Some of our most memorable holidays have come about on a whim; we once spent a glorious 24 hours in the Lake District because we were driving back from Scotland, couldn’t be bothered to travel any further, and decided to stay over. So when H told me he had a few days booked off work, we decided to go away for a couple of days, loaded up the tiny girls and all of their clobber and headed for Bath to re-enact all of our Jane Austen daydreams at once.
It’s a really beautiful city, tucked down in a hollow between the hills, with serried ranks of Georgian town houses standing guard as the spires of Bath Abbey reach for the skies. Despite having just the one river it reminded me of Venice, perhaps because it’s relatively small and packed with little smidgins of charm; everything we wanted to explore was within easy walking distance.
And explore we did. From “where the Romans went swimming” (self explanatory), to “Cinderella castle where we say prayers” (which is of course Bath Abbey), a picnic in the gardens below the Royal Crescent, and a morning spent ducking and diving wintery weather as we pottered around tiny alleys, searching out art shops for H and some very wonderful crafty shops for me.
Kitty met a Celtic stonemason at the baths who was just doing a bit of topping and tailing for the Romans who told her how the stone would traditionally have been painted pretty colours. She suggested his bit of cornice should be pink, stripy and covered with number 8s, presumably to match her grand plans for Bath Abbey. We were just tickled when he asked whether we were watching Elma for the emperor because she was wearing a purple baby vest; little did he know, she is the empress of course! Elma graced him with a big grin.
The Baths are fascinating, not just in the scale and technical engineering in their construction, but the sheer fact that warm water is bubbling up out of the ground. There’s a point on the tour where the water comes roaring out of what looks like a bread oven, billowing steam; it’s as if they’re keeping a very damp dragon behind the wall.
You can’t touch the water in the baths themselves, but they have a tasting fountain up in the modern building; for the record it’s a little warmer than blood temperature and tastes rusty, I doubt anyone in ancient Bath suffered from iron deficiencies. The overall impression was a little bit like when you’re brushing your teeth and sleepily turn on the warm tap instead of cold. An interesting sample but no-one was going back for a second taste.
Bath Abbey was lovely too; light and calm and with an atmosphere far more like a parish church; it felt so much more friendly than many a cathedral. They’ve got a gorgeous exhibition running at the moment of thirty-five diptychs covering the life of Christ (called ‘One Man’s Journey to Heaven’). Each one has a piece of textile art matched with an illustrated lettering panel. Sometimes we preferred the illustration and some times the textile but they were all the kind of work you could sit and stare at for as long as two tiny girls will allow.
When we’d exhausted their powers of sitting and looking there were always pretty places to go and run. Kitty found H’s shoulders to be the best vantage point to view the river, but preferred her own feet to travel the little paved maze garden.
Both girls were napping for our trip around the Holburne Museum, a relatively small collection of art and pretties collected by Sir William Holburne. Because it had been his personal collection, there were stories behind a lot of the pieces; who the people in the portraits were, and their status in Bath society; far more interesting to me at least than purely appreciating the brush strokes.
And if all this wasn’t enough to make us wish Birmingham wasn’t so utterly uncommutable from Bath, we found not one but two really lovely art shops, filled to the brim with H’s favourite paints, and a mouthwatering display of coloured pencils that made me almost wish I knew how to draw, and then …
Wool. I’ve been knitting so slowly recently, and so much from stash that it’s been ages since I was in a proper wool shop, and this my friends is a proper wool shop. It’s entirely possible that the unintentional abstinence had lowered my fortitude to against yarn fumes, because I fell deeply in love with a few skeins, some with a couple of my own designs in mind, and some gorgeous golden Fyberspates scrumptious 4ply for a baby cardigan for Elma, or it could just be that they have a beautifully curated collection. Either way, resistance is futile.
Country Threads is just across the street from Wool. It’s a quilt shop with a glorious secret. The front room of the shop is as it seems, a modest room packed to the gunnels with Rowan fabric, fat quarters, ribbons and trims and other useful bits and bobs. But scuttle down a little passage and Aladdin’s cave opens up before you; a big high ceilinged Georgian room filled with bolt upon bolt upon bolt from 1920’s reproductions, to ultra moderns, to children’s, and everything and anything in between. All I could say was “Wow!”
And then we wandered down an alley on a whim and discovered The Makery. The list of upcoming workshops would have sold it to me by itself but then I saw the buttons. So many pretty buttons. The fact that there is now a bright magenta mother of pearl button in pride of place on the top of the bookcase in Kitty’s bedroom tells you that my eldest apple has not fallen far from the tree and the fact that we snuck back and bought a second one later and I have grand plans to use them on a cushion or a pinafore dress for her at some point, tells you that the tree has not changed direction anytime recently.
But final word must go to our port in a storm. On our last morning it seemed to be sunny and wonderful and all the things that last mornings of holidays usually are, only for big black clouds to come racing in and dump little lumps of icy hail without a raincoat between. We scuttled for cover into the Guildhall Market, where we turned a corner to be met by Sew ‘N’ Sew’s seemingly infinite haberdashery. With a huge ribbon display, polka dots and some very Liberty-esque bias binding I just about managed to keep myself entertained while we waited for the battery to pass over!
It’s fair to say that our first real holiday as a quartet was a hit, now all I have to do is clear up my desk a little because it seems I have a little sewing and some knitting to do!