Nothing can describe the feeling of euphoria as we set off in the Ford Focus on the first day of the half term holiday. After surviving the throat infection, the reports and the parent interviews we had a whole week of freedom to explore Bath and the coast of Devon and Cornwall. It was cold, cloudy and damp when we left and John was muttering about the English weather but as we arrived in Bath and found a car park, the weather was forgotten.
The tourist bureau provided us with a list of what to do and see and of course the Roman Baths were first on the list. At £9 a head we thought it was expensive but we were given a personal audio guide to accompany us on our tour. Aquae Sulis, as Bath was known by the Romans, flourished between the 1st and the 5th centuries AD. The baths were rediscovered in 1878 and pseudo Roman columns and observatories were added to “enhance” the ruins. In recent times many Roman artifacts have been excavated and put on display. I was curious to know where the people of Jane Austen’s time would have bathed and discovered that in the 18th Century the Pump Room was where one could buy warm mineral water by the glass. Immediately underneath the windows of the Pump Room was the King’s Bath, a giant communal cistern where patients sat in a bath with hot water up to their necks. Men wore brown linen suits while women wore petticoats and jackets of the same material.
Back to the present and the Roman Baths. Feeling rather claustrophobic we advanced slowly through the reconstruction of the temple and the displays of bronze heads of Sulis Minerva, finally making our escape from the dense crowds. The weather had warmed up a little so it wasn’t unpleasant sitting in the square between Bath Abbey and the Roman Baths, eating our Sainsbury sandwiches.
After crossing the Avon River we recrossed on the Pulteney Bridge which is lined with shops. A walk to the Circus and the Royal Crescent completed a rushed but satisfying tour of Bath.
Now we were off to Batheaston where we had booked a room in The Old Mill Hotel. After our experience at the Youth Hostel in Stratford we decided to go more upmarket although the Lodge, where we were staying, was tiny, with a low roof and basic decor. Importantly, however, it was warm and the bed was comfortable. We booked for dinner and then walked across the toll bridge (50p for cars) to the Bathhampton Church where Arthur Phillip is buried. Phillip, with his second wife, bought a handsome Georgian house in Bath in 1806 but died in 1814 under mysterious circumstances. It was thought that maybe he committed suicide and that is why he is not buried in Bath Abbey. Apparently he fell to the street from a top floor window.
Arthur Phillip has come under attack in recent years for bringing the first European settlers to Australia (albeit against their will) and thus destroying the Aboriginal way of life which had existed for sixty five thousand years.
I suppose if it wasn’t Phillip it would have been someone else and if you were going to choose a person to govern a motley array of convicts and a tough marine corp you would want a man like him. He at least tried to understand the local inhabitants but held the popular and misguided view that to be civilised like the British was the only path to happiness. Unlike many of his contemporaries he saw the settlement as something more than a penal colony and had visions of it becoming a great asset to the British Empire.
At the door of St Nicholas Church, Bathhampton is a sign. It says:
Founder of Australia
and First Governor of New South Wales
His grave is inside the church
There is a display of Arthur Phillip’s leadership of the First Fleet and the names of those who sailed to Australia
The Australia Chapel has stained glass windows showing the Crests of the Australian States
You are welcome to our services
The Arthur Phillip Memorial is closed during services”
His gravestone is on the floor immediately inside the inner porch door:
The text reads: Underneath lie the Remains of ARTHUR PHILLIP, Esq. Admiral of the Blue who died 31st August 1814 in his 76th year. Also of ISABELLA Relic of the above Admiral PHILLIP who died 4th March 1823 in the 71stYear of her Age.
Walking back to The Old Mill we looked forward to dinner overlooking the waterwheel and a new day of adventure ahead.
I took the wheel of the Focus as we approached Devon. The roads were narrow with stone walls almost to the edge. Cars sat on my tail willing me to drive faster. The speed limits changed constantly. The joy of driving on the A39!
Our goal was Berrynarbor and we had delayed too long gazing at Wells Cathedral and picking our way over the ruins of Glastonbury Abbey. At last we were in the Exmoor National Park. I felt the urge to pull over and look towards the sea. Through the sedge grass in between the gorse bushes covered in yellow flowers we ran, stepping on heather flowering low on the ground. The sun was shining and the hills ran down to the sea. It was a magical moment which I will never forget.
We drove down the steepest hill imaginable in Porlock. Warning signs said look out for runaway cars. The town of Combe Martin had the longest main street I had ever seen. Finally we arrived at the Langleigh B&B, a converted Post Office with a spacious bedroom looking out across the valley. Over the road was Ye Olde Globe, with a roaring log fire and hearty food. Berrynarbor is the image of an English village. The main street consisted of whitewashed cottages with thatched roofs. The local industry is making flower pot men and they adorn all the buildings in the form of workmen going about their jobs.
So ended the second day of our Freedom on the Road.