*** Check out the first post of our trip to England/France and read them in order! ***

NOTE: Our sincerest apologies that this post is 3 months late. We aim to be much more timely on our next journey.

It’s finally here, our last full day of the trip. We are both excited to be heading home soon and disappointed that our travels must soon come to an end. If it weren’t for our two dogs waiting for us in Colorado and the unfortunate need to earn some sort of income, we could happily travel like this for significantly more time.

Anyways, we awoke after sleeping in a bit, packed up, and were out the door of the hotel around 9am. We made a necessary stop at the Tesco Express grocery store in town to get our morning pastries and then set off the few miles to the city of Bath. Our intent was to first visit the Bath Abbey before checking out the famous Roman Baths from which the town gets its name.

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Bath Abbey in all of its Gothic glory.

We arrived at a Parking Garage on the outskirts of the city center and soon discovered that it only accepted coins (no cards, no paper money). Fortunately, we were able to scrounge up enough coinage to cover our stay, though only by digging deep into the recesses of Philip’s backpack. The walk to the abbey took only a few minutes and we noticed that the city was already getting crowded with tourists even at this early hour. Bath is only about an hour and a half from London and seems very popular for day trips from the capital.

We chose to first explore the interior of Bath Abbey before going on our final tower tour of the trip. Compared to many of the cathedrals we have seen, Bath Abbey is relatively modest in size. It is packed with tombs, but they mostly have low profiles and thus do not make the church feel crowded (something that cannot be said of Westminster Abbey). The highlight of the interior is the beautiful stained glass and we spent some time admiring it as we walked around the sanctuary. Much like the cathedral in Wells, the stonework in the abbey is mostly unadorned, though it is of a richer and warmer brown color rather than the stark gray common in so many other old buildings.

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An art display within Bath Abbey.

A few minutes before 10am, Philip got in line outside the still closed gift shop in order to buy tickets for the tower tour. The door opened a few minutes later and we were the first to get our tickets. Our guide for the tour was a young local guy named George and he was awesome! Not only was he a wealth of information, but he also had a sense of humor and was happy to answer any questions we had (and Philip took full advantage of this).

Our first stop was above the nave in the space between the ceiling below and the roof above where we could clearly see the structural members holding up the lead roof. We then continued on into the bell tower and sat on some benches around the edge of a fairly large room. It was here that George explained about the abbey’s bells and all of the different ways they can be rung. Hanging from the ceiling were 10 ropes used for the obnoxiously loud and tiring method of “full circle ringing”. The much more humble manual mechanism was along the side wall, consisting of 10 smaller ropes aligned in a row. George went over to them to play a few bars of a hymn and we remembered back to the same mechanism we had seen (and played with) in a bell tower in Cork, Ireland. Many different songs have been played on the bells in Bath, including both Living on a Prayer and Highway to Hell, but the clergy supposedly prefers hymns over the anthems of 80’s rock legends.

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This is the original automatic bell ringing instrument at Bath Abbey. It has “memory” for a handful of songs that were played 4 times a day.

George also pointed out several other mechanisms in the room. One was a large machine that was configured with 10 different songs. This machine used to play a song 4 times a day signifying the start of work, lunchtime, end of work, and bedtime for the residents of Bath. These days, that machine has been retired for a digital version mounted inconspicuously on the wall that has a much larger capacity.

The room also contains the clock mechanism and George then led us out into the small room behind the clock face. Here he told us about the very uncomfortable job of lantern keeper, who had to ensure the lantern to backlight the clock stayed lit during 12 hour shifts. The room was very warm from baking in the sun and would have been miserable to stay in for 12 minutes, let alone hours. Factor in the small chimney for the lantern that would also allow in rain water and you have the perfect conditions for a sauna.

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The backside of the clock at Bath Abbey. This room was tiny and toasty and must have been miserable for the lantern keepers on their 12 hour shifts.

We quickly came back to the mechanism room and Philip asked about a small analog clock above the clock mechanism that happened to be numbered in reverse. George indicated that this was a tribute to the fact that Bath Abbey’s 10 bells are arranged in the opposite order compared to most churches. It is a significant challenge to overcome for visiting bell ringers. In keeping with the backwards theme, someone decided one day to go all in and mounted the backwards clock as well.

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The bells in the bell tower at Bath Abbey and our awesome tour guide, George.

We climbed some stairs up into the large bell room and then continued up and out onto the roof of the bell tower. This is the first tower of the trip that we have truly been able to summit. We spent a long while on the roof enjoying the views from the single central bell tower atop the quire (as opposed to the more common dual bell towers at the front of the nave). While there, we also chatted with George about various things including the difference between an abbey and a cathedral, and what life is like in a town like Bath.

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A beautiful view of Bath as seen from the top of Bath Abbey.

Eventually, we descended back down the stairs and made our way out of the abbey and into the plaza outside. To our dismay, there was a very large line in front of the entrance to the baths. We got in it to wait our turn. While we waited, we observed several security guards make a complicated mess out of what should have been simple crowd control. Considering that these guys face crowds like this probably on a daily basis, it was interesting to see a process with so much confusion and disorder.

A street performer with an acoustic guitar sat on a stool just a few feet away from our line and we spent several minutes listening to his impressive instrumental performance. He was good enough to cause Philip to step out of line to throw a few coins into his open guitar case. At exactly 11am, the man stopped playing and another guitarist arrived to take his place. It seems that these guys have a very rigid schedule as to who gets the prime position in front of the crowds (when we came out later, a violinist was now occupying the spot).

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Shift change for the musicians in the square between Bath Abbey and the Roman Baths.

After about 20 minutes in line, we were allowed into the building and we entered another smaller line to actually purchase our tickets. We also realized at this point that we could have pre-purchased online and avoided the majority of this waiting…we’ve been pretty good throughout the trip on avoiding lines but we dropped the ball here on our last day. After snaking our way through the stanchions, we purchased tickets, picked up our audio guides, and set off into the very crowded facility.

We first came to a terrace that overlooks the great bath down below. To our surprise, we found the bath to be a rather sickening green color due to the algae growth in the warm water. We can only hope it was cleaner back in Roman times when people actually bathed there (the fact that it had a roof back then may have helped some with controlling the algae). We then spent the next 30 minutes or so on our own walking through the museum-like sections of the facility and navigating through the dense crowds.

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The algae-tinted Great Bath with the Victorian terrace above.

The highlight of our visit to the baths was a free guided tour that began at noon led by a guide named Catherine. We had expected the tour group to be massive given the number of visitors but in the end there were only about 15 of us following Catherine around as she explained what we were seeing. The great bath had been rediscovered in the early 1900s and the people of the time had built on top of the ruins in an attempt to enhance the experience. This is very different than the more modern philosophy of “hands-off” preservation that prevails today. In general, she told us that anything above “neck height” was new and the stones below the neck date back to Roman times.

At one point on our tour, Catherine passed around an example instrument that was used for scraping oils and dead skin cells off of the body (kind of an ancient version of a loofah). It turns out that the Roman bathing experience was quite involved and consisted of multiple stages of bathing in waters of various temperatures and the application/removal of numerous products.

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These stacked tiles formed the subfloor of some of the rooms at the Roman Baths. Heat was pumped into the room beneath the floor and was captured in these tiles and re-radiated up into the room above.

From an architectural perspective, one of the coolest things to see was the construction of the floor in one of the women’s sauna rooms (men and women used different areas of the bath complex). The floor was raised on stacks of tiles that would retain heat and radiate it upwards into the room. Much of the upper floor had worn away but we could still see the tile stacks throughout much of the room. Another cool thing Catherine showed us was a long section of original lead pipe still present in a channel in the floor that carried water from the source spring into the great bath. Obviously, the Romans had not figured out that lead is really bad for the body.

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A section of 2000 year old lead pipe at the Roman Baths.

The final stop on our tour was an invitation from Catherine to taste some of the water that feeds into the great bath. Fortunately, all lead piping has been removed between the spring and the drinking fountain so we gladly stepped forward to give it a try. The water definitely did not taste good (too warm and way too many minerals) but it wasn’t quite as disgusting as she had made it sound.

When we left the baths, we stopped to grab lunch at a nearby pasty shop as we were both getting pretty hungry. The shop was very tiny and we were quickly confused by the signage that indicated a distinction between a dine-in price and a slightly cheaper take-out price. Unless we wanted to crouch on the floor next to the counter, there really was no place to dine in. As we ordered our food, the lady at the counter explained that the restaurant actually has three locations and really applies to the location in Bristol. Apparently, it was just cheaper to get three copies of the same signs!

We took our relatively inexpensive and bountiful lunch back towards the bath house and sat on some steps outside a large window of the attached Pump Room Café, which we would later learn is amongst the most posh places to dine in Bath. As we were finishing our meal, a guy walked up the few steps and stood next to us, apologizing as he did so. We were confused for a moment as to the reason for his apology, but quickly figured it out as the previously unseen tour group of 20 or so people started gathering around us. As the guy launched into his spiel about the Pump Room Café, we grabbed the remnants of our lunch and slid out of the center of the group.

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An interesting art display above a street in Bath.

Stuffed and happy, we set off back towards our car for the return trip to London. During the 2 hour trip to our hotel in west London near Heathrow Airport, we finally finished our audio book (The Escape by David Baldacci). We found our hotel without any issue, parked in the lot behind the hotel, checked in, and carried our bags through a labyrinth of hallways to our room. Just as we got there, the room phone started to ring as the front desk guy called to tell us our car alarm was going off! Philip jogged back to the parking lot and after several attempts managed to unlock and relock the car to fix the errant alarm.

We spent the rest of the afternoon taking a lovely nap and then set off for one last adventure in London, an escape room! We drove about 45 minutes to south London and finally found the correct building in a warehouse district after going around the block a couple of times (we passed the first test).

The Mystery Cube escape room is run by a very energetic Hungarian lady and we had a great time. We successfully escaped with less than 1 minute left out of our allotted hour and then spent another 20+ minutes talking with the owner about the various escape rooms we’ve done and the different groups she’s seen come through her room.

Since the night was still young (at least by our recent European standard), we decided to go check out the nearby town of Windsor, home of the famous Windsor Castle. We found a parking lot but quickly learned that it was cash only so we decided to keep looking. After just a few minutes, we found a cheaper and closer option, parked, and walked the few minutes into town.

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A glimpse of Windsor Castle during our evening in Windsor.

After walking around for a bit, we found a fish and chips shop and split one last order together. Philip followed dinner up with a delicious ice cream cone and we then continued our walk around Windsor, focused mainly on getting some views of the castle atop a hill. Unfortunately, there really aren’t many places to get good castle views from outside the gates. At one point, we ran into a locked gate at the end of a street with a beautiful park on the other side. Confusingly, there were people in the park so it was apparently open, but just not from this particular street.

We backtracked and eventually found a different area with a tree-lined walkway. Near the end of the path, we discovered a smaller grass area with a complex brick pathway. A sign indicated it was intended as a game for kids that could be played many different ways. While it wasn’t the most fun thing in the world, it was cool to see a tangible and interactive introduction to graph theory that kids could enjoy and explore.

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This set of brick pathways is actually a graph-theory inspired playground.

We eventually made our way back to our car and returned to the hotel to call it a night. Just one last night in Europe before we head home tomorrow. While we are sad to say goodbye to a great vacation, we are definitely ready to be home and back to life as normal with our furry family!

Day15_Windsor

Our path around Windsor. A: Our failed parking lot. B: The good parking lot. C: Final fish and chips along the river. C->D: Walking around Windsor and getting stuck at a gate. D->E->B: Walking back to the car with a stop at the “graph theory” park at E.

Summary

  • A final tower tour at Bath Abbey
  • Some Roman history a long way from Rome
  • Back to London we go
  • What to do on our last night? How about an escape room!
  • A late night exploration of Windsor

Stats

  • Distance on Foot: 5.5 miles | 11,521 steps
  • Distance in Car: 181.3 miles
Day15_Full

Our path for the day. A->B: Drive from hotel to Bath. B: Explore Bath. B->C: Drive to hotel in west London. C->D (white): Drive to Mystery Cube Escape Room. D->E (red): Drive to Windsor. E: Explore Windsor. E->C (purple): Drive back to hotel.