Wednesday, 23 July 2014

The Bath Bus Tour: City Sightseeing automaton guides

The City Sightseeing bus tour of Bath runs along two routes: the first circles around the city-centre and the second climbs up the hills so that you can get a view over the city. This is exactly the same as the Stuttgart bus tour which I have written about previously. Having two routes instead of a single longer ride means they each of the routes has a clearer basic theme and neither of them takes too long: they last about 45 minutes each.    

There was live commentary in English but no possibility of listening to it using any of the other languages indicated. I don't know if these were not playing because there was a live guide but it did mean that some of the people on the bus looked confused and then ignored the commentary, taking the bus simply as an open top bus ride, which can be a pleasant thing in itself. Unlike Stuttgart, whose tourist attractions are scattered over a large area, Bath's attractions are clustered in the city centre with relatively few points of interest that far out. The stop button was used on just one occasion. There is indeed less point in having a tourist bus in Bath as the city is highly suitable for walking tours. The bus therefore does not so much act as a transport service getting tourists to and from the attractions, it functions as a guide imparting knowledge to those who don't like walking.

Like in Stuttgart, art had a low position in the commentary. The art gallery was described not by what it currently does but by the fact it is free and what the building used to be. I get the impression that unless this sort of bus tour takes place in a dedicated 'city of culture', it is assumed that tourists don't have a great deal of interest in art. Added to that is the not insignificant fact that the bus moves much more quickly than a walking tour which means descriptions tend to be brief and to the point. There is simply no time for art.

Because it was mid-summer and the trees were full of leaves, it was hard to see through them and admire any of the stunning views that the guide was talking about.

As has been the case with all of the other Bath tours I've taken, the guides were somewhat older in age as indeed were most of the passengers, except for a Thai family who were taking a lot of photos. 

The suburban hill bus came to a rest and I changed onto the city-centre bus. It pulled away, the guide began to intone and settled into a rhythm. His commentary mixed significant and interesting details about the city with some pretty tedious information that seemed of little relevance. Granted, what is considered interesting and what is not, is highly subjective and I'd expect there to be some things of greater and some of lesser interest to me. That understood, I felt that there were points where the commentary continued not because there was anything interesting left to say but merely to cover the silence. For example we'd go from a story about Queen Victoria feeling snubbed by Bath to the opening of a new Primark. This has in fact rather inspired me with my imagination taking this to its natural conclusion: the deadpan delivery of a radically flattened order of knowledge in which everything is of precisely equal value. If nothing else, there is some good comedy potential here.

The historical background was more than a little messy. I learnt that under Henry VIII, England moved away from the Catholics and back to the Church of England, even though I rather remember it was he who founded that church in the first place. Meanwhile, a seagull did its business. We got a lot into celebrities, like Dickens who is connected to this pub, and celebrity chefs, who I very much doubt are connected to it. It seems pretty easy to get into historical figures here as not only did many live here but a great many more visited. When you enlarge the pool to include famous people paid a visit to Bath you practically all people of significance from the 18th century as this was the society holiday and gambling spot.

The weather was great, maybe even a bit too hot so I was sheltering under the covered area at the front of the top deck, as was the guide. This basic arrangement of the seats and space is awkward as it leaves the guide facing in the same direction as the passengers. As a result of this it was difficult for him to make any real connection with the public so, on my tour, he simply talked off into space. That must be a difficult thing to do for hours and hours on end and I could tell he was struggling to stay focussed. Finally he seemed to drift into autopilot, repeating the same information time and again to nobody in particular.

Some final things I spotted today: Fun For Less Tours. If I see them again I'll have to follow them and see whether they take people into the Weatherspoons for a drink, and then visit the Pondland and Primark for shopping.

And second, I noticed this pub map of Bath that proposes several routes for a pub crawl. Actually, the routes are not precisely that as they mostly contain too many pubs to make a drink in each feasible. Such a map which did offer distinct pub crawl routes with options for additional elements might be a nice but complicated work. A definite labour of love. This  map makes me think of the London Underground map and of the Bath's relationship with the capital. I sense a degree of complicity with London as opposed to the hostility that is often manifest in my home city of Portsmouth. I learnt, for example, that the 2004 film Vanity Fair was filmed in Bath, not London where the novel is set. In the city centre there is a shop called London Camera Exchange. Such a shop would rapidly go out of business in Portsmouth if it didn't change its name.

Bringing these thoughts together, I am also reminded of a Victoria Line pub crawl I heard about. The Victoria Line is the only proper line (i.e. not Waterloo and City line) on which it is possible to hold a terminus to terminus pub crawl. the idea is you start at Walthamstow Central, have a drink in a nearby pub, duck down into the tube, take it one stop, emerge for a drink and then repeat this process till you make your sozzled way to Brixton. That's another tour for another day, and most probably, another person.


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