorene chose the plain. The large scone was not too sweet and was served with Wilkin & Sons Ltd strawberry jam and clotted cream topped with a tiny strawberry. The scone was excellent, and I love how it looks in the picture above!
- Service – The servers were pleasant and dressed in black and white maids outfits. Service was quick.
- Atmosphere – There were two floors, and we were seated at one of the few tables on the ground floor. With the takeout counter, cash register, and door nearby, there was plenty of activity, but it was not too distracting.
- Decor – Pretty place settings, flowery table cloths, and wooden chairs all invoked a pleasing sense of the English countryside.
- Overall rating
While I would not have minded eating scones twice in one day, a list of tea cakes on the wall caught my attention as soon as I entered. Chocolate sponge cake was one of the options, and while not my preferred cake style, I could not resist. The lightness of the cake was actually very enjoyable, as was the chocolate flavor.
Our table on the ground floor offered the chance for some people watching, an interesting activity, especially when traveling. Among the unexpected sights for me: five men in their twenties and thirties who stopped in for tea. Dressed in jeans and sweatshirts or t-shirts, the men had a ruggedness about them, and two were so undaunted by the weather that they were wearing short sleeves, which revealed tattoos covering their arms. I loved these guys! They illustrated that despite its aristocratic origins, afternoon tea has a universal appeal. As I continue with my journey into the world of tea, I enjoy the traditions, but I also appreciate that the tea-drinking culture is about far more than expensive tastes, formal rules, and dress codes. There’s also room for tattooed men and novices like me.
We would return to Abbey Green a couple of times, including once as part of an evening comedy walk called Bizarre Bath. A combination magic and comedy show that moves at a leisurely pace around the center of Bath, it’s unlike anything I had attended before. With a suspension of disbelief and a willingness to laugh at silliness, the 90-minute show (there are no shows during the winter) is worth £8.
More traditional and expensive entertainment is at the Theatre Royal, where we went to see the Noël Coward play Relative Values.
Our seats were on the right side of the royal circle (equivalent to mezzanine level), with a good view of the stage. Originally built in 1805, the building was destroyed by fire in 1862, rebuilt in a year, and then renovated in the 1980s.
Bizarre Bath and Noël Coward on consecutive nights: an unusual but entertaining example of what Bath has to offer.