Bath, England. A city so steeped in history that all of it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Despite the human ingenuity and incredible architecture in the area it is nature that resulted in Romans developing it 2,000 years ago – an ever flowing natural HOT spring. England’s only hot spring, in fact. So when those Roman were going about taking over they naturally built a Roman bath to utilize this natural feature in the southwest of this fair isle. And what a bath they built! We are talking top-of-the-line Roman baths, steam rooms, pools, exercise yards and of course a temple to the goddess Sulis Minerva, who they worshipped. Public baths were a vital aspect of Roman life, it was where business deals were made, social interactions established and the show of affluence abounded. They truly were key to Roman life and building up Bath was no exception.
The Romans left Britain after being defeated by the Saxons around the 6th Century CE. Saxon rule still incorpated the baths however, centuries later the Norman conquest saw the baths and temple lost with their monotheistic religion. Both an Abbey and monastery where built over much of the old Roman buildings. Though use of the hot springs for medicinal purposes was made available. Fast forward to 18th century Georgian times. This era gave rise to a renewed interest in the waters. Bath grew both as spa town with ‘healing’ waters as well as a place to have fun and indulge in the senses. It was believed that both drinking the water as well as prolonged immersion therapy was of benefit to much of what ailed people. Both the rich and poor came to partake in Bath’s mineral-rich waters. And feel better they did. Now this not because of any special properties of the waters. Today it has been studied and it has been found that it is neither helpful nor harmful to the body. This true for both ingesting it and immersion (sitting up to your neck in it, as was the practice). So why did the Georgians get relief? It is now known that much of the population was exposed to lead. The harmful effects of lead poisoning (unknown at the time) were lessened by the heat of the natural springs thus causing the body to sweat and naturally aid in detoxing the body. Alas, they are not ‘magical waters’ as we now know.
Although the mineral-rich waters are not an exlir for a long and healthy life it is an a cool thing to see. Bath is a city with much to see and do. There is much more history than just the ancient Roman Baths (which can be seen at the Roman Baths exhibit/tour). The best way to learn about it to take one of the FREE (tips refused too) walking tour provided daily by volunteers. I learned more in that 2-hour tour than I could have from anything else in such a short span of time. Bath also has good restaurants, a network of cycling trails and shops for most anything including all the souvenirs you needs.
The best part of Bath, in my opinion is the modern day spa waters. 2.5 hours of sheer bliss. Thermae Spa is Bath’s piece of heaven. I indulged and am so very glad I did. Thermae Spa offers two pools and four aromatherapy steam rooms plus they throw in use of a robe, towel and slippers during your time. You just bring your swimsuit. No appointment necessary (do note that on weekends you may have to wait in line for 90 minutes). They also offer massages and body wraps for an additional fee and appointments are required.
I arrived at Thermae Spa at 3:45pm and was checked in, told I could enjoy the waters until 5:15pm and handed a clean set of robes, slippers and towel. I was also given a rubber strap that worked as the lock for my locker. In the change room I was ushered into a change stall and slipped into my swimsuit, slippers and robe. All my belongings and towel I locked away. Now I had to decide which area to try first. I opted for the rooftop pool that provided a great view of the city. The pool was moderate in size and filled with relaxed spa goers. I stepped into the warms waters (36C) and began to unwind. I was able to touch the bottom with my toes and made my way to an area with seating so that I would not float into someone. I felt a bit more buoyant in these waters. Soon air was pumped gently into the pool by jets. It looked as if the water was boiling and bubbling, as if we were being cooked. It was so relaxing that I would not have cared if it had been so. After 30 minutes I made my way to the steam rooms. The Finn in me was overjoyed – hot hot steam! A large room with four large cylindrical steam rooms that could easily seat fifteen were placed at the corners with a waterfall shower in the centre. Each room had a different aromatherapy scent. I relished in the steam but found the scents overpowering and artificial (my only complaint). When I had had enough of the steam I proceeded to the second pool. This pool allowed for immersion as well as a section where a current (and pool noodle) floats you around one end at a bit of a pace, as if you were floating gently downstream and back to the main pool area. After a few laps floating around the pool I head back up to the roof top pool for a final soak. Soon my time was up and I had to face the fact that I must leave. After a quick shower, I changed and dried my hair and spun my swimsuit in the handy spinner. I walked out to see the setting sky and felt refreshed. Those waters may not be magical in the way once believed but it certainly helped me relax and unwind. And I would do it again.
All photos taken and owned by Wanders The World/Eeva Valiharju
*Thermae Bath Spa does not allow photography – please refer to their website for photos