The Roman baths are a source of fascination when you arrive in the city, but after the tenth or eleventh visit they lose their sparkle and you end up listening to the different language options on the tour guide to pass the time. At least, that’s what I ended up doing while living in Bath, and I soon decided I wanted to explore something more low key but no less natural and interesting. Fortunately, I already lived on Lansdown, a steep but gradual leafy green hill that winds upwards from the city centre.
When your bedroom has a view like this, things like a filthy kitchen, disappearing crockery and rat sightings in the basement don’t bother you as much. I was lucky enough to live in student digs about a quarter of the way up Lansdown, and at the very top you have sweeping vistas, a charming pub and a large but modest chess piece known as Beckford’s Tower, so it’s no surprise that it’s a designated area of outstanding natural beauty in the Cotswolds.
You can either hop on a bus from outside the town hall and trundle to the top or be hardcore and walk up its entire length. Walking backwards can make it easier, as well as letting you enjoy the cityscape and sights such as houses you could probably never afford,
beech trees with fluorescent green leaves, house numbers that make absolutely no consecutive sense and courteous nods to explorers who discovered large tracts of land like Tasmania.
Beckford’s Tower, formerly Lansdown Tower is perched just over the brow.
Can you guess why it was built?
- As a lookout
- In memory of a loved one
- Because some guy had money
If you picked iii), you get a gold star. William Beckford’s famous quote
So I am growing rich, and need to build towers
is proudly displayed on the museum’s website. When we visited, the main area was closed off save for a group of film students who had booked it especially, but it’s open at weekends.
Over the years the tower’s garden has gone from landscaped to beer to cemetery, and I spent a good couple of hours there looking for an ancestor of mine.
My great great (possibly more) uncle, a chap named Teddy Brayley, was a racehorse owner whose mare Casse Tete defied odds of 20-1 and won the Grand National in 1872. So unexpected was her victory that the then editor of The Sporting Life newspaper, a Harry Feist, said that if she won he would “publicly undertake to eat her with as little ceremony as means demanded.” My great great uncle’s retort? After Casse Tete crossed the finish line by six lengths he sent Feist a specially made knife and fork.
Luckily, the two were quite chummy and so Feist then displayed them on the front page with the words “Bon Appetit, Augur!” In short, my ancestor was awesome, but unfortunately proved just as elusive as the crockery in my student house; I had to admit defeat as I couldn’t find his grave anywhere, at least among any of the legible ones. I’ve since been told he was buried in a graveyard much further down the road, nearer to Bath Racecourse.
About halfway back down Lansdown is a sunny and understated pub known as the Hare and Hounds.
As well as serving gorgeous pub food and a magical combination of coffee and local fudge, it has incredible views of the surrounding hills and their resident kestrels from its beer garden.
It’s tucked just to the side of the road so we never saw it become hugely busy, and is just the place for a quiet meal or snack after battling against sleepy gravity or unhelpful tombstones for half an hour or more.
This is another reason I love Bath so much; you can walk across the entire city in less than an hour but still find pretty diversions here and there with a spot of undiscovered history, sometimes even your own.
Beckford’s Tower and Museum website: http://beckfordstower.org.uk/
The Hare and Hounds website: http://www.hareandhoundsbath.com/
Source: Lambie, J. (2010) The Story of your Life: A History of The Sporting Life Newspaper (1859-1998). London: Troubadour Publishing.