Covid killed travel. Or did it?
Did it rather open our eyes to the beauty on our doorstep? To experience the local? To be more mindful of ourselves and our impact on the planet while exploring it? More introspective?
I hope so. It’s a flag I've been flying for the past couple of years since producing the first Green Weekend for UNESCO UK last year, when we visited the Jurassic Coast. This time around, I took a different approach.
With so many saying travel was dead and that community spirit was lying next to it in the grave, I wanted to challenge that view (within the boundaries of the law). With my mask in tow, I went to Bath with my camera equipment, a tent and an idea.
My weekend would be directed entirely by the people that I meet, there and then, in the moment – and that these encounters would be filmed.
I love solo travel and the challenge of filming everything by myself appealed to me, even if from a production perspective it meant there were a few rough edges to the product, I like to think the audience would be in a forgiving manner considering the nature of the video itself, and how it was made.
I started by putting a callout on Reddit’s Bath community sub for suggestions of what to do during my stay. I thought maybe one or two people might give me an idea, but I got 19 comments. Many of which were detailed explanations of viewpoints, restaurants and cycle paths from locals or people who had been to Bath before. But this was all a moot point, or at least I wanted it to be. Because this was plan B.
The real aim was to meet locals in the moment and get their recommendations.
This. Worked. Swimmingly. And wow, was I relieved.
From all of what was being written online we would have assumed interaction between strangers would be at a premium – but almost every local I met was keen to share their ideas with me (albeit at a 2m distance!). This speaks to the strong sense of community that many relied upon or (re)discovered during the height of lockdown. I want this series to speak to that spirit and support it.
Over the weekend, I stayed at the YMCA in the city, for £20 a night it was perfectly adequate, clean and centrally located.
Eventually I found someone who recommended that, considering the sun was shining (a rare event), I should head up to Victoria Park. A convenient walk 10 minutes from the city centre sent me north through tree-lined thoroughfares with wild flowers and a limestone path paving the way forward. The sound of laughter alongside the distinctive ping of a golf club hitting a ball alerted me to the mini golf course on Royal Avenue. South of the old duelling ground which has long since been abandoned but still some say is haunted and on a cold winter’s night can host poltergeists and the like.
The Royal Crescent along the way is Victoria Park’s showpiece attraction. With the first stone laid for its construction in May, 1767 the iconic design inspired a whole series of crescents to be built across the UK. This first one, designed by John Wood the Younger, is made up of 30 houses built in a 200m giant sweeping arc – and best appreciated from the sky, in my opinion (watch the video!).
Napoleon said an army marches on its stomach. The same analogy can be used for film productions. A circumstance made even more acute if you’re filming, interviewing and carrying all the equipment on your own. So it was time for an early lunch. Bath has great eateries and Meatbusters, a local recommendation, is no exception. Brilliant service, great hospitality. The chicken burger was succulent, with beautifully crisp brioche buns alongside sweet potato fries and a pint. Considering my state of hunger, I was in dreamland. Craig, the manager at Meatbusters who kindly gave me a free pint after I explained the whole purpose of my trip, suggested I visit the Roman Baths.
I intentionally did not check Tripadvisor before visiting the city but I hazard a guess that the Roman Bath is probably number one on their list of things to do in Bath. En-route there I googled and discovered that, due to COVID-19, only online bookings were being accepted. So, after trying to get in, I accepted my fate and moved on.
There are plenty of things about Bath besides its main attraction that I’m keen to promote, and trying to shine a light on visitor attractions which may be less popular, but equally as beautiful and worthwhile seeing, is a central pillar to sustainable travel in any case. If we can spread the interest in a given place or promote off-season visitation, that is up there in terms of social benefit with which mode of transport you use to get to your destination with regard to the environment.
So, onto the next place.
I was recommended a walk (vertical hike) up to the viewpoint in Alexandra Park to get ‘the best panoramic of the city’. It didn’t disappoint. After rigorous stretching and frequent breaks along the way with water pouring over my head (taking care not to wet the camera bag) during what was a heatwave weekend, I successfully made the ascent, and got out the drone.
Shaz and Yvgenia were there embracing the beauty of ‘selfie-point’ as it was christened by another local. I interrupted their picture-perfect moment with a request for a place with good food and drink.
Shaz was keen to promote a recently opened Indian kitchen (mercifully close to the YMCA so I could drop off the bags) that had good curries and other exotic plates. I hurtled, because of the steep angle of the descent, back down towards the city, hungry as ever, and at Bandook was met with lovely staff and food to match, able to do a quick piece to camera after dinner before the light failed me.
The day was done, as was the impromptu part of my weekend away.
The next morning I interviewed Kathryn Davis, the CEO of Visit Bath for her view on tourism in the city and what lies ahead, the benefits of spontaneous travel in a post-(current?)-COVID world and why voracious seagulls were part of the visitor experience.
Bath is a World Heritage City in its own right, and the community, in my view, plays a big role in its appeal. The people were warm, welcoming and friendly enough to talk to a random stranger in the midst of a pandemic and give them advice on what to do, eat and see in their city. It’s a great testament to the people and culture there. You can’t ask for more than that.
This is the first in a You Tell Me series I'll be making for UNESCO UK, documenting visits to the UK’s World Heritage sites and with every other detail about the trip inspired entirely by the local people I meet.
My top 5 highlights from the trip are below.
1. Victoria Park (With the Royal Crescent, Botanical Gardens and mini-golf course is ideal
when the sun is shining for a socially distanced stroll
2. Alexandra Park
3. Fudge Kitchen
4. Pulteney Bridge and the walk along the canal
5. Bandook, Indian restaurant
Some of Reddit’s top tips on what to do while visiting Bath:
1. Dundas aqueduct
Dundas aqueduct 100%, one of the coolest places in Bath. It’s also a lovely cycle along the canal to get there.
recommended by spudsaregreat
2. Bath Abbey Visiting Tours
I used to work as a tower tour guide in the abbey, I totally recommend contacting the manager to get a view from the top!
Also, have a chat with the chaps in the Fudge Kitchen opposite the abbey entrance, they'll make your day!
recommended by Stornow4y
3. Saracen’s Head Pub in Bath
When I lived there, my locals were Eastern Eye, now called The Grand Eastern, for a curry and The Raven around the corner for a nice cider.
Saracen's Head is nice too and they claim it's the oldest pub in Bath.
recommended by Valeru28
4. The Two Tunnels
For cycling, I'd definitely recommend the Two Tunnels. Which are two old railway tunnels that were converted to be part of the national cycle network (and a good cycle route), with music playing in the middle of one too. Filming these will be difficult though with it being so dark inside.
There's also the Guildhall Markets, Parade Gardens, and Prior Park Ladnscape Gardens (looking a little ropey with ongoing building work though).
Other great views not already mentioned are Little Solsbury Hill the namesake of the song "Solsbury Hill" by Peter Gabriel of Genisis, and Sham Castle built by Ralph Allen an old 1700's local and the namesake of a local school.
recommended by user TZ26
5. Bathwick Meadow
Bathwick Hill/ Meadow which has probably the best view of Bath.
recommended by d5tp