Always on the lookout for new types of tour, and sometimes finding them, here is another first for The Tour of All Tours: a horse drawn carriage tour. The hook to this one is that it helps you imagine Georgian Bath from the point of view of a noble, since this was a place where persons of quality were transported in precisely this way. Seeing as quite a number of the city's attractions and tours are about helping you imagine you are in the city's 18th Century hey day, how does this one fair?
This picture is about as dumb as the picture of me sitting behind the wheel of a Porsche in Stuttgart. I love these readymade tourist shots taken by other tourists! With just me inside, the carriage set off at a genteel pace, only a little quicker than a fast walk. It picked up every tiny imperfection and pot hole in the road so, creeping slowly along at this modest speed felt like the wisest thing to do. In any case, I was not going anywhere in particular, this was a promenade: it was as much about being seen as it was about seeing the city.
One of the first things that struck me when I was being led around was the smell of the horses. I found this incredibly evocative, most probably because I am so rarely in contact with these animals. To be pulled by another living creature, or creatures, is an entirely different feeling to driving a car or being driven. The horses have their moods and rhythms quite different to ours.
Of all the tours I have taken, I would compare this one most to the River Avon Cruise. Not only is it is also based in Bath, indeed their paths cross at Pulteney Bridge, but it is also a tour where the main attraction is the mode of transport. Where they differ is the cruise offered some commentary on the return leg whereas this carriage tour had no commentary at all. You could call it a one trick pony... but it was a good trick. A guide would have interfered in the experience.
Although the carriage is a sophisticated form of transport, and they do their best to keep you in the historical tourist bubble, you are still in a real city: we passed the fish and chip shop. This makes me immediately imagine inappropriate vehicle tours: a tour of Glasgow's council housing estates in a Rolls Royce, a tour of a monastery's grounds in a beer laden pedibus or a tour of flower gardens in a tank.
The rain started really lashing it down and it was at this moment I felt glad to be the only passenger. Sitting by the sides it would have been easy to get soaked in a shower like this, and that would be most unfitting...
The carriage gets a great deal of attention; even more than an expensive car it turns heads. Lounging in the back all by myself it was easy to start feeling like a VIP. I was surprised at just how effectively this works: cars or boats don't do this nearly as well, but a horse drawn carriage plays to the inner aristocrat that lurks inside of us supremely well. Yes, it helped a great deal to be the only passenger due to the awful weather; I should imagine the benefit that the carriage confers could be divided by the number of passengers.
There comes the crashing realisation after a short while, however, that the people in the street are not turning to look at you, they are looking at the carriage. And not only do they look, some of the dedicated tourists take pictures too. If I am destined to appear in the holiday snaps and videos of those taking The Chinese Bus Tour, then that is only justice, I suppose, seeing as I have featured some of them on this blog previously.
The duration was just about perfect: it was a thirty five minute circular tour. Any longer and it would have become ever so slightly ordinary. Whilst I can't see myself investing in a horse drawn carriage of my own any time soon, or more to the point, ever, this is the next best thing. I can imagine taking a carriage tour in another city on the strength of this tour of Bath, though I suppose it is not everywhere that such a ride exists. I suppose, following this line of tours, next I'll have to take a camel ride in the desert and a husky sled through the snow. Those are both attractive for their novelty value but I think I'd still take the horse carriage, it's just that bit more sophisticated.