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In focus Inspire your family with a journey to Englands’ past
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Holidays through history Special pullout Special pullout Holidays through history
evening standard Tuesday 6 May 2014 �
From ancient spas to Georgian splendour, the sights of Bath offer up a unique living history, maintains Paul Bloomfield
Splash out on a Roman experience
B ath: it does what it says on the tin. Well, kind of: health- seekers have been soaking here for nearly three millen- nia, happy as a pig in muck.
And historically, pigs have been par- ticularly happy in these parts — or so legend would have it.
In 863BC King Bladud (father of Shakespeare’s Lear) was living in exile as a lowly swineherd, having suc- cumbed to a nasty bout of leprosy. Noticing his porkers emerging blem- ish-free after a roll in the steaming mud, Bladud dunked himself — and was cured. The thankful king founded the city of Caer Badum — or Bath, as we know it today.
As the centuries came and went, so did the spa-goers. First the Romans, attracted by the hot springs, estab- lished the town of Aquae Sulis. Eliza- bethans followed; three centuries ago, so did the Georgians, whose largesse bestowed the glorious Palladian archi- tecture for which the city earned its Unesco World Heritage status. Today, visitors flock for a dip in the rooftop pool at Thermae Bath Spa.
So Bath packs a powerful historical punch, but it’s also compact, efferves- cent and jammed with enough muse- ums, parks and theatres to keep families entertained for days, while sneaking in a healthy dose of hands-on learning. Introducing our ancestors’ antics is part of the fun: children get a buzz from meeting Roman slave-girls, dressing up at the Fashion Museum and playing pioneer at the American Museum.
Bath is perched on the southern slopes of the Cots-
wolds and — like Rome — ringed by seven hills, with the River Avon and the Kennet and Avon Canal sluicing through the city; no surprise, then, that there’s plenty of outdoor action. Fuelling your family’s adventures are a pantheon of cafes, Michelin-starred restaurants and the artisanal offerings of the weekly Green Park farmers’ market. And with a wealth of accommodation to suit all ages and budgets, from campsites to grand country houses via chic guest- houses, charming B&Bs and Georgian hotels, it’s easy to find the perfect base for a spring break.
Bath’s history is far from stuffy or remote — rather, it’s woven into the city’s DNA, along with charm and verve. Like Bladud’s fateful pigs, your offspring are sure to give it their squeal of approval.
Roman holiday In Roman times, cleanliness was next to godliness — literally: as the city’s centrepiece Roman Baths reveals, the temple of the goddess Sulis Minerva was built around AD 70 just a curse- inscribed tablet’s throw from the Great Bath. But how did those ancient bath- ers scrub up? Through an audio guide read by former Children’s Laureate Michael Rosen and an array of interac- tive exhibits and activities, young visi- tors discover what a strigil was used for (scraping off dead skin!) and how a shared reusable toilet sponge kept bot- toms clean.
Such titillat- ing morsels combine with recon- structions and regu-
lar hands- on
events in the com- pel-
ling, labyrin- thine museum to paint a glorious Techni- color picture of life in Roman Britain —
handily touching on impor- tant topics
Travel tips getting there
Trains serve Bath from London Paddington (90 minutes), Cardiff (65 minutes) and Bristol (15 minutes), Southampton (90 minutes) for connections to the rest of the country. The M4 is 15 minutes away. staying there
Jane Austen’s Home (07960 392068; bathboutiquestays.co.uk) provides one of the city’s more notable self-catering options — a beautiful, five- bedroom Georgian townhouse in which Austen lived in the early 19th century. Two-night rental from £1,190; weekly £2,000, self-catering. Sleeps 18.
Villa Magdala (01225 466329; villamagdala.co. uk) is a handsome Victorian townhouse B&B offering sleekly stylish boutique rooms (including family options) and — unusually for central Bath — free off- road parking. Doubles start at £135, including breakfast.
Woolley Grange (01225 864705; woolley grangehotel.co.uk) is idyllic: a 17th-century manor house with lovely grounds (encompassing swimming pools) amid open countryside on the outskirts of Bradford on Avon, a short train ride from Bath. Homegrown or locally sourced food and a range of family rooms and suites completes the picture. Doubles from £120.
The Royal Crescent Hotel (01225 823333; royalcrescent.co.uk) graces the middle of the city’s architectural masterpiece, built by John Wood the Younger from 1767. It has the ambience, the peaceful gardens, the spa facilities and the gastronomic treats you’d expect from a five- star hotel. Doubles start at £209, room only. More inforMation
visitbath.co.uk romanbaths.co.uk VisitEngland.com/
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in key stage 2 of the national curricu- lum. Revelations from the Beau Street Hoard — a trove of more than 17,000 Roman coins discovered in 2007 — are presented in various events: make a date for Glorious Rome (26-30 May). Roman Baths (01225 477785; roman- baths.co.uk; £13.50, child £8.80 or £17, child £10.25 including Fashion Museum; open daily)
By Georgians! Some 1,500 years after the Romans pulled the plug on their settlement, Bath had once more become the most vogueish spot in England, sparking the construction of honey-hued crescents, parades and circuses. But who were the Georgians, and how did they work, rest and — especially — play? Find some of the answers at Bath’s most fashion- able address, No 1 Royal Crescent, where 18th-century life above and below stairs is vividly recreated.
One of England’s best dressing-up boxes awaits at the Fashion Museum. Housed in the Assembly Rooms, where high society came to dance, see and be seen, this fabulous collection of cos- tumes from the past four centuries is a treat for fashionistas of all ages. The flagship exhibition for the Georgians’ 300th anniversary year showcases Georgian garb, and youngsters — and the young at heart — can try on corsets, crinolines and sporting costumes from various eras gone by. No 1 Royal Crescent (01225 428126; no1royal crescent.org.uk; £8.50, child £3.50; open 10.30am-5.30pm Tue-
Sun, noon-5.30pm Mon) Fashion Museum (01225 477789; fashionmuseum.co.uk; £8, child £6, or £17, child £10.25 including Roman Baths, £13, child £7.50 including No 1 Royal Crescent; open daily)
American idyll Given the preponderance of very Eng- lish grandeur, it’s perhaps a surprise to find the American Museum in Brit- ain here. And a pleasant surprise it is — not least because its verdant lawns overlook the Avon Valley. The museum itself, which tracks the history of set- tlers, culture and folk art in America through the centuries, is a delight for youngsters. It also provides context for key stage 3 students learning about the American War of Independence. American Museum in Britain (01225
460503; americanmuseum.org; £9, child £5; open Tue-Sun, late March- early November)
Parks & recreation You don’t have to walk far in Bath to find green space. The crown jewel is Royal Victoria Park, a swathe of hill- side below the Royal Crescent that hosts regular concerts and fairs, and boasts a terrific children’s play area.
Rain? Undercover options abound: catch a show at The Egg, the innovative children’s theatre attached to the Theatre Royal, or join an Art Camp at the Holburne Museum. The Egg, Theatre Royal (01225 823409; theatreroyal.org.uk/the-egg) The Holburne Museum (01225 388569; holburne.org; general entry free – charges for some events; open daily)
A clean slate: (clockwise from top) the Roman baths; a statue overlooking the Roman Baths; children learning about centurions
A fairy tale county, brimming with heritage and beauty Kent is a green and glorious county dotted with Tudor castles, important pilgrimage sites and historic dockyards, maintains Paul Bloomfield
I nvicta – “unconquered”: that’s the motto of Kent. This green and glorious county is a defiant one, its location at England’s south-eastern edge, facing Europe and abutting London, placing
it at the heart of this island’s history, from Roman times, to time of the Norman Conquest, to the aerial dogfights of the Battle of Britain.
The legacy of all this feistiness is a landscape dotted with Tudor castles, including Henry VIII-built sea-facing ramparts. Some are just pure fairytale, such as legend-shrouded Leeds Castle, known as the “loveliest castle in the world”.
Famous figures have long been associated with Kent. The murder of then- archbishop Thomas Becket in 1170 turned Canterbury Cathedral into one of the world’s most important pilgrimage sites. Nelson’s Battle of Trafalgar flagship, HMS Victory, was built at The Historic Dockyard Chatham. Charles Dickens briefly lived