Dip into Elegant Bath; Ross Reyburn Looks at Laid-Back Bath, One of England's Most Beautiful and Civilised Towns

By Reyburn, Ross | The Birmingham Post (England), December 26, 1998 | Go to article overview

Dip into Elegant Bath; Ross Reyburn Looks at Laid-Back Bath, One of England's Most Beautiful and Civilised Towns


Reyburn, Ross, The Birmingham Post (England)


So you're sitting by the cafe window with a giant cup of coffee and the morning paper watching the world go by. And as the minutes drift by, no one asks "Do you want anything else?" meaning "You can't just have a coffee and spend all morning here".

And you can even light up a gasper there without attracting the disapproving frowns of the righteous.

Maybe it is a little misleading to view a cafe as a reflection of the tempo of a city, but somehow the Retro Cafe in York Street with its relaxing ambience, home-made food, decent music (rather than muzak) and pleasant young staff in the heart of the tow n seemed to reflect the civilised atmosphere of Bath.

Perhaps decent surroundings produce decent manners, for Bath, with its wonderful Georgian architecture, is England's most beautiful town and the place has a laid-back atmosphere reminiscent in many respects of the late 60s.

Tourist buses provide a wonderful way of viewing the city and the Guide Friday buses provide a fitting tribute to the entrepreneurial skills of the late Roger Thompson.

He started the venture in Stratford-upon-Avon back in 1974 and the bus guides offer entertainingly off-beat history talks.

"A Georgian gentleman could drink seven bottles of wine a day - I am a student and I can only manage four," said our tour guide on the top deck of the Guide Friday bus passing through the town to Royal Crescent.

Considering its high reputation as one of the showpieces of Europe, the Crescent with its magnificent semi-circular sweep of 18th century architecture built by John Wood the Younger between 1767 and 1775, was a little disappointing for the houses, with t heir range of 114 Ionic columns, had a rather careworn look.

But the superbly-restored Georgian house at N1 Royal Crescent offers an interesting insight into the lifestyle of the affluent in what ranks as the most impressive period in English architectural history alongside the Regency era.

The airy elegance of the rooms with their light furnishings offer a breathtaking contrast to the cluttered gloom of those darkly-furnished rooms so beloved of the Victorians in the next century.

Those tourist buses rumbling up and down the cobblestoned road of the Crescent designed for horse traffic are not welcomed by everyone.

"They shouldn't be allowed up the Crescent - they're shaking the foundations of the houses," said an elderly lady guide with a point of view as she glanced out of the window at N1 Royal Crescent, as if she half expected the road to collapse.

Novelist Jane Austen (1775-1817) is forever associated with the city in its heyday. And so it comes as a mild surprise to find an informative Jane Austen in Bath postcard pointing out the city was not her favourite place and she finally left "with what h appy feelings of escape."

Sadly one of the most interesting features of Bath's shopping scene is under threat. Walcot Street is a street of interesting outlets and its highlight is the Walcot Yard, a fascinating reclamation yard filled with doors, fireplaces, panelling, garden or naments, gates and railings.

It is a magnificent testament to changing taste, for 30 years ago most of these pricey items would have ended up in a builder's skip.

Unfortunately Walcot Yard faces an uncertain future as developers are trying to take over the site despite an impressive roll call of celebrities backing the yard. It would be a pity if Bath City Council allowed such a tourist asset to disappear for the sake of yet another development.

"There is still a plan in the offing but they haven't really decided what it is," says yard owner Rick Knapp. "We hope to be able to stay here. …

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