'Behind the Facade' a new walking tour that aims to uncover some of the hidden gems in Bath, off the well-worn tourist trail and into the back streets and alleys to unearth stories and sights from a nearly forgotten history.
Around & About Bath has long been held in high regard as a tour company that is proud to be different and holds strong beliefs that the journey is more about the immersive experience rather than a dull, drawn out lesson similar to those sleepy days of school history classes.
Offering a unique, personalised guide around the streets of Bath and lead by the very capable Jules Mittra, his enthusiasm and knowledge immediately shines through as tales of the development of the city in the 1770's was not as straight forward as it seems. With famous faces from Bath's past making an appearance to relative newcomers who had once been relegated to the darker corners of history. Jules brings each character to life and fleshes out their story in relation to the growth of this city.
'Behind the Facade' isn't just a look at architecture and well known citizens - it also aims to highlight the role of other female characters who's stories have in recent times played second fiddle to more prominent people, such as Jane Austen.
Starting at the stunning Royal Crescent, Jules enthuses, in great detail about the history of the world famous landmark, it's hidden secrets in relation to the city during the Georgian period in Britain. There's a secret to be told behind a special door on the crescent and as we move through the back streets the city begins to reveal hidden meaning beyond the attractive frontage of the properties along the route.
Taking in the exquisite delights of artisan glass blowers and antique silver specialists (Beau Nash) the tour aims to showcase a more refined experience away from the bustle of the inner city tourist trap. There's ample time and more importantly, space to enjoy the crafts on show and to interact with the producers creating a more intimate and rewarding experience.
Duncan Campbell of Beau Nash Bath gives a talk on his unique collection of silverware
What I especially enjoyed about his tour was that the 'big hitter' locations are taken care of, with a detailed account of the construction of The Circus, by John Wood and it's links to Masonic symbolism and also to the beautiful Assembly Rooms and it's nightlife, which bears an uncanny resemblance to today's clubbing scene!
These popular locations meld perfectly with some of the smaller destinations which are dotted on the fringes of the inner city. By keeping the walking group small, never more than around eight people it allows for a more personalised experience and also perfect opportunity to stop en-route when there's a tasty snippet of history to be learnt. This is something you may find yourself doing yourself as this tours manages to make you become curious of your surroundings - you might just start to see the city in a different way!
With a break for coffee (much welcomed!) there's a chance to absorb the stunning interior ballroom of the Assembly Room before moving through the back streets of the city across to the Paragon, where the traffic reminds you that this is still a busy place and welcoming to know that the majority of this tour keeps you away from the hurly-burly.
Laid out in the interior space of the Countess of Huntingdon's Chapel the museum has multiple displays, diagrams and construction models depicting the development of the city over centuries. Personally, having lived in Bath for nearly 25 years this was the first time I had ever visited! Shame on me, as I now realise what an essential wealth of knowledge this place holds!
In particular, I was fascinated by the development of Queens Square - the detailed models enabled me to later visit the square in person to visualise how the architecture once looked, including the now vanished St Mary's Chapel.
It made me think that another tour which Around & About could operate would be 'Bath's Lost Buildings' - a subject which I find utterly compelling.
The Around & About team pride themselves on being different to other tours - it's a more personlised experience and offers a unique view of the city. You won't find a huge group of tourists following the guide with a flag or umbrella held aloft. Instead, keeping the group small means you get exclusive access to even more secret places! Such as the working studio of Bath Aqua Glass on Walcot Street - the historic industrial heart of the city.
Here, in temperatures that would be very welcome on a winters day you can watch the craftspeople at work via a viewing gallery. The room is arranged so that each stage of the glass blowing process can be easily observed - large blazing kilns line the rear wall whilst three craftspeople fire and manipulate a series of glass ornaments, vases and jugs.
The manner in which each bespoke piece of glassware is produced is a joy to watch, especially considering the unique conditions and length of time it takes to perfect the art - every item is different from the last and they don't simply churn out the same object, production line style. You can even buy the same item you've just watched being created.
To become a fully proficient glass blower usually takes many years of apprenticeship training before being considered a master of the art. However, as Adrian Dolan, the sales director of the company explained, they introduce a 'fast track' process to their apprenticeship scheme which enables the participant to gain more practical time to learn the craft and still produces a highly skilled and competent crafts-person.
Drawing to a close and taking about four hours the tour dips it's toe back into the edge of the inner city reminding you that you've just experienced something special, something unique and only covering a route of about half a mile!
The Around & About Bath tour company pride themselves on delivering an engaging and immersive opportunity to delve deeper than the standard tour and from my experience, 'Behind the Facade' does just that - It opens your eyes to the authentic and little explored stories and places in Bath but keeps it brief enough to absorb the fascinating journey without feeling overwhelmed.
Starting in Summer 2018, Behind the Facade complements a growing collection of tour experiences taking in local sights and venturing further, such as the Cotswolds and Stonehenge. Choose the tours wisely and you'll even experience fine dining as part of your package!
For more information and bookings visit their website: www.aroundandaboutbath.com
I'd like to say huge thanks to Jules, Nigel and the rest of the team at Around and About Bath for inviting me on the preview tour of Behind the Facade. It was a fantastic and rewarding experience.
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