Sunday, 23 April 2017

A Brief History of Sydney Gardens in Bath

The weir and Pulteney Bridge are two of Bath’s most recognisable landmarks. You don’t hear too much about Sydney Gardens any more. That wasn’t always the case though!

Tucked away behind what is now the Holburne Museum, but what used to be the grand Sydney th-century Vauxhalls (otherwise known as pleasure gardens) in the country.
Hotel, are Sydney Gardens. They’re not on most visitor’s lists of must-sees when in Bath. Although they certainly used to be, and when they were first opened back in 1795 they were described by one visitor as ‘the most prominent, pleasing, and elegant features’ in all of Bath. The gardens are well worth a visit though, as they are one of the few remaining 18

They were designed by Charles Harcourt Masters and were based on the popular pleasure gardens in London – Ranelagh, Vauxhall and Marylebone. The pleasure gardens did charge an entrance fee, and as such were commercial ventures, but it was the entrance fee that helped to establish them as a place to see and be seen. To be seen in the pleasure gardens was to show that you had money and class.

They were attractive for other reasons as well. Sydney Gardens in particular had a great many curios to marvel at and things to enjoy. As well as concerts and public breakfasts which were held on a  
regular basis, the gardens contained two bowling greens, two swings, exotic trees and shrubs, a grotto, a labyrinth, and refreshment facilities.

The labyrinth in particular was very popular. It was ‘twice as large as Hampton Court’s, with ins and outs measuring half a mile’. In the middle of the labyrinth there was even a reputedly health-giving swing which cost 6d to swing on (though no swinging was allowed on Sundays!).  

To keep the gardens new, exciting and in keeping with the times, they were changed and added to over the years. From 1799 Sydney Hotel provided coffee, tea and card rooms and a ballroom, while in the basement was the Sydney Tap – a tavern which gave the servants and sedan-chairmen who were not allowed in the gardens somewhere to wait while their patrons were in the gardens. Later on, in 1810 a cascade was added to the gardens, an aviary in 1824, a watermill in 1825. 

Two prominent features in the gardens today include the canal and the railway bridge. The canal was completed in 1807 and helped to build the trade link between London and Bristol (and added to the garden’s appeal as it was the age of Enlightenment), while the bridge was the work of Isambard  
Kingdom Brunel and was added in 1840. Sadly the Great Western Railway essentially cut the gardens in half and destroyed the labyrinth which had once been so highly regarded.


In 1912 the gardens became the responsibility of the local Council and are now a municipal park which has been open and free to the public for over 100 years (and are a lovely place for a summer stroll).

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Visit Bath and Learn A New Skill

Taking a break from it all doesn’t mean you need to do nothing (and be bored). Why not come for a weekend break in Bath and learn a new skill at the same time? There are plenty of experiences to choose from…

The Makery in Bath is the go-to place for anyone wanting to learn a new craft-based skill. They offer a range of day and half-day courses which include all manner of things; from making a dress in a day, to making your own lampshades, to learning how to give furniture that popular shabby-chic effect with decorating, varnishing and painting.

Our two other top picks from The Makery include: a half-day calligraphy workshop with a  
calligraphy expert from Meticulous Ink, and a half-day lino block printing workshop that will show you how to make multi-layer prints for cards, fabric, or for use as artworks.

For linguists, the Roman Baths regularly offer Latin and Greek courses. At the moment there aren’t any dates scheduled for the summer, but it’s worth keeping an eye on their website if this sounds like one for you as places tend to fill up fast!

Next we come to what is a top pick for hen parties - taking a cocktail masterclass. However, it’s a great activity for anyone to do, and you don’t need to be in a big group to do it. It’s a skill that will come in handy for your own enjoyment (especially with summer just around the corner), and also for evenings or afternoons in the garden with friends. There are plenty of locations in Bath that you could choose to learn in –  All Bar One for example, offers masterclasses from £25 per person.


Of course you could also come to Bath for longer than a weekend and take a short course rather than a workshop. Bath College has a range of short courses which cover lots of different areas of interest. Early in July they are running a four-day papermaking course that will explore Japanese fold and dye processes, painting with paper pulp, the creation of watermarks, casting and laminating for printmaking and bookbinding, and more besides!

Though, as fun as these options are, we know workshops aren’t for everyone, but you don’t need to attend a workshop in order for you to learn a new skill.  

Spring is here and the time is right for punting. Punting is not just a Cambridge or Oxford pastime. Bath Boating Station rents out rowing boats, canoes, skiffs and punts on an hourly and daily rate (£7 for the first hour and £4 per extra hour, or £18 for the whole day).

We can recommend a jaunt down the river for experienced punters and newcomers alike. It’s not as hard as it looks! Travel down the river to The Old Mill at Bathampton, stop for lunch, and then have a leisurely punt back. Lovely! 


  

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Visit Bath…and Take A Tour of the Vineyard!

Did you know that Bath has its own vineyard? Until very recently we didn’t.  

Tucked away on the outskirts of Bath, between Batheaston and Bathford, is a sight you’d probably associate more with Italy and the south of France than with the English countryside. Happily, Mumfords Vineyard is a local gem and nice and easy to get to. 

Mumfords began as the dream project of Tony and Margaret Cox when they discovered back in the
early 1980s that Somerset was home to some fantastic local wines. In 1985 they planted their first grape vines in their gently sloping south-facing field (having been to Germany to find out which varieties are best suited to less Mediterranean climates), and four years later they harvested their first crop and after a year of maturing their wine, took their first delicious sip. Since then their wines have won several Decanter Awards, and even been served to the Queen! Today Mumfords remains a family run business, and one which you can tour!

We were delighted to find out that visitors are welcome all year round. As well as tours of the picturesque vineyards, visitors can take the opportunity of tasting the different varieties of wine which Mumfords produces. They have two different types of white wine, an award-winning rose, and a rich English red wine.

A visit to Mumfords starts with a tour of the vineyard, during which you’ll learn all about the historical and botanical background behind Mumfords. For example, the reason for the name ‘Mumfords’, is because Mumfords is the historical field name recorded in ancient tithe maps - thought to be derived from ‘Montfort’, as Simon de Montfort owned land in the parish in 1250AD.

Next visitors head to see the purpose-built winery where the wine is made and stored. Then it’s time for the highly anticipated tasting, and an explanation of the wine making process is given. 

Group visits, lasting between one-and-a-half to two hours and best for between 5-25 people, can be pre-booked at a cost of £10 per person. Smaller numbers who are interested in an informal wine tasting can also be catered for and the informal tastings are free.  

However! This Tuesday those visitors to Bath who want to take a full tour of the vineyard, but aren’t a group of 5 or more, can join the tour which has been organised through Bath’s Theatre Royal. The tour begins at noon and guests are asked to arrive around fifteen minutes before this at Mumfords Vineyard (Shockerwick Lane, BA1 7LQ). Tickets for this event are £15 and available through the Theatre Royal website.


At Dukes we love learning about local independent businesses and finding new places to visit. Especially when those businesses and places ones which involve a little luxury (and a good glass of wine!).
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Friday, 31 March 2017

Visit Bath and Visit the New Thermae Bath Spa

Late last year the Thermae Bath Spa started renovations which mean that part of the spa complex had to be closed; this was sad news indeed. But, on the plus side, the promise of a brand new Wellness Suite was the reason for the reduced facilities. Now, at last, it’s up and running…

The first new room, and one of the most striking thanks to its giant golden image of the head of Sulis 
The Roman Steam Room
Minerva (which can be seen “in the flesh” as it were on display in the Roman Baths), is the Roman Steam Room. The polished stone seating running around the length of the room is hand-crafted, traditional, and echoes that of the original seating in the Roman baths themselves, and the steam is infused with a stimulating blend of flowers and botanicals.

The next steam room is the Georgian Steam Room which gives the impression of being surrounded by an elegant garden thanks to the floral scenes in the windows, the warm light, the ornate
fountain, and the floral fragrances. This room is heated to 45 degrees at 100% humidity.

The Infrared Red Sauna
However, for those who really crave the heat, the Infrared Red Sauna will be a favourite new addition to the spa. The state-of-the-art Infrared Sauna has a much more modern feel with its amber glow and lime wood and acacia wood panelling, but most importantly, the modern technology which has been installed allows the soothing heat to be soaked further into sore muscles and joints. It’s a good room to visit post or pre massage at the spa.
 
Not everyone is after heat though, and on a hot summer day the new Ice Chamber might be the place to visit. “Ultrasonic vibrations create an immersive, ethereal mist and those feeling particularly brave” (or looking for a twist on the ice bucket challenge?) “can use a handful of flaked ice to rejuvenate and
The Ice Chamber
energise themselves.”

The Celestial Relaxation Room has, we think, the best name of the rooms in the new wellness suite. As the name suggests, it offers twinkling lights to evoke gazing at a night sky, as well as heated loungers, warm fragrant air and calming sounds. It is inspired by the famous Georgian astronomer who began his career in Bath – William Herschel.  

Then at the end of the thermal and sensory experience rooms, are the Experience Showers – each involving two sets of body jets and chromo-therapy (very pretty lights to you and me).


And all this ready just in time for an Easter get-away too. Good timing to be sure, and, it has to be said, pleasantly surprising given how common it is for renovation projects to run over!