Bath Spas – Thermae Bath Spa and The Gainsborough Bath Spa
We had heard that The Gainsborough Bath Spa had just opened in the City of Bath (Bath). This City has now two Natural Spas with the other being Thermae Bath Spa. So we decided to try them both. Bath is unique – it is the only Spa town on the UK with water coming from geothermal springs (naturally heated mineral spring water).
The word Spa today is used in the many different ways away from the origin – the Latin phrase ‘Salus Per Aquam’ (SPA) or ‘health through water’.
Bath is true to the word “Spa”. It gained its reputation with the story of King Bladad. About 500 BC, Bladad spent much time in his youth studying in Athens where he contracted Leprosy. He realised that, as an imperfect prince, he was unable to take the throne so he worked as a swine herd further up the river from Bath. The pigs became infected and taking the advice of a local farmer, he took his pigs to the hot mud. He noticed that, the infection disappeared. It is said that he took to the mud and his skin cleared up. He returned to his tribe and became King. He then started a settlement at Bath.
The Romans had a settlement (Aquae Sulis) from 60 to 400 AD. With their fondness for baths, they built a pool to utilise the heated mineral waters. This actual pool is in the museum buildings called the Roman Baths.
In the latter half of the 18th and early 19th Centuries, Bath gained a reputation, from the Bladad legend and the Royal Endorsement for the healing properties of the mineral water. The city grew with the popularity of the healing properties of the water. They built the Pump Room, Cross Bath and the redevelopment of the Roman Baths specifically to utilise the heated mineral waters. The official confirmation of the health giving properties or efficacy of the mineral water was the building of the “The Royal Mineral Water Hospital”.
These facilities were part and parcel of Bath until the 1978 when a swimmer died after bathing in the pool of the Roman Baths. The death was from meningitis and the water was declared unsafe because of high levels bacteria. As a consequence, bathing in the Roman Baths was not allowed thus depriving the people of Bath of a facility.
As part of the Millennium celebrations, lottery funding was provided for a new Spa centre for the City – this being the Thermae Bath Spa (Thermae Spa). The appearance of this building is outstandingly unique in Bath. The design is contemporary with part of the building clad in glass. Bath is a UNESCO heritage city where all the buildings in the city are built with Bath Stone, the requisite material with a yellowish colour. Thermae Spa was finally opened in 2006 after finding a source for the mineral water that was fit and safe for the general public.
From the above information and my empirical observations, there are healing properties of this mineral water. The Royal Mineral Water Hospital has been using hydropathy (use of water for the relief of pain) until 1978. This method has been superseded with more modern methods of treatment.
This travel article describes our visit to both Natural Spas in Bath – Thermae Bath Spa and Gainsborough Bath Spa.
Thermae Bath Spa
Thermae Bath Spa – This is the modern day equivalent of the Roman Baths – the public come in to use the facilities. In the building are two pools, an indoor and a rooftop outdoor pool, treatment rooms and aroma steam rooms. Adjacent is the Cross Bath which has a small pool comfortable for about 12 people.
In the locker room, I was given a smart band and a locker to store my clothes. The smart band not only locks the locker door but also, informs me when I return, where my locker is and opens it as well. I was really impressed with this gadget. It is quite something.
I booked for one of Thermae Bath Spa’s Signature Treatments – Inner Strength. The Therapist, Lauren invited me from the Reception to the Therapy room and I had 85 minutes of bliss. I could have slept part way of the treatment but only Lauren would know.
After the treatment, I was invited to use both pools – The Minerva Bath and the Open-air Rooftop Pool which are filled with mineral water cooled down to the comfortable 34 Celsius.
The Minerva Bath is a large indoor pool with many other facilities like whirlpool, air bubblers etc. I found it quite crowded with small groups of people at various points on the pool.
I then moved to the open-air rooftop pool. It was much more civilised there. There was plenty of space. Being me, I went to speak to the various people there. There appears to wide variety of visitors. I met 3 types –
- Skin Condition – He comes here regularly about once a month from the North. He has psoriases and the hospital treatment can only do so much. He has to immerse himself in the spa water regularly or else the skin condition will flare up.
- UK visitor – A couple who comes from the Home Counties (the counties around London) who had visited the Roman Bath previously in the 1970s. They were curious about the new facilities. They were really impressed and were thorough enjoying the new experience. They are retired and now visit many countries.
- Tourists – A group from the USA who was travelling in the UK and was spending a couple of days in the Bath. They had read and heard so much about the Thermae Spa and wanted to experience it. What they actually wanted was to feel and be part of history, the same experience as the Romans about two thousand years ago.
I really love the water temperature of 34 Celsius. It is warm enough for me to be comfortable and enjoy the experience. I could detect a very faint smell of chlorine. I checked with the pool attendant who said that a very small amount of chlorine is added to prevent the growth of any bacteria and also, the “fresh new spa water” was continually being added to the pools. He did not know of any problems with this arrangement.
I was in seventh heaven – in a roof top pool overlooking the City and the water was warm. I did not have to do anything to be comfortable. I was just enjoying the experience and “people watching”.
I found the Thermae Bath Spa busy in all its facilities. There were more than 260,000 visitors in 2014. Obviously, this facility is being made available to as many people who want to use the mineral waters of Bath Spa. We had made several attempts to book a session at the last minute but none were available. For this trip to Bath, we booked about a week in advance. Obviously, an early booking is advisable.
The Gainsborough Bath Spa
The Gainsborough Bath Spa is owned by a Malaysian conglomerate YTL. The Spa uses the mineral water from a source similar to the Thermae Bath Spa. Being a member of “Leading Hotels of the World”, the type of clientele expects exclusivity and privacy.
The Building was previously an Art College and hence the name Gainsborough. The prominent artist, Sir Thomas Gainsborough lived in No 17 The Circle in Bath. In the excavation of the foundations for the Spa, 17,577 Roman coins in 8 separate money bags (known as the Beau Street Hoard) were found. Some of these coins are exhibited in the Hotel Lobby.
This Spa is so different. There was only a hint of the presence of another couple – they had left their bathrobes on the lounger and they could be somewhere in the Spa complex or not. I could not see or hear them. Helen and I had the main pool to ourselves for quite some time before she was called for her Ginger Renewal Massage.
I stayed in the pool enjoying the experience of the warm water, the stillness and the clear skies above. The pool is covered from the external elements by a glass roof. I tried the other pools which had different water temperatures but discovered where I was most comfortable. It was in seventh heaven.
I noticed that there were various rooms with different facilities and wondered around. I settled in one of the relaxation rooms to rest from the bliss. In front of me was a chocolate fountain with liquid milk chocolate on tap. What more could you ask. Straight away, I had a small sample cup full and another. I went back to the lounger and thought – can it be any better?
There was no sign of anybody. It was just quiet and very relaxing. Occasionally, I was asked if I wanted anything. I declined. I was just so relaxed.
So what is the difference?
Both facilities provide the water from the same source but the markets they serve are different.
Thermae Bath Spa is a service provided for the public by the custodians of the spring water – Bath and North East Somerset Council. The standard of the facilities and service is high but, there are always people. It is not crowded but manageable.
The Gainsborough Bath Spa is a private Spa. It is for hotel guests and therefore more exclusive. As a result, it is much quieter and I could relax. The quality and variety of facilities are of a different standard.
Obviously, the differentiator is the number of people and the standard of facilities.
This travel article has described our experiences in both Natural Spas –Thermae Bath Spa and The Gainsborough Bath Spa.
The City of Bath is the only place in the UK to have naturally heated spring water (water from a geothermal spring). There are only two facilities that have facilities to bath in this water – Thermae Bath Spa and The Gainsborough Bath Spa.
I really enjoyed my time in both Spas. It was the water from the same source but different environment. I have to say, it was a great privilege for us to spend time in these two different places and come out so relaxed.
About Dr Michael Oon:
Michael was brought up in Singapore and came to the UK for schooling. He was a forensic scientist at the Metropolitan Police Forensic Science Laboratory (New Scotland Yard, London) for 20 years. He is now a consultant practicing traditional feng shui and works with property developers. He specialises in helping to sell property faster. He has travelled extensively around the world as part of his work and together with his wife Helen.
Another Post relating to Bath Spa – An overview
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