Sunday, July 12, 2009

A trip to Bath

Friday I had a business meeting in Bath - a location chosen not only because it was nearer to the person I was meeting (a trainer named David) but also because it gave me the opportunity to visit friends and to return to one of my favourite cities.

On the journey down I stopped to answer a call of nature. The ladies loos at the service station were reasonably tidy. On the door of the cubicle I was in was scrawled 'We must be the change we wish to see - Ghandi'. Below it, neatly written, was 'Love the sentiment, shame you can't spell Gandhi'. And below that.. was 'F*** off, just be yourself'. I didn't realise I'd visited the philosophy booth!
I arrived in good time and followed the sat nav instructions to the car park where David and I had agreed to meet. I arrived first, but he was not long behind me. When we met up he was suited and booted from a coaching session he'd attended, but wanted to change into jeans.
One he had changed (without the aid of a Telephone Box) we walked into town and found a hotel where we sat and discussed business (we have a great product we are launching in partnership with our two businesses) and then just nattered away before driving to see my friend Amie. I met Amie on line and she kindly offered to put me up when I came to Bath.
We drove around the city, out on the Radstock Road, up to Odd Down and down a steep road back towards the City. We tried three houses before we eventually found Amie and her husband Paul. After brief introductions, we went in Amie's car to the Wheatsheaf pub where we had booked a table for supper. I had known this pub in years back and outside it looked the same - perched on a Mendip hillside, dovecotes integral to the white painted walls, thatch and a beautiful garden. It was in the next village to Wellow, where I had been often as a child and where my step-granny, Peeps, had lived.
We walked in and immediately saw that the pub had experienced a radical make over. There were flush lights, glass panels, modern furniture and smooth pale wood bar - it was now a nouvelle cuisine restaurant. So - probably not a ploughman's for supper then! We had a superb meal - even though it was 'nouvelle' we had plenty to eat. Started with little hand-made rolls, then a neat little coffee cup of lobster bisque (not ordered, just part of the meal), and finally our main courses which looked superb, tasted wonderful and were actually filling! We didn't even have a dessert.
Conversation over dinner was interesting - I was with three engineers! Different kind of engineers, but engineers none the less. David had been an engineer in the army, Amie works for a national standards body, and Paul works for a company who makes devices regulated by the board Amie works for. It was a bit like 'copper and thief' at the table sometimes - Paul and Amie didn't always agree about the process for approving products.
After dinner we went back to Amie's house. David left (concerned about the fact he was late feeding his parrot) and then Amie, Paul and I watched the last thrilling episode of Torchwood. Their cats kept us company, the two sister cats snuggled up on Paul's lap. We nattered for about an hour and then, pretty tired, I headed for bed.
In the morning I woke at 6am - the sounds of railway, the city, unfamiliar, but not disturbing. I went back to sleep and woke again at 8. At about 10, I left my kind hosts and headed for a walk round the city. I walked down and went through the newly built up Southgate Centre. They are keeping the style of building and it works well - but the bus station is something else. I visited the Baths (the free access section) and the Abbey. When I entered the Abbey the vicar was giving a sermon. He was in his pulpit addressing an audience of wandering Italian children and a few people sitting politely in the seats at the front. He finished shortly after I entered and as I wandered round this superb building, I came up to him and offered a simple 'good morning' and he smiled. It must be strange addressing a non-congregation.

I enjoyed my walk around and found a snack in the old Guildhall market. I chatted with a girl on one shop where I bought some postcards. She described the new bus station as 'the baked bean tin'. At the back of the market was a stone table which says:
Market Pillar. This 18th century pillar or 'nail' stood on the site of the markets since 1768 for the transaction of business and for prompt payment in bargaining. It is said this gave origin to the phrase 'pay on the nail'.

I wonder how many visitors to Bath ever see this? I wandered on through the city - past the house where my Aunt used to live, through the park (some amazing trees - the outstretched branch on this maple was nearly 70 foot long!) I walked around some of the back streets, not just the main tourist routes. I would love to get to know this city better. It's odd, but I like being a lone tourist.

I returned to Amie and Paul's house. We had some lunch and then I headed off to my next meeting - a visit with an author (and trainer) in a small village in Oxfordshire. On the motorway I noticed signs to Watlington - where Peeps had lived when she was with my grandpa and where my mother had spent some of her youth.

The red kite, a rare and protected bird of prey, was first reintroduced in the UK near Watlington. I have seen them where I live now, but only very occasionally. On my journey to visit Alison, the author, I saw 11 red kites - at one point five of them playing in the air above the motorway itself. Amazing birds! Very distinctive with their sharply forked tail - easy to spot in the air without taking your eyes off the road.

I arrived at the village, which is on the river Thame. Alison's house was very picturesque and her labrador, Jasper, very welcoming. She greeted me in tennis whites, having been playing in the garden before I arrived (I never found out with whom, or whether she was playing on her own). We worked for a couple of hours, getting the last edits sorted on a book we are publishing, and then I headed for home.

As I drove I thought about my quick trip away. I love the city of Bath, I miss not going there to see family (none left there now) and I miss the deep greens of the Mendips. Next time I go I will visit Wellow and some of the villages I used to know. Yes, everything changes, and it will be different when I go, but I can still visit places just to enjoy them for how they are.

There's some more photos on my flickr site
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