Remembering my COVID Lockdown Walks in April 2020

Two years ago, in March 2020, we had the first COVID Lockdown in England. Hundreds of people were dying each day. The NHS was overwhelmed. The death rate peaked on 8th April 2020 when 1,076 people died of COVID in a single day. There was no vaccine and no strategy beyond stay at home to stay safe.

We still have more than 100 people a day dying of COVID during March 2022 but we no longer take any precautions against the disease except vaccinate and hope. Like Brexit, it’s something we’re supposed to have put behind us. The memory of the realities of life in 2020 COVID Britain already seems to be fading.

The most positive thing that I remember about the first lockdown was the pleasure I got from the one walk a day that I was allowed to take. The weather was good. The streets were almost deserted. For a solitary person like me, it was a wonderful opportunity to walk through my home town of Bath and see what it looks like when it isn’t choked with traffic.

To keep those memories fresh, I’ve pulled together the posts I made covering six walks I made around Bath from 4th April to 22nd April 2020. They include a walk I took around the parts of Bath Jane Austen would have seen.

4 April 2020
Photos from my Lockdown Walk

By the rules of the lockdown here, I’m allowed to go out once a day to walk locally.

For me, locally means the northern slopes of Bath. Some of the houses here were built in the late 18th century when the very rich used Bath as a place to play away from London – a sort of Georgian Ibiza. They built grand places to stay, usually in the Paladian style and often in crescents or circles. 

So, it makes a slightly odd place to walk, especially in the sunshine, when the stone they made the buildings out of looks warm and soft.

I thought as many of us are locked in, you might find it interesting to see some pictures from my walk yesterday.

This is one of the local crescents. The slopes are quite steep. The land is clay. So, the easiest way to keep the landscape under control is to let the sheep eat the grass.

This is the same crescent after the sun had stopped lurking behind clouds. As you can see, the hills are steep. I hope this gives a sense of the scale of the buildings. They were large and imposing by 18th Century standards. I like that the paving stones show many years of wear. The people in the crescent have their living rooms on the first floor (second floor by US reckoning) The ceilings are 14 -18 feet high and they have a fine view out over the city and the valley it rests in.

This is a standalone house, built on a corner, one street up from my house. I think it’s late Georgian and it’s definitely seen better days, but I like the confidence of the architect in putting this gateway there to frame the house. In the winter, it seems the perfect setting for a gothic novel.

5 April 2020
Lockdown walks – some quirky building and byways

Bath needs to be seen on foot. Much of it is hidden if you go by car. Today I went down the hill to find some of the quirkier buildings and byways.¨

This is the old Corn Market building at the bottom of the hill. This street used to be where farmers came to trade corn and cattle. It had its own abattoir. These days it’s the cente of all the artisan shops selling the fittings you need for renovating Georgian or Victorian buildings or putting in modern kitchens and bathrooms.

You go up the from here like this:

A little further along you find the Hedgemead Park, which was called the Hedgemead Pleasure Grounds when it opened in 1889.

It was laid out after the houses that had recently been built there were swept away in a flood caused by the builder failing to divert the streams properly. No one would buy the land so the Council took it, cleared it and its still there.

From there you go up again:

Along the street, opposite a famous Georgian crescent (built by the same guy who failed to divert the streams) you get a rather cheeky Victorian building which is the only one I’m aware of in Bath that has palm trees in the garden.

7 April 2020
Morning Lockdown Walk

Yesterday slid past me as if I wasn’t there. I couldn’t muster the energy to walk and my short trip by car to the supermarket just made me want to come home and lock the door. I could see myself sliding into an “I don’t know what day it is and I don’t care” state.

I refuse to accept that.

So, this morning, I got up early and went for a walk in the bright morning sunshine.

Here’s what I saw.

Eighty-two years ago this month, the street I was walking along took a stray bomb during the Baedeker Raids.  The space to the right of the house in this picture is where the bomb hit. It was converted into a garden.

When this road was almost at the edge of the city, builders would buy a plot and then put up whatever they thought would sell, so just along from the Georgian townhouse in the picture above you get a much more modest set of Georgian rowhouses. I like the nice cheerful colours.

At the end of the road, I headed down the hill towards the parts of Bath Jane Austen spent time in.  It has some grand architecture but I still have a soft spot for the quirky bits, like this little extension that I saw along the way. It seems to me it was added with impertinence and optimism to the grander buildings.  

One of the big set-pieces of Georgian architecture in Bath is The Circus. It’s a set of townhouses, built in a circle by John Wood between 1754 and 1768 (Yes, I had to look that up). The buildings are impressive but my favourite thing about The Circus is the huge London Plane trees at its centre. They weren’t part of Woods’ design. He’d created an open plaza. They were put in by the residents around 1800 or so and I think they made the whole place more human.

The road you can see across The Circus leads to The Royal Crescent. 

This was, and still is, the poshest address in Bath. If you look closely, you’ll see a line to the right of the trees that crosses in front of the Crescent. This is one of the Hahas that comes up in novels like “Mansfield Park”. It’s a three-foot drop, built into the slope to keep sheep off the lawn.

When I moved to Bath, way back in the 1980s, our first apartment was in the rowhouses you can see behind the Crescent. They were built as a windbreak for the Crescent. When we moved into them they were just being rescued from decades of having been cheap bedsits for students.

So, that was my walk this morning. I feel much better for having taken it. It’s also nice to have a place to share it. It makes me look more closely at the things that I’ve seen so many times that I’m in danger of taking them for granted.

9 April 2020
Lockdown Walk – the parts of Bath Jane Austen would have seen

Someone asked for pictures of The Assembly Rooms, venue for the balls Jane Austen wrote about. It’s about half a mile from my house so I thought I’d walk there today and show you some of the other things that Austen would have seen.

To get there, I have to walk down a steep hill. These are the buildings on the hill. Look at the steps in front of the houses to get an idea of the slope. As you go up the hill, it gets steeper until the pavement / walkway is about four meters above the road.

The road The Assembly Rooms is in leads to The Circus that I showed you on the last walk. The Assembly Rooms takes up most of one side of the street. On the other side, you find posh houses like this.

The plaque on the wall says that this house belonged to Admiral Philip who is billed as ‘The founder of modern Australia‘. 

The Assembly Rooms is little too large to get into one photograph, but here’s where people enter to go to balls or visit the costume museum

The Assembly Rooms is a great venue for dancing, with a sprung floor under a domed atrium held up by pillars like the ones in the entranceway.

Around the corner from The Assembly Rooms, you reach Queen Square. which Austen would have known well. She would have used this as a pleasure garden but the Egyptian style needle wouldn’t have been there as it’s a Victorian addition.

From Queen Square, you head through to Milsom Street, the street they go shopping in in “Sense and Sensibility”. The picture below shows Green Street which leads off Milsom Street and then and now is the place you’d look for a butcher or a bootmaker.

A short walk takes you to Bath Abbey

Next to which is The Pump Rooms and the Roman Baths. The Baths would have been closed in Austen’s time but the Pump Rooms was where the fashionable folks came to ‘take the waters’. 

It was a bit odd walking around these places today in the bright sunshine, the day before the Easter weekend and seeing it almost empty. Normally, there would be buskers singing or performing circus tricks, and queues to get into the Baths and the Pump Rooms and flocks of tourists following guides with folded umbrellas held high and tables in front of the various eateries selling pasties and burgers and icecreams and fudge. 

I made my way around the side of the Abbey…

…to one of my favourite places, Abbey Churchyard

The plane tree in the centre is so old that Mary Shelley would have seen it’s younger self when she staying in the building on the left and completing the final draft of “Frankenstein”

I went to the left to one of the oldest streets in Bath, where it’s claimed Sally Lunn’s bunshave been on sale in the same building since the 1680s

Then I turned left and went to Pultney Bridge, built in the 1770s as Bath’s answer to the Ponte Vecchio in Venice.

So, those are some of the sights Jane Austen would have taken in during her visits to Bath.

11 April 2020
A Lockdown evening stroll up the hill

We took a shorter walk this evening, up into the hills to the north of Bath.

This is St. Stephen’s an Anglican Church, built in 1840 and visible from almost any part of the centre of the city because it sits at the top of a hill above the town.

I like its slightly unkempt, overwhelmed-by-nature look. It seems appropriate. Like all churches, its closed at the moment.

Along the road, you find rows of modest-but-still-middle-class-when-they-were-built houses. These are Georgian and are now very much back in fashion.

Then you raach a more open space where the houses, apart from the villa on the right, really were for workers. Estate agents call them ‘artisan dwelling places’ but artisans can’t afford them any more.

I love the trees and the open space.

So that was today’s short walk.

22 April 2020
Yet another Lockdown Walk

It gets a little harder to take pleasure in my walks when I walk in the same places every day, so I’m trying to take in the changes and appreciate the sunlight and come up with new variants on my route. It also helps to take photographs as they make me focus (although some of the best things are impossible to photograph – the view across the valley just flattens out and the clear blue sky gets diminished).

So here’s what I saw on my route yesterday.

Firstly, the wisteria are now in bloom. The one on my house had to be cut back a few years ago and is only now starting to come back into itself but this one is old and splendid.

Then I went down a side street on a steep hill and found a little house that I think is charming. I especially like the arched window.

The real selling point of this house for me would be that it looks out over one of Bath’s parks that is filled with old trees.  Here’s the view from the street.

The park is a little hard for me to photograph well. On a bright sunny day, it’s like a lake of cool shadows and filtered green light. Here are a few pictures to try and capture the sense of the place.

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