Everything you need to know about Thermae Bath Spa
Arguably the UK's original health spa, in the city that grew up on healing waters and wellness
Thermae Bath Spa is well known as one of the most unique and original spa experiences in the UK. From its history to its modern refurbishment, its location to its rooftop pool, here’s what you need to know when visiting this spa institution.
The natural thermal waters
There are fantastic, beautiful spas across the UK. However, what makes Thermae Bath Spa different is that it’s the only day spa that that’s actually fed by natural thermal waters. It’s that magic passed on by Mother Nature that’s really special.
The water that fell as rain 5,000 to 10,000 years ago, percolated 3km into the earth to an underground reservoir and through its own artesian pressure has come up in three springs. One feeds Thermae Bath Spa, channelled into the four baths within thermae - naturally warm and mineral rich.
The city grew up around the ‘spa’
Without those waters, Bath would simply not be called Bath. There are only a handful of places in Europe where the name of the of the town is taken from the waters themselves. The town of Spa in Belgium and Baden Baden in Germany are the others.
The location of the spa sets it apart
Thermae Bath Spa is right in the middle of Bath. So many spas are in beautiful rural locations or overlooking the sea, which is magic, but to have a spa in the centre of Bath and a World Heritage site, makes it unique. That location really comes into its own when you’re bathing in the rooftop pool in the day or in the evening when the lights are on. Every time you see that city skyline and the surrounding hills beyond, it makes you realise how special it is.
The spa is open from 9am until 9.30pm (9pm last entry), and the rooftop pool is magical whether it’s summer or winter. In the winter the steam bubbles up from the waters, and in the summer you can see fantastic sunsets. It can be extremely romantic, especially first thing in the morning or just before the spa closes, so it’s little surprise they’ve seen a fair few proposals over the years!
The history of wellbeing at Thermae Bath Spa
Throughout history there have been myths about the waters curing all sorts of things. King James I and his wife credited it with bringing them children. Having tried for years, after their visit they had a baby boy.
The person who first discovered the waters was a prince who had contracted leprosy. He found this big muddy pool of water and in it both he and his pigs were cured, so he built a temple around the source of the waters. Even today the cross spring is on the official register of sacred sites along with places like Stonehenge. There is even evidence that the Celts worshiped there before the Romans, with many offerings discovered, having been thrown into the springs.
It is important to note that Thermae Bath Spa is not a medical spa, and while many people across the centuries have attested to the healing powers of the waters, they can’t and don’t claim any medical benefits beyond the soothing properties of hydrotherapy.
That said, many people suffering from arthritis and rheumatism have bathed in the waters and have found them helpful. On the other hand, if you come in on a Monday morning, there are people recovering from weekend exploits with great success, and the Bath Rugby team often visit for the benefit to their joints.
Funded by the National Lottery
The original spa facilities closed in 1978, predominantly for financial reasons. At the time, the spa facilities were run by the NHS and it was necessary to divert funds into the general hospital.
Throughout the 1980s-90s a number of companies considered reopening the spa, but whenever they found out how much it would cost to restore the buildings, the realised it wasn’t viable as a business proposition. It wasn’t until the National Lottery came along that the council put together a small team and proposal to revive spa culture. When the Lottery read the proposal they granted £8m to restore buildings and redevelop it into what we can enjoy today.
The lottery funding came through in the year 2000 and after a number of years of planning, no easy feat at a World Heritage Site, the doors opened once again in 2006.
Modern design with heritage
A huge amount of archaeology took place before building could begin, but by getting permission to build, the spa was able to develop its iconic rooftop pool as well as a number of new facilities linked to the historic buildings by glass bridges. The result is a beautiful combination of old and new.
There are also lots of carefully considered links to Bath’s history. For example, two of the most famous periods in the city’s history are the Roman and Georgian eras. So one steam room reflects the architecture of the Roman period, while the Georgian steam room has windows looking into a traditional Georgian garden.
Meanwhile, the relaxation room honours one of the area’s most famous astronomers, William Herschel, who discovered Uranus from his garden. So the relaxation room is done like a picture of the galaxy with stars and planets.
How to experience the spa facilities
There are number of options when it comes to approaching the spa experience. The most popular is to visit for a two hour spa session known as a Thermae Welcome. That includes access to the open air rooftop pool, the wellness suite (steam rooms, infrared sauna, ice room), and the Minerva Bath.
If you then want something to eat or drink, or have a treatment then the time is then added on. You’re not expected to fit treatments into that two-hour period, the Thermae Welcome is just a very easy way to get a taste of the experience or to combine a spa day with exploration of the city as a whole.
For those wanting to extend the experience in the spa, the world is your oyster. The spa has over 20 treatment rooms and over 40 therapists. They use products from Aromatherapy Associates, known as one of the leading brands in the UK.
One of the benefits of the spa sessions at Thermae Bath Spa is that people don’t have to book in advance, although you do need to book treatments. However, it can get busy and the queue can be quite long if you just turn up. One of the key benefits for anyone booking a spa session through Spabreaks.com, is that you can go into the pre-booked queue which is normally reserved for people who are having spa treatments as well, so entry time is significantly quicker.
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