22nd Jun 2012 2:06pm | By Editor
A stone’s throw from London, Bath is home to the country’s only hot spring, while mysterious Stonehenge was built by the aliens (maybe)
Only 90 minutes by train from London, you’ll discover a city bursting with history and buzzing with modern-day life. Visit the Roman baths and soak away your troubles in the rooftop spa before hitting the town for more liquid refreshment.
Bath: Old and new
Heading west on the route of the former Great Western Railway, Bath is a beacon of tourism longevity. Railways made mass tourism possible in the late 1800s, but city has been welcoming spa-goers for two millennia. It was more than 2000 years ago that the Romans soaked their tired limbs in Britain’s only hot spring. Today you can visit the museum or splash around in similar style at the Thermae Bath Spa.
At the museum, marvel at the magnificent, steam-filled bathing complex and temple built by the Romans. Known then as Aquae Sulis (Waters of Sulis), this former Celtic shrine became a place for legionnaires to recuperate when they weren’t fighting Britons. They kept the original name of the settlement, but worshipped their own goddess Minerva here.
Historical appetite sated, book a session at the rooftop Thermae Bath Spa. The latest incarnation of Britain’s only natural thermal spa opened in 2006, but floating in the steamy hot spring-fed pool overlooking the city, it’s easy to imagine those who came before.
When night falls
Bath is a student city and therefore, as well as several theatres and a good selection of restaurants, it’s chocka with pubs and bars. For live music, hit The Porter (theporter.co.uk) or Komedia, which also puts on club nights (komedia.co.uk/bath).
Whether you view Salisbury Plains’ awe-inspiring standing stones as a historic monument or as something more spiritual, Stonehenge is one of Britain’s most interesting sites. Its origins remain a mystery, but there are no shortage of theories.
Before Stonehenge was built, the area was the site of an early Neolithic monument complex. A recent study by archaeologists from the universities of Birmingham and Vienna suggests that a series of pits, in line with the rising and setting sun, point to the significance of the area as a place of sun worship for prehistoric people.
Stonehenge acts as giant tombstones to the dead, possibly a ruling dynasty, argues Mike Parker Pearson from Sheffield University. He came to this conclusion after conducting tests on human remains taken from the site in the 1950s. Archeologists Geoff Wainwright and Timothy Darvill disagree. They say it was a place where the sick sought cures from the stones, believed to have healing powers. This, they argue, is why nearby graves are filled with bodies of the sick and deformed. Another theory suggests Stonehenge was built as a temple to the sun and the changing seasons, with its stones aligned to mark midsummer and midwinter.
Every year, modern-day Pagans, hippes and party-lovers gather at the stones to celebrate the longest day of the year. This year, it will fall on Thursday 21 June with the sun rising at 5.14am. Head here to watch this to the sound of bongos – it will be a moving experience.
When to go: Any time but wrap up in winter.
Accomodation: here are plenty of reasonably priced B&Bs in nearby Salisbury.