Spas in the UK

Part of the Spa FAQs guide

The history of spas in the UK

One of the wonderful things about the world of spa is its global history, with different treatments, facilities and elements rooted in different parts of the world. Today, they all come together for us to enjoy in these dedicated hubs of wellbeing, and in the UK we are privileged to have a wide variety of experiences available to us.

Many of us think of spas in connection with Turkish baths, Roman baths and Moroccan mud rasuls, all of which are wonderful parts of the spa experience. However, the UK itself has its own wellbeing story woven into that collective history. Perhaps one of the most famous, and ancient, is the story behind Thermae Bath Spa. Naturally, some of its past has morphed into myth and legend, and its a history on which the whole city is built. Fed by natural thermal waters, it’s that magic passed on by Mother Nature that’s really special here.

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 the Thermae Bath Spa as know today, channelled into the four baths within thermae – naturally warm and mineral rich. 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, for example, and Baden Baden in Germany are others.

Throughout history there have been myths about the waters in Bath 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.

While the Romans are largely credited with formalising bathing rituals in the UK, it seems that multiple generations have put their own mark on the industry and the ideas, with no small shortage of celebrity followers either. Elizabeth I, Florence Nightingale, Oscar Wilde, Charles Dickens and Jane Austen are all said to have been spa fans in their various ways.

Elizabeth I took the waters at the Roman spa town of Buxton, now home to the University of Buxton where many a spa therapists train. Meanwhile, under the Stuarts, the spa world boomed, with more than 48 spas founded in England between 1660 and 1815. The Victorians happily took up the mantle from there, coming up with all sorts of weird and wonderful health promoting ideas, and with Queen Victoria having a particular love for the spa town of Malvern and its curative waters.

The result is a world of wellbeing that continues to evolve today, incorporating the best of the past, present and future as each destination looks to incorporate new ideas and experiences that support the health and happiness of modern day spa goers.

Top rated spa hotels and destination spas

Despite that history, the spa world has grown exponentially in the UK since the start of the noughties. Where there were only a reported 50 dedicated spas in the UK in 2006, by 2017 there were more than 900 wellbeing retreats and counting. That’s not including the hotel spas and leisure destinations that also bring a variety of experiences to the UK market.

Amongst them, there’s an abundance of opportunities to choose from for every occasion, from ultimate luxury to mid week escapes, destinations for celebrations with friends and the height of health and wellbeing escapes. Amongst the top rated spa hotels and destination spas, names like Champneys are recognised the world over for their collection of health retreats. Meanwhile, newer entries to the market include the likes of Homefield Grange, luxury spa hotel Rudding Park, the reigning monarch of five star hotels - Pennyhill Park Hotel and Spa, Swinton Park, The Spa at Carden and many, many more. They all have their own unique attributes and take spa experiences to new heights with their ideas, innovation and attention to detail.

Location is also very much part of what makes UK spas so unique. The choice of country, city or coastal retreat is woven into the fabric of any spa experience. Head to Careys Manor Hotel & SenSpa in the New Forest for example, and you are enveloped into the National Park. Venture to the coast, and the likes of the Salcombe Harbour Hotel will treat you to pampering with a sea view. The Historic Sussex Hotels collection including Ockenden Manor, bring you historic buildings and contemporary spa facilities amidst chocolate box villages, and in the heart of the UK’s buzzing cities you can retreat in decadent style at the likes of the Dorchester Spa, ESPA Life at the Corinthia and K West Hotel and Spa.

In the UK today, the variety of spa destinations available is a rich tapestry of experiences, fusing history and innovation as well as the care and dedication of people who are passionate about what the do and the difference it makes to the health, wellbeing and mental health of the individuals who visit.

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