Bath at Christmas

Back in December we were heading down to Bath for a friend’s party and, deciding to make the most of the journey to the south-west, took the opportunity to enjoy a weekend in the historic City. Staying to the south of the city, we were a short drive from the party location, whilst also being on a bus route into the city centre.

The former Midford Station on the Somerset & Dorset Joint Railway

Arriving in the south-west around dinner time on the Friday night, we opted to quickly check in and then find a decent pub in one of the surrounding villages. After trying a couple of the nearest, and finding them full of Christmas party goers, our search took us to the village of Midford and the Hope & Anchor pub. Situated right below Midford’s former railway viaduct, the pub’s car park is right next to the disused Midford station on the alignment of the former Somerset & Dorset Joint Railway.

In addition to the bonus railway content, we were treated to some absolutely amazing food at the pub. Sharing a fish platter to start, I then had a Steak, Ale & Mushroom Pie with chips (I need the carbs!) whilst Beth went for the Seared duck breast with wild mushroom and port cream sauce, veg & a new potato bubble & squeak. All in all it was absolutely amazing, but you’ll have to trust me as I forgot to take photos of any of it.

A Boston Tea Party Breakfast

After one of the best nights sleep I’ve had in ages (finishing night shifts + the drive knocked me right out), we were up and raring to go for a day in the city before the party that evening. A five-minute walk (if that) from where we were staying was the terminus of the Bathcity 2 bus route which runs every 15 minutes during the day on a circular route through the city centre and back. Unfortunately, due to Covid affecting driver numbers, there was only a half-hourly service, but this was still fine for us on the day.

With our accommodation not providing breakfast, our first stop in the city was to find some breakfast. After a failed attempt to eat at one place (who knew you needed to book for brunch!?) we fell back to our plan B and firm favourite, Boston Tea Party. This is a chain of Cafes that started in Bristol and has spread out across the south-west and beyond with outposts having reached Birmingham and Worthing. I was going to try and describe their ethos and why we love them but they do it pretty well themselves, “classically British (despite the name) we’re on a mission to serve simply and well-prepared food and drinks made with great ingredients, skill and love. Ethically sourced, affordable, feel-good, great value, healthy and excellent quality.”

Bath’s Royal Crescent

Following a hearty brunch that would keep us going for a while, we decided to go and tick off a few of the sights and seeing where that left us. Heading up hill first, our first stop was possibly Bath’s most famous road, Royal Crescent. Constructed in the mid-1700s the crescent is formed of 30 grand terraced houses stretching 150m. Grade I listed, it is considered to be one of the finest examples of Georgian architecture in the UK and remains mostly unchanged since its construction.

Whilst almost two-thirds of the crescent’s townhouses have now been split into flats, 10 remain full size townhouses, whilst No. 1 Royal Crescent is a museum and the large central house at No. 16 is The Royal Crescent Hotel. We did attempt to have a look around the museum but unfortunately it was fully booked for the day. However, we did find another piece of history close to the museum, a strangely painted ‘K0’ telephone kiosk.

The historic K0 phone box in its muted colour scheme

Designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, the ‘K0’ painted in its traditional colour of red is now an icon of the UK, however when they were first introduced there was outcry over the intrusiveness of the bright colours. The General Post Office therefore authorised the use of a more muted colour scheme of battleship grey with red trim for use in ‘sensitive’ locations such as Bath’s Royal Crescent.

Following the obligatory photo taking and an impromptu lesson on the history of telephone boxes, we began to descend the hill back towards the city centre. Part way is Queen Square which was hosting an Artisan Market and, under the belief that Bath’s main Christmas Markets had all been cancelled, decided to make the most of it and spend some time looking around. The market had a wide range of craft items, food and drink and we left with some very nice caramel rum, a chimney cake, fudge and a couple of final Christmas presents.

The Artisan Market in Queen Square

The next stop on our wander was one for the railway geek in me, another disused station, the former Bath Green Park Station of the Midland Railway. The station saw both services from the Midland Railway as well as those of the Somerset & Dorset Joint Railway which used the station under arrangement with the Midland. With passenger services ceasing in 1966 and goods services ending 5 years later, the station approaches were redeveloped as a supermarket.

The station itself if Grade II listed and has become a active events and retail space. There are a number of permanent shops, cafes and restaurants in the station buildings whilst the platform and track area, usually part of the Sainsburys car park, was host to a farmers’ market during our visit.

Bath Green Park Station

Continuing our wander through the city, we headed towards the abbey and decided to do a staple of our visit to many cities and do the open top bus tours. City Sightseeing has two routes in Bath, one around the city centre covering the main sights such as Royal Crescent, The Circus and Great Pulteney Street and the second that heads further out onto Claverton and Coombe Downs to provide the famous views of the Bath skyline.

The tours take under an hour each (depending on traffic) and a ticket for both costs £17 for an adult. You can buy a voucher online that is exchangeable on the day for a ticket, and there are usually discount codes for these if you search around, usually bringing the cost below £15. One thing to bear in mind is whilst the city tour drops you off in the same place as you start, the skyline tour drops you off down the road, closer to the station.

A Sally Lunn Trencher

Having done the tours we had a couple of hours left before we needed to head back to our accommodation and so having had brunch decided to have ‘linner’ at a Bath institution, Sally Lunn’s. Home to the Sally Lunn Bun (a teacake/brioche cross), Sally Lunn’s Historic Eating House claims to be where Sally Lunn herself lived and as such is a Grade II listed building. However there are no sources cited, and the original proprietor, Marie Byng-Johnson opened Sally Lunn’s promoting the buns with a story that she had discovered an ancient document in a secret panel above the fireplace, explaining that Sally Lunn was a young French Huguenot who brought the recipe to Bath around 1680.

Sally Lunn’s sells both savoury and sweet meals with half a bun as standard, with generally savoury meals having a bottom half and sweet meals having a top half (there’s not usually much difference). We opted for the Trencher Lunch that includes soup, a ‘trencher’ dish (essentially the bread is a bowl), and a slice of Somerset apple cake for just over £20. The food was lovely but if I’m honest, Sally Lunn’s is probably a bit of a tourist trap.

Bath at Christmas

Having filled our stomachs once again, we decided to have a final wander through the city back towards the Abbey. Coming out of the side streets into the square to the south of the Abbey we discovered that whilst the Christmas markets had been scaled back, they hadn’t been completely cancelled. In this square there was about 20 stalls with a mix of crafts and food/drink and we were able to get a nice Christmas decoration along with another Christmas present, making the day quite productive in the gift sense.

Whilst our time in Bath was brief, we thoroughly enjoyed it and definitely want to return in the future. I’d certainly recommend finding somewhere to stay out of the city centre on one of the bus routes as this does reduce the costs of a stay dramatically. Most buses serve the train/bus station and so the outer areas of the city are still pretty accessible if you’re arriving by train.

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