Happy to spend a groundhog day in beautiful Bath

PUBLISHED: 13:06 17 July 2008 | UPDATED: 15:14 07 September 2010

Pigs might fly - but this one and 99 others are firmly tethered to the ground in Bath

Pigs might fly - but this one and 99 others are firmly tethered to the ground in Bath

I went to Bath for its stunning new thermal spas, but the pigs stole the show. One hundred of them, to be precise, brightly painted life-size sculptures strategically placed around this splendid city s landmarks and wide open spaces. The first pig I notic

I went to Bath for its stunning new thermal spas, but the pigs stole the show. One hundred of them, to be precise, brightly painted life-size sculptures strategically placed around this splendid city's landmarks and wide open spaces.

The first pig I noticed was at the corner of Laura Place, the next was close to Sarah Lunn's cafe, famous for the buns of the same name and reputedly the oldest house in town. Another was at the old post office, now a museum (of course) and there was one outside the elegant facade of the Assembly Rooms, where Jane Austen might have danced. Clearly, something particularly porcine was going on.

In all I counted 20 within a couple of hours of arriving, and another 20 over the course of a weekend.

Each animal, made from reinforced fibreglass and turned into works of art by local painters, has been sponsored and all will be sold for charity later in the year.

Until then they are proving an unlikely tourist attraction. Internet picture galleries have been posted by visitors who must have spent their entire vacations searching out the entire collection.

Why pigs, you may ask. The connection goes back nearly 3,000 years. Legend has it that some 850 years before Christ, a local by the name of Bladud caught a nasty skin disease from the swine he tended. Shunned by the locals, he went a-wandering with his unhealthy herd and noticed that the condition of the pigs improved immensely after they had rolled around in hot mud near natural springs.

Dermatologists not yet having been invented, Bladud decided he had nothing to lose by following their lead, thus discovering that the combination of mud and hot sulphur waters could cure humans as well.

Once the locals had established that he wasn't telling porkies, they helped him to establish the settlement that would become Bath, around the site of the hot springs.

The story may not be as far-fetched as it sounds. Geoffrey of Monmouth in his 12th century History of the Kings of Briton, documents that one named Bladud proceeded to become the ninth King of the Britons and the supposed father of King Lear.

Thus while there are plenty of ancient cities which in turbulent times were founded by swines, Bath is quite possibly the only one to have been founded by a swineherd.

Life among the verdant undulations of the Mendip hills carried on in a fairly uneventful way for the next 900 years or so until the Romans pitched in and immediately spotted the commercial potential.

In what might have been described as a Pilate project had Pontius still been around, hot spring reservoirs, sophisticated spas and the obligatory temples were quickly constructed.

Soon Bath was being marketed as a sanctuary of rest, relaxation and healing, with the odd orgy thrown in for good measure - and if you over-indulged in any way, atonement could be sought through offerings to the goddess Sulis Minerva.

Despite all this fascinating Roman history, I could have happily spent the weekend tracking down Bladud's pigs, but there's a lot to do in Bath and awaiting me was the special treat of an afternoon in the thermal baths.

On my last visit they were on the verge of opening and now, thanks to some £8million of lottery money, about £10million from the Bath and NE Somerset Council and a few million more by way of private enterprise, they are now recapturing the steamy opulence of that lost Roman era.

And they are truly splendid, if a shade on the expensive side for visitors (locals get concessionary rates, rightly so, to encourage regular attendance - and if you can prove that you're even distantly related to Bladud, they'd probably let you in for free).

A friend who made the same trip along the M4 reports that the twilight package in the open-air rooftop pool, with views over this stunning Roman city, is a bargain at just £35, and with a superb cafe and restaurant offering delicious meals, you could easily spend one of the most relaxing days of your life here before returning to London more cleansed and rejuvenated than you ever believed possible.

Bath, with its fascinating history and its splendid crescents and elegant avenues, is a joy at any time and the Thermae Bath Spa is another great reason to go there - but be warned. If it's the pigs you're after, they go to market - or auction to be more precise - in October, and this ancient city may never see their likes again.

CHARMING KENNARD

Bath has many fine hotels but its boutique-style guest houses are proving increasingly popular. One of the best is The Kennard, a centrally-located Georgian town house run by the charming Giovanni and Mary Baiano. Breakfasts are memorable, and expect to pay from £100 for a well-appointed room with every comfort you would expect from a well-run superior establishment. Email reception@kennard.co.uk or cal 01225 310 472.

SPA SESSIONS

A two-hour spa session sets you back £31 (which includes hire of towel, robe and slippers, so bring your own and save £9) and thermal treatments range from a session in the Alpine Hay Chamber (£15 for 20 minutes, if you last that long) to £85 for body wraps and £90 for the top-of-the-range hot stone therapy.

The ultimate Thermae package costs £195. Call 0844 888 0844 for reservations and enquiries.

For more information about the city's many attractions, go to Bath Tourism's website, www.visitbath.co.uk.

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