This is not the brick Georgian architecture that marks the residential squares of London and Dublin but rather the stone Georgian architecture one finds in larger public buildings, here applied to buildings of every kind, block after block. The stone is yellow gray and universal, and it gives the city a happy consistency, which makes the place a delight even though the buildings seem not to be trying for effect. The scale is also humane. Inviting, sometimes eccentric alleyways lead off the grander streets. Because the city is compact, walking gets one anywhere.
Bath is prosperous. It has for three centuries been the West Country outpost of choice, the urbs in rure, for wealthy Londoners; some of the flavor of Bath prior to the Victorian era can be found in Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey and other novels. The city has a full complement of international stores—The Gap, Laura Ashley, Mondi—but they by no means dominate the many handsome shops of local pedigree. We were thankful for the presence of a Waterstone's bookstore. Bookstores are always a good place to stop when visiting an unfamiliar place; in addition to the obvious resources they offer, they tend to be information clearinghouses for the community as a whole. The Waterstone's in Bath stocks a complete set of the Landranger series of ordnance-survey maps of Great Britain, which show terrain at a scale of 1:50,000—meaning that a mile on these maps is about an inch and a quarter long. The maps indicate every feature that anyone, even Prince Valiant, could care to know about: tumuli, Roman roads, battle sites, and all the public footpaths (not to mention the more usual things, such as highways, railroads, and towns). A valuable adjunct to the ordnance-survey maps is the book The Medieval Landscape of Somerset, edited by Michael Aston, which explains the forms of ancient land management accounting for various aspects of the county's current appearance. Somerset is laced, for example, with hedgerows, many of which go back to the Middle Ages; one aerial photograph in Aston's book prompted an expedition to find a long stretch of exceedingly narrow fields between Cheddar and Draycott which were laid out by the Saxons.
The high quality of the food we ate came as something of a surprise. The idea that one can base a successful cuisine on unusual combinations of fresh local produce and game may not have reached all of England, but it has reached Bath. The restaurant at the Queensberry Hotel, where we stayed, was persuasive evidence of this, as were a number of other restaurants. (The menus in the windows, carefully describing the sometimes counterintuitive contents of each dish, give such restaurants away immediately.) The Queensberry Hotel, located in what was once the home of the Marquis of Queensberry, offers everything I want from a hotel: it is quiet without being stodgy, elegant but not overdone, and it provides service that is efficient but not overbearing. It also has the advantage of being small—only twenty-two rooms. (The price of a double room ranges from $135 to $225. For more information, write to the Queensberry Hotel, Russel Street, Bath, BA1 2QF, United Kingdom; telephone 011-44-225-447928; or fax 011-44-225-446065.) Designed by John Wood, the Queensberry is of a piece with the city itself. On the mantel of our fireplace the staff had left copies of Northanger Abbey and a useful old book called The Building of Bath. Our room, No. 10, looked out upon the irregular back upper stories of one of Bath's great adomments, a series of contiguous Georgian dwellings known as the Circus, which encloses a circular park.
When he was a lad, Prince Valiant was told by the witch Horrit that he would never know contentment, a prophecy that has been borne out by his subsequent life. I'd write him into Room 10, but I'm afraid he's busy with that fort.