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Sunday
Apr142019

Bath time

Just back from a short break in Bath.

I first visited the city in the early Seventies. My aunt had moved there from London.

In contrast to a dark basement flat in Kensington she now lived in a Grade II listed apartment with panoramic views of the city.

A year or two later, after my grandfather died, my grandmother moved from Fifehead Neville, a tiny hamlet in Dorset, to Batheaston on the edge of town.

According to film director Ken Loach, who moved to Bath around the same time:

“Bath was dusty and a little shabby when we moved here. It did look its age and you felt its history in its streets and buildings and little alleyways. The sense of the past was palpable. There were some bad modern buildings but there was a patina of age.

“The problem now is that it has been sharpened up for the tourists. It’s too clean. It’s like an old person with Botox. You don’t get the same sense of the past. It’s too clean, too sharp.”

I’m not going to argue with a local resident, even an old leftie like Loach, but the clean up of Bath’s beautiful limestone buildings is, for me, one of the great municipal achievements of post-war Britain.

Previously many buildings in Bath were black with soot and vehicle pollution.

Loach’s other concern is “too much imitation Georgian architecture” which he blames, inevitably, on “destructive” market forces.

Personally I welcome the addition of new buildings that mimic or at least complement the city’s existing architecture.

The SouthGate shopping centre Loach dislikes for its faux Georgian appearance is infinitely better than the Sixties development it replaced although I can understand the nostalgia for some of the buildings that were demolished to accommodate that unlovely ‘modernisation’.

What we can agree on is Loach’s perception that “It feels like the city centre is too geared to visitors” (and I say that as a visitor).

I think he’s referring to the type of shops and all the visitor attractions - including, perhaps, the noisy and sometimes rather irritating street performers - but it’s certainly true that on some days Bath can feel overwhelmed with tourists.

Nevertheless it remains a small regret that I didn’t move to the city when an opportunity arose in the early Nineties.

That feeling has nothing to do with money, btw, but it’s worth noting that the old coach house I could have bought for £100,000 in 1992 was sold last year for £650,000.

Anyway, after our visit this week we drove home via Stourhead, a National Trust property I was first introduced to in the Eighties.

At the time Stourhead hosted an annual open air festival that involved live music (sometimes an orchestra) and hundreds of picnickers who would arrive in fancy dress and sit by the lake, eating and drinking, until it got dark.

It was a wonderfully informal occasion. If I remember a nearby field was opened up for visitors to park their cars.

Today there is a visitor centre, shops and art gallery, and a huge car park. To paraphrase Ken Loach, it feels like Stourhead is too geared for visitors.

Nevertheless it’s still a lovely place to visit as these photos, taken on Friday, will confirm.

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Reader Comments (2)

Bath is not a place I would ever feel comfortable in visiting given how much the city prides itself on its hatred of smokers.

I'm with Loach. Lincoln is an example of how an ancient and historic city is easily vandalised by the clean up squad who want to make it attractive for visitors and the sterile health zealots by removing all of its charm and forcing locals underground.

Sunday, April 14, 2019 at 10:50 | Unregistered Commenterpat nurse

Plenty of people smoke in Bath Pat. It also has a wonderful old traditional tobacconist.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019 at 17:34 | Unregistered CommenterTimothy Goodacre

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