Thursday, September 1, 2011

A ride on the Avon and a Visit to Bath

Thursday, May 19
      Our last morning in Sussex. After a nice breakfast and good-byes, Hugh drove us back to the Gatwick airport to pick up a rental car. We negotiated the roundabouts and straight stretches of the M23, M25, & M4 Highways, comparable to interstate highways in the U.S of the three and a half hour drive west to the town of Batheaston. After cruising the main road through town twice we had to stop for directions to the Old Mill Hotel on the edge of the Avon River.

     Our room on first floor overlooked a private toll bridge and weir spanning the river that impounded water for the mill. The mill wheel still turns, but is no longer used for milling. Looking across the river about a hundred yards we could see a second mill on the opposite side of the bridge, and next to that, a floating pier where a ferry boat docks. From here it is only about three miles by ferry boat down the Avon to the town of Bath. We waited about an hour for the next ferry, really more of a motor-launch, and enjoyed the leisurely cruise down the river. 

    As we approached the town we passed under the main bridge across the river, one of only three in the world that has shops built on both sides of the bridge itself. The weir just downstream of the bridge is shaped like a deep, extended letter U, allowing at least three times the volume of water to flow over during flood stage as a straight-across weir.
The ferry tied up at a wall on the edge of the river, and we hopped off to explore the streets of town. A short walk brought us to the famous Roman baths after which the town is named, and Bath Abbey. 
      The hot springs were known to Iron Age Britons, who believed the springs inhabited by the Goddess Sulis, and the conquering Romans starting about AD 43 built elaborate baths and a temple dedicated to Minerva, whom they equated with Sulis, naming the town Aquae Sulis ("the waters of Sulis") The temple was constructed in 60–70 AD and the bathing complex was gradually built up over the next 300 years. 

     During the Roman occupation of Britain engineers drove oak piles into the mud to provide a stable foundation and surrounded the spring with an irregular stone chamber lined with lead. In the 2nd century, the spring was enclosed within a wooden barrel-vaulted building, which housed the calidarium (hot bath), the tepidarium (warm bath), and frigidarium (cold bath). It was fascinating to wander through the different rooms and imagine what they must have been like so long ago.
      Exiting the roman baths we walked back a few blocks toward the ferry landing, hurrying toward the bus stop as the bus to Batheaston came down the street less than half a block away. We waved to get the driver's attention. Looking directly at us, but pretending he didn't see, he drove off. The next bus came along in 25 minutes. As it approached, other people came running down the block as the bus started to pull out, but this driver stopped and waited. Batheaston was only a short ride. We got off in the middle of the village. 
     A short walk along the narrow main street brought us to the Waggon and Horses Pub, where we stopped for a bite to eat. Seated at the at next table was couple from Edmonton, Alberta who were carrying everything the needed in small backpacks, planning their travel itinerary day by day, and traveling by public bus from town to town.
    Tomorrow, we'll take a leisurely drive to visit friends in Bristol.

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