Sunday, September 03, 2006

The Spa

Is the Spa a costly ‘white elephant’ or a development which will ensure Bath’s economic future? There was only one way to find out and that was to visit. So on Saturday 2nd September Nic my partner, Erica my daughter, two friends from London and I, tried our luck for two hours between 7 and 9pm.

First of all though, in the afternoon we visited the old Roman Spa at the other end of Bath Street, to find out what happened 2000 years ago. I can see why the Roman Baths continue to be amongst the most popular visitor attractions in the country, with the new commentary by Bill Bryson a further useful recent addition.

I certainly believe that we should use the natural hot spring waters in a similar way to the Romans, and so I am pleased that the scandal of the waters running off into the river Avon for the last 30 years without being used, has been ended. In the new Spa the experience is certainly communal, just as in Roman times, because you pass and chat to people as you move from one pool to another.

After entering we secured the small plastic wristband containing the microchip to our wrists and entered the individual changing cubicles. A door on one side of each cubicle gives entry and then on the other, access to the lockers. The numbers of our lockers were contained in the microchip, so there was no need to remember them.

First of all we went up by lift to the rooftop pool on the third floor, hoping for a spectacular sunset, but alas the sky was overcast and it was spitting with rain! The views though are spectacular; the Abbey in all its gothic glory, an ancient tower in Swallow Street, which is almost impossible to see from the ground and Bath’s ‘green hills’ to the south and east.

The pool itself has an area where people can sit and be bombarded by warm water pumped from the seats and from the floor and sides of the pool, but it is simply stunning just to be able to swim or float in this pool on the roof.

We went next to the second floor and the steam pods, footbaths and shower (more of a torrent than a shower) of cool water in the centre of the room. Time in the steam pods, and we tried them all, made a cooling shower essential.

Next the New Royal Bath on the ground floor where we caught site of a clock – 8.15 already we had been in the Spa for one and a quarter hours. Here again the water bubbles around you and the whirlpools make swimming interesting. In the centre of this pool there is a social circular area where people can stand and enjoy the foaming water and chat to each other if they wish.

To finish off our visit we returned to the rooftop pool, by now in darkness except for the underwater blue and green lights. This time Bath Abbey, Sham Castle and Prior Park all stood out floodlit against the darkening sky. I wonder what the Romans would have thought about this outstanding atmospheric twenty first century experience?

We all agreed (I am biased of course) that the new Spa should enable local people and visitors alike to enjoy a world class experience, unique to the UK. As well as the eighteenth century architecture and the Roman Baths, this new Spa should enable local people to be even more proud of our city. Despite the problems of construction, the cost, the delay, the criticisms, the Spa is already very popular and has put a smile on the faces of all who have used it so far, after just a few weeks of operation.


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