Gavin's Adventures on the Mystical Island of Britain -- Part 18

A list of the adventures.

The ancient Roman Baths

I followed the Avenue of standing stones away from the great monument of Stonehenge, hoping to unravel this great mystery, and soon, to my surprise, found myself in the midst of an armed camp! Surely that could not be the answer I was looking for. Disappointed, I turned sadly away from the warning signs, the fences and barbed wire, and headed into the nearest town for the night. I noticed on the way a tank museum, but was not tempted to visit it.

It was Saturday night, the traditional night for soldiers to celebrate, and I was in the middle of the largest army camp area I had ever seen, so it was hardly surprising that the city, which was called Salisbury, was a wild and rowdy place. It was quite late when I arrived, and I received another surprise when I found there was no food to be had anywhere -- apparently there is so much profit to be found in selling drinks to soldiers that the pubs and restaurants had all stopped serving food after 6. The soldiers were like soldiers everywhere -- young, hard-faced, determined to have a good time.

I did, however, find somewhere to lay my head, an inn imaginatively named the Red Lion, much decorated with garishly red lions. There was a stuffed lion on the bed to welcome me, which I thought a nice touch. Hungry and tired, I was certainly very glad of his company.

The rain for which England is justly famous returned full force the next day, and I sought for indoor activities. I discovered the picturesque old city of Bath, and visited the ancient Roman Baths there. Again I had an audio tour, which took one and a half hours, and was mainly underground, sheltered from the weather.

Long ago, this place had been a temple to the goddess Sullis. She brought prosperity to the area, and, most miraculous of all, she brought her own supply of hot water. This is the site of the only hot springs in Britain, and the ancients obviously believed that this must be a favourite place of their goddess.

When the Romans arrived, they found this temple and they, too, marvelled at the idea of hot water in Britain. Having spent many nights without it myself, I can understand why the Romans would see this as a miraculous thing. The Romans were smarter than the Britons, or so they believed, and they knew all the gods and goddesses, so when they learned that this temple was for the goddess Sullis, they tried to understand which real goddess they meant. They figured out that the goddess known locally as Sullis must, in reality, be the goddess Minerva.

To honour their goddess Minerva, and to point out that they were the masters of this land, the Romans built The Baths. To avoid confusing the locals, they called the goddess Sullis-Minerva. Such, however, is the power of Britain that the goddess, having taken a British name, also began to take on more of the characteristics of the British Sullis than the Roman Minerva. The Baths are an incredible work of engineering. The main building stands four storeys and is built around two incredible pools. One of these pools is built around the sacred spring itself, while the other receives overflow water from the spring, and is where the Romans came to do their bathing.

At the base of the building, four floors below street level, I saw the sacred spring, the source of this hot water, where it comes bubbling up out of the earth. No one was ever allowed to bathe there. I was able to stand and breathe the air containing the moisture from the springs. Even just breathing in that warm moist air I could understand why the ancients, Briton and Roman alike, believed this water could cure all kinds of ills. To this very day there are many who believe it, and water from this spring is sent every year to the Queen, that she may live a long and healthy life.

In the open-air public baths where the Romans bathed, no one is allowed to bathe now, though the water is for sale for those brave souls who want to drink it. Though it was raining, and the cold rain was pouring into the pool, when I touched the water, it was pleasantly warm.

The Romans were great engineers, as everyone knows, and I was much impressed with their furnaces and their drainage system, which still work to this very day. Many of the original Roman pipes are still in use, carrying the water of Sullis-Minerva to its final rest somewhere beyond the baths. At a glance, they look surprisingly modern, though closer inspection shows that the materials are all very old. Still, I suppose a drainpipe is a drainpipe is a drainpipe...

The Romans believed that the goddess of the spring had the power to fulfill curses upon their enemies, so they wrote curses on small pieces of metal and threw them into the water. Over a hundred have been recovered, along with bracelets, coins, and other offerings. One of the recovered curses said "Docimedis has lost two gloves. He asks that the person who has stolen them should lose his minds and his eyes in the temple where she appoints." I can only assume that what has been recovered is what the goddess ignored, and I wonder what greater gifts might have been given, and what greater curses might have been asked...

As you leave the ruins, you pass through a sophisticated restaurant, with bath chairs and someone playing the piano. I was hungry after spending the entire morning walking around the ruins, so I chose a table and ordered a breakfast. The food was expensive, but very good and the portions were large. The service was excellent, and made me think of what it must have been like a few hundred years ago, when only kings and lords came here. I stayed there for almost an hour, enjoying my meal and waiting for the rain outside to stop.

Eventually I realized that the rain would not stop and I headed out into the heart of Bath. It is a beautiful town of old buildings, but the rain was coming down in sheets and I did not spend much time looking around. I only went into a few shops as I ran from building to building, trying to get back to my wagon without getting too wet.

Here's a picture of the Roman Baths.

Mail comments and contributions to Gavin.

- The previous adventure: Stonehenge.
- The next adventure: A bus tour in Cheddar gorge.
- Return to Grannus' circle.
- Go back to the front gate.

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