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Druids, Freemasons and Frankenstein. The Darker Side of Bath, England

Books And Travel

08/20/20 • 33 min

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Bath is known for its ancient Roman spa, medieval abbey, and sweeping Georgian terraces. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site in Somerset in the south-west of England and visitors often come on a circular cultural trip that takes in Stonehenge and Stratford-on-Avon.

But it’s not all Jane Austen bonnets, Regency dresses, and afternoon tea — there is a darker and more interesting side of Bath if you escape the tourist traps and explore the layers beneath. In this episode, I talk about the city I currently call home.

  • How finding a map shop helped me discover a different side to Bath
  • Curse tablets for an ancient goddess
  • Angels and demons and the dead of Bath Abbey
  • The city of Frankenstein
  • Ley lines, Druids and Freemasons
  • Walking the Kennet and Avon canal
  • Finding home in Bath during the pandemic
  • Recommended restaurants, bars, pubs and coffee shops away from the tourist traps
  • Recommended books about or set in Bath

How finding a map shop helped me discover a different side to Bath

My husband, Jonathan, and I moved to Bath in 2015 and we bought a house high on the hill overlooking the valley in 2019. I can happily say that this is my city now, but for the first six months of living here, I thought we’d made a terrible mistake.

We were thinking about moving out of London in 2014 and we came to Bath one weekend to visit Jonathan’s cousin who was joining in the Jane Austen festival. Think period drama come to life for ten days of bonnets, regency dresses, and fans held over coy smiles. Many people love it but it’s my idea of hell! I decided that I couldn’t possibly live somewhere so twee and excessively moored in the past.

Panoramic view of the Royal Crescent, Bath, England. Photo licensed from BigStockPhoto

But a year later, we found ourselves living in a flat behind the Royal Crescent, the sweeping Georgian terrace so beloved by tourists doing architectural selfies. Jonathan had left his consulting job to join my creative business so we were free to move wherever we wanted, and Bath had a lot going for it. It’s an hour from both of my (long divorced) parents and we wanted to be in a city with easy train travel to London and to an airport — Bristol Airport is fantastic with destinations all over Europe (when not in a pandemic, of course!). I didn’t want to be in a city where I had a previous history. We considered Oxford, but it belongs to my university years, and I went to school in Bristol where my Mum now lives.

So we moved here in mid-2015... and quickly felt like we’d made a mistake.

There is a buzz in London that keeps everything revved up, it keeps the pulse racing and you walk faster to keep up with city life. It seems as if everyone is achieving more than you, faster than you. There is always so much to do and see and experience and you never have enough time to do it all.

Of course, we moved out of London because we wanted a slower pace, we wanted to be closer to nature and walk and cycle away from the city. But Bath felt so slow those first few months, and our choices were suddenly diminished by the smaller physical location. It took six months for that buzz to fade, an addiction that lessened with time. Now when I go back to London — at least in pre-pandemic times — I find it invigorating but tiring and I look forward to getting away again.

I also couldn’t identify with the Jane Austen bonnet side of Bath. I am not a ribbons and bonnets type of girl! So how could I find my home here in this place that seemed so perfect?

For me, it’s all about writing and my fiction is rooted in my sense of place. My Brooke and Daniel thrillers are all set in London, and my love for the city is clear in the books, in the words and thoughts of Jamie and Blake. I thought that perhaps if I could set a book in Bath, I would learn more about the place and find something to anchor myself. I could not believe the city was just sickly sweet Jane Austen nostalgia — there had to be more. There had to be a dark side.

I started writing in a local cafe and walked almost every weekday from our flat down through Margaret Buildings, a pedestrianized street near the Royal Crescent, around the Circus and on to the coffee shop. I would always stop and look in the window of Jonathan Potter’s antique map shop as I passed, fascinated by the lines on paper and vellum that represented the physical world.

Jonathan Potter Map Shop, Margaret Buildings, Bat...

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