I like to write my travel journal by hand in a paper notebook with a fountain pen. Quite simply it is a more sensory and thoughtful process. A problem has been creeping up on me. My handwriting has grown worse over time and now, even I cannot read what I have written.
And so it was that Adrienne and I set off for a few days in Bath so that I could learn to write. I spent two and a half hours on a Saturday morning learning calligraphy from a master of the art, Athena Cauley-Yu, in her blissful stationery shop and print works on Walcot Street — “Meticulous Ink”. With just a few minutes explanation she got six of us writing our ABC. We worked through the alphabet from A to Z. This was learning by doing, the best sort of learning. It was hard at my age to learn new motor skills. During Lockdown, I had tried Arab calligraphy by way of a British Library online workshop. Now that is hard and I was really bad at it.
Under Athena’s expert instruction, I could see improvement. I can just remember some impressions from first learning to write as a child and these came flooding back.
The process was slow, deliberate and meditative. A well-formed letter was a reward and the iron gall black ink provided oxidised on the paper to a rich charcoal.
I found some letters particularly difficult. If I am to write in Copperplate, I shall have to avoid words with the letters M and K, which still defeat me. When we got to the letter O, I announced that my o’s looked more like a row of penguins. The class agreed with me, which was less than kind.
Athena is a self-confessed stationery geek; so am I. Her shop is a temptation and I stocked up.
Walcot Street and London Road are promoted as Bath’s Artisan and Artists quarter. This is a bit of an over-statement. For knitters there is “The Yarn Story” an excellent shop for knitters but I fear other artisan business may not have survived Covid and lockdown. I did, however enjoy a very good espresso at Taylor’s Bagels and Coffee close to Meticulous Ink.
We were in Bath for a few days and we have visited before so I have nothing to say about the must-see attractions for the first time visitor. I did revisit Bath Abbey to pay my respects to King Edgar whose coronation as the first King of England in 973 is commemorated in stained glass. Parts of the rite were still in use in 1953 at the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. The Abbey floor is made up of gravestones laid flat. I learnt that they are called ledgerstones. I do like learning a new word.
The Museum of East Asian Art was new to us and well worth going to see. The exquisite collection, mostly of ceramics and porcelain, is based on the private collection of Brian McElney who combined a career as a lawyer in Hong Kong with scouring the markets and antique shops of Hong King to find treasure. Oriental porcelain has been appreciated in Europe since the Middle Ages when the Silk Road trade brought it west. Glass from Venice travelled east in exchange but did not catch on in the countries of the masters of ceramics.
Bath has two rather wonderful bookshops, to which I made a pilgrimage. Topping & Co has moved since I was last in Bath. It is now splendidly housed in the former Friends Meeting House in York Street, close to the Abbey. I went up the grand steps, through a vast portico into a space with bookshelves from floor to ceiling. And the ceilings were high. Ladders on bookshelves are always a good sign. The staff were friendly and efficient in this temple to books.
Mr B’s Emporium in John Street is different. It is rabbit warren of spaces for booklovers. Its spaces have names. The Imaginarium is for writers; the Bibliotherapy room is for travellers. The space for children “The Wood between the Words” is enchanting. Do not miss Mr B’s.
Finally a handful of recommendations from our visit. We stayed at the Apex City Centre Bath. It was fine but they required us to book a time for breakfast in advance, which I found irritating. We breakfasted very well indeed at The Boston Tea Party on Kingsmead Square.
We dined very well at Martini Restaurant in George Street. It is a traditional Italian Restaurant run by Italians and it had a family-run feel to it.
On our second evening, we pushed the boat out and dined magnificently at Portofino Oyster Bar and Fish restaurant on the High Street.
It felt good to be travelling together again.