Stepping out of the train to Bath , the first of my senses to be delighted was Smell. That crisp autumnal air … spiced with a leafy fragrance…. Ah…. How exhilarating pure air can be! With every deep breath I took, I just felt the London stress seep out of me.
Then my Eyes were to be dazzled: those honey-colored houses, bathing in limpid autumn light and set against a background of lavish old trees with changing colors – patches of golden yellow, soft brown and deep red amongst the tender decaying green. Oh, and hazy hills in the distance, and a bridge over a river! And there: stone stairs flanked by sculpted banisters leading to a park, with elegantly traced paths and full of well tended flower beds.
And more was to come – like the calm & harmonious Great Pulteney Street with its beige neo-classical façades, drawing the eye to the imposing porch and columns of the Holburne museum at the end of it .
But since straight lines, as calmly neo-classical as they may be, can still be too harsh on the eyes of an exhausted urbanite – the Bath architects, in all their wisdom , introduced Curves and Crescents in the cityscape. According to the guidebooks, we owe these curves to the eclectic interests of the leading 18th century Bath-architect, John Wood , who was not only formed by neo-classical tradition but also passionate about Celtic and Druid culture – centered on the Moon and magic circles etc).
And what a soothing delight it is, to take in those gentle curves and those subtly varied neo-classical façades. Be it on a square (well a round square) dominated by a giant plane tree (the Circus), or on a curving street (the Royal Crescent) looking out over an undulating lawn …. One wanders about, feasting one’s eyes, futilely brandishing one’s camera to capture the delight of rhythmed space . Yes, this truly is “architecture of happiness” !
And how about the sense of Touch? Oh it is stimulated all right, and tantalizingly so …. There is something so tactile about that soft limestone used in the Bath houses. Now as to Taste: hmm, I will not comment on the English Cuisine, so suffice it to say that it is lovely to drink English Tea in a refurbished Georgian tearoom.
Exhaustiveness now demands I cover all the senses - So there: Hearing, well, actually: the silence! The relative silence of course, in comparison with other, car-infected cities. And the joy to hear the echoing cries of a couple of seagulls (seagulls yes, would they follow the river land-inwards from the sea?)
And the Sixth Sense! Well, if that is the sense of imagination, of Memory & Desire, then Bath’s the place to be. You can imagine Romans taking their Hot Baths or worshipping in their temple (the “Roman Baths" – a fascinating trip into history).
Or, just walking around in town, you can imagine a Jane Austen character strolling about – pensively (if it’s Persuasion’s Anne Elliot who “watched, observed , reflected” – or full of eager delight (if it’s Northanger Abbey’s Catherine Morland who “was come to be happy, and she felt happy already”). Truth be told: according to Austen scholars, Jane Austen herself, despite enjoying previous visits there, did not like actually living in Bath.
Anyway, you could also flash back to the consummate Dandy and 18th Century social trend-setter Richard “Beau” Nash . Or you could just walk and walk and breathe and look and see and stop brooding and just picture yourself as a happy person enjoying the “Bath season”.