The Telegraph
Sunday , November 25 , 2012
Since 1st March, 1999
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Stepping back in time

They arrived in Bath. Catherine was all eager delight; her eyes were here, there, everywhere, as they approached its fine and striking environs, and afterwards drove through those streets which conducted them to the hotel. She was come to be happy, and she felt happy already’.

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

It is a truth universally acknowledged that Bath is to Jane Austen what London is to Dickens. To step into the city — especially as I did during the Jane Austen Festival — is to be transported into Regency England, complete with bonnet, gown and reticule.

For six days in September the city comes alive with Jane Austen fans who promenade down the town centre, attend talks, drink tea, dance in the Regency style, and go to the theatre. For a die-hard Jane Austen fan like me, it was a complete treat.

Arriving in Bath early on a Sunday morning, I was just in time to attend Jane Austen’s Bath Walking Tour which begins from outside Bath Abbey, the 16th century church which dominates the city’s central square. The bells were pealing after the Sunday service as the costumed Austen fans, stood outside enjoying the autumn sun. I felt I was back in the 19th century.

Jane Austen came to Bath for the first time in 1800. She lived in the city for five years from 1801-1806 and based two of her novels in Bath. All the streets and scenes described in such detail in

Northanger Abbey can be covered as part of the Jane Austen trail. The city of Bath, with its grand crescents and Georgian buildings, Roman Baths and classical architecture fascinated Austen when she first visited the city. It is her initial enthusiasm for Bath that is reflected through her heroine Catherine’s eyes in Northanger Abbey. The city’s darker side comes out in Persuasion, her last novel.

The city of Bath (now declared a UN heritage site) is named after the historic Roman baths, one of the world’s best examples of preserved Roman architecture. Here, one can see the original hot water spring, and the grand remains of the great Roman temple and bath-house. One can still sample the water drawn from the spa fountain in the Pump Room as guests would have done in previous centuries.

It was at the Pump Room that all the visitors to Bath would gather in Austen’s days to socialise, dance and hope to meet their prospective partners. The room (used today as a restaurant) would contain a register where new visitors would enter their names and where families could check out who had come to Bath for the season.

Austen loved dancing and would frequently have gone dancing in the Assembly Rooms in Bath, which was at the heart of fashionable Georgian society. Today it is the location of the Fashion Museum. The beautiful ballroom has been lovingly restored to its former glory with the original gold-tipped chandeliers.

This year’s Austen festival included among other things: a grand Masked Ball held in the Pump Room with a reception in the adjoining Roman Baths, a Promenade along Bath’s famous streets, dramatised readings from Austen’s novels, dancing lessons and even a talk called “Rummaging through the Reticule”, a look at what the ladies would have carried in their little pouch-style handbags. ”

Jane Austen was a great walker and would think nothing of walking two miles for a stroll. I took a mini-bus tour organised by the Festival to visit places around Bath that Austen would have regularly visited. This included a visit to Beechen Cliffs with its sweeping view of Bath, where Catherine embarrasses herself in Northanger Abbey and the beautiful

Parade Gardens on the banks of the River Avon. It was wonderful to stand outside Austen’s house at No 4 Sydney Place and picture her looking from her bedroom window at the Park outside.

There is no escaping the film and television adaptations of Austen’s books in Bath. Films like Pride and Prejudice starring Keira Knightley, Being Jane and other Austen-related works have been shot in the city in famous locations like the Royal Crescent and Pulteney Bridge. Darcy mugs (with Colin Firth as Darcy) can be bought at all tourist shops.

After a luxurious night in the Queensberry Hotel (a boutique hotel in a period Georgian house with high ceilings and an award-winning restaurant), it was time next day to “take the waters” of Bath. Bath is England’s only city with natural hot springs. The Thermae Bath Spa is the perfect place to relax in these natural hot waters. Recently refurbished, the Thermae Spa offers luxury without extravagant prices (26.00 for a two hour session).

It’s not known whether Austen ever used the Roman Baths. In those days the ladies would enter the Baths fully dressed, using little weights at the ends of their gowns to prevent them from floating up. Attendants walked around serving tea and chocolate on little trays.

Alas, no attendants walk around today offering delectable delights. It is possible, however, to go to the spa restaurant and enjoy a tea or coffee sitting in your bathrobe and slippers.

Sheer bliss!       


Getting there: You could take a train from London Paddington Station (90 minutes), a coach from Victoria Coach station or take the M4 (180 kms) to Bath.

Where to stay: Queensberry Hotel, 7 Russell Street, Bath