Newest Review: ... want to go on one rather than walk around yourself and listen. The Roman Baths are wheelchair accessible, but I did not use the facilities... more
When in Bath...
Roman Baths Museum (Bath)
Member Name: karenuk
Roman Baths Museum (Bath)
Date: 25/05/03, updated on 25/05/03 (203 review reads)
Advantages: Experience History, Educational, A Good Lengthy Visit
Disadvantages: Often busy, Expensive souvenirs, Not much fun for under-10s
So the four of us – hubby and I, my eldest and Linda – spent last Friday in Bath, braving the rain and discovering the historic delights of Aquae Sulis. We had previously checked out the details on the website and knew a visit would take about two hours and that our cheapest option was purchasing a family ticket for £22, which we did.
The museum is easy to find, as it is right near the Abbey and well signposted. As we approached, it appeared there was a very long queue and we thought we would have a wait, but it turned out to be a party of students and we were able to walk straight in. There will be many school parties, foreign students and tourists at the attraction. Despite the large number of people, I rarely felt over-crowded though, as everything is well spaced out.
As you enter the baths after buying your ticket(s), you are offered a free audio guide called a Personal Acoustiguide. This looks like an over-sized mobile phone or a TV remote control. They are attached to a cord, which is adjustable and can be worn around the neck. You use them by pressing buttons to hear a commentary. Each interesting artefact or area is numbered as you go round. You press the number into your audio guide and it will give you a commentary about it. You use the handset to fast forward, rewind, pause and stop this.
Hubby, daughter and Linda found these very useful, but apart from a few attempts, I got most use out of it by pretending it was a phone and having made-up one-sided conversations or trying to turn the volume down on my daughter! I just found the commentary annoying with the irritating voices and intrusive sound
As you walk round, there are many wall displays, paintings, photographs and drawings that explain essential facts about each part. I used these to answer any questions I had and found them very helpful and informative.
Another criticism I had about the audio guides is that they are quite isolating. Instead of a pleasant family outing where you discuss everything, we were walking around immersed in our own little worlds. When I wanted to say something, I’d look up and see they were listening to the audio guide. This is not an asset to those of us who like to discuss things and converse about what we see, think and feel.
Anyway, for those that wish to use one, they are available from reception and you return them to the point before the stairs up to the toilets. The audio guides are available in English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Dutch and Japanese. (Linda used the German one a lot and found it very useful.) You can also borrow aids for those who are visually impaired or hard of hearing.
If you don’t fancy an audio guide (and I wouldn’t blame you!), the traditional guided tours are still available. There is a meeting place at the side of the baths, the tours are free and begin on the hour.
The promotional leaflet advertising the museum states that “access is free for wheelchair users, but limited to the terrace over looking the Roman Baths” and that there is “level access to the Pump Room”. As we went round though, we commented that it wouldn’t really be very suitable for the disabled or anyone who has problems with walking for long. There are a lot of stairs, the area around the water is cobbled and uneven, some parts are quite narrow and you are liable to be on your feet for two hours or so. There are a few comfortable chairs around to sit on (No! Not the comfy chair!), but these are few and far between.
The website does state though that twice a
year, it installs a series of temporary ramps so that wheelchair access is possible. These are Open Access Evenings and the next one will be in October.
There are toilets and refreshments available, as well as two souvenir shops. The toilets are about halfway through the museum, but are well signposted. As you walk round the museum, there are regular flow charts on the wall explaining where you are in relation to the other parts of the museum.
The toilets have baby changing facilities and are very clean and presentable, with marbled sink units and a beautiful view of the baths. Linda was so impressed that she took me in to show me how nice they were! Although there weren’t any queues when I went, I found the space between the two rows of cubicles was rather narrow for my rather ample frame.
The Pump Room is at the top of the museum, a level above the toilets and that is where you might choose to go for a sit down and a cup of tea, after your long walk round. The Pump Room Trio plays here regularly to add to the ambience. We avoided this and ate in Burger King!
There are two shops in the museum on different floors – a smaller one on the ground level near the baths itself and a larger one upstairs. These sell good quality souvenirs, but expect a lot of over-priced toiletries and fudge with the Roman Baths logo on.
You can buy souvenir postcards, T-shirts, toys, stationery items, ornaments and so on, not only of the museum itself but also of the Royal Family, London symbols and Jane Austen (who also has a connection with Bath). Guidebooks are priced at £3.95, a strip of nine souvenir postcards costs £1.75, notebooks are £1.50 and souvenir pencils are 40p.
So onto the attraction itself – the museum and the historic baths. The setting is a picturesque one. While some parts of the museum could be housed in any building and you can feel the displays are rather dry, you then turn a corner and are faced
with a view of the bath itself or can bend down to see the spring still running. This makes it a very accessible way to learn about history and to get a feeling for how it would have looked in Roman times.
There are many Roman remains, as you would expect. These range from small utensils and household items to huge pieces of stonework. Some are encased in glass display units, but most are exposed to the elements and touchable (although it’s not recommended!).
A large part of the museum is a life-size reconstruction of the baths itself – the changing rooms, a series of heated pools and so on. It is easy to see how a Roman bather’s routine would have been here, with a progression through various stages of washing and cleaning. The social element is also evident from personal items, which were lost in the baths.
My favourite artefacts were the little gods which people kept in their houses for good luck and protection. (I called them ‘Pocket Gods’ and hoped the shop would sell replicas, but unfortunately it didn’t.) The curses were also fascinating – remnants of writing found on rolled up sheets of lead or pewter. These were left in the Sacred Spring, where it was believed they would bring various misdemeanours to the attention of the goddess Sulis Minerva. (I suppose a modern equivalent would be complaining to your local council about your neighbours playing music loud – but leaving your letter in your local swimming pool might not be such a good idea!)
There are also tombstones to be seen (and translated!), the head of the Goddess Sulis Minerva, statues, altars and the Gorgon’s Head pediment. You can feel the heat rising from the spring and taste the spa water, which apparently contains 43 different minerals!
The Great Bath is still working. Not that I suggest you try to swim there, but the heated spring still works today as it has for thousands of years. The water a
pparently reaches temperatures of 46 degrees C and as we went there on a cold, wet day, it was interesting watching the water bubbling (divine farts?) and seeing the cloud of steam coming off it.
The water is now green. According to one of the signs around it, this is due to the algae reacting to the sunlight. In Roman times, it was a large building with a high roof on it. It is not too difficult to imagine bathers lounging around the sides of the bath, gossiping with their friends between dips.
The bath itself is the centrepiece of the museum and I found it the most atmospheric. While some of the museum inside can seem rather dull at times, walking round the Great Bath and visiting the East and West Baths at either end were the highlights for me and really helped to bring the history to life. There are a few opportunities to test your Latin too!
To help with your visualisation, there are some excellent computer animations played on a loop on several television monitors situated above many of the remains. These take you from a photo of what you can see in front of you through a layered development, until you can see it, as it would have looked then. These reconstructions are very interesting and watchable and would be ideal for children.
Overall, I do not think young children would enjoy the museum very much and the day we went, there were very few (if any) visitors under the age of ten. It is an ideal trip for any adults interested in history though and especially for foreigners who wish to learn more about our country or for students learning about the Romans.
Linda, our German student, found the visit very interesting. She was impressed by the computer-animated reconstructions and found the German Audio Guide extremely useful. She enjoyed walking round the Great Bath the most and throwing coins into the Cold Bath.
My daughter had previously been to the Roman Baths with her grandparents and commented that th
is second visit wasn’t as enjoyable as the first. She did, however, think the curses thrown in the Sacred Spring were ‘cool’ and liked seeing the head of the Flavian Lady and the collection of hairpins and accessories used at the time.
This was my first visit to the museum, although I have previously been to the baths at Caerleon three times, helping out on school trips. While I personally prefer Caerleon, the museum at Bath is much bigger and well worth seeing. We spent almost two hours here, making it worth the £22 ticket cost.
The weather is not too important a factor either. As I said, it was raining when we went, but as most of the museum is indoors and the outside parts are mainly well sheltered, it didn’t spoil our enjoyment at all.
The Roman Baths
24 hour information line - 01225-477867
Open daily except December 25th and 26th. Open until 10pm in July and August.
Refreshments at the Pump Room available from 9:30am
Free admission for the under-6s (who will probably sleep through the whole thing anyway), disabled visitors and local residents with a discovery card or proof of address.
Concessions for families, children, seniors, students and groups.
www.romanbaths.co.uk – an excellent website showing the remains, listing the historical collections housed there and full of information and beautiful photographs.
There are various events held at the baths, details of which can be found on the website. These include children’s activities and Tunnel Tours.
KarenUK’s Tip ~ Not far from the baths, there is an excellent teddy bear shop, Café Cadbury and Lush. There is also a Ben and Jerry’s café close by and I would recommend their banana sundaes – one of which I devoured before 10:30am ;-)
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