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BATTERED IN BATH

The impatience to travel again has inspired destinations and their marketing groups to ramp up their social media postings. There are daily images of places and activities I love and can’t visit. It’s almost cruel.

Like a post by Canada’s VisitBritain rep, Cathy Stapells. Cathy is not just a Facebook friend, we’re real-world friends having cruised with Holland America from Boston to Montreal, participated in a golf-spa-and-whisky tour of Scotland, as well as a Daphne Du Maurier themed trip to Cornwall. So when Cathy posted images of Bath on her Facebook page, many of our friends and colleagues wrote dreamy remembrances of Jane Austen and hot actors who played Mr. Darcy

While many basked in the glorious, sunny olde England of romance fiction, afternoon tea, boating, virile young aristocrats and gauzy dresses for young women I thought of hospitals and health care.

My first trip to Bath was in the back of an ambulance. I spent a sunny June afternoon in the ER, with doctors on each side of me in a Humpty Dumpty-type debate about whether to stitch or glue me together again.

Medical professionals can be unsettlingly graphic. I raised my hand and asked if I could be wheeled out of the room because their conversation was making me ill.

I was there because of a cycling accident. The day began in an idyllic manner, with me cycling along the lilac-scented Kennet and Avon Canal, where the only sound was the splashing of ducks and swans. I had lunch at the canal-side Somerset Arms where an older gentleman on a motorized scooter asked if I would bring him a pint of Badger’s Gold. I approached the woman behind the bar and said, “A gentleman with a white dog …” when she cut me off. “Ah, right, it’s that time. He’ll be wanting a Gold.”

Back outside a couple had stopped at the old gentleman’s table. They had their dog, he had his. They were pushing a red cart I thought contained ice cream. In fact, they were The Royal Mail. I delivered his pint, they delivered his mail. He smiled at us all.

I was doing a brilliant three-day serviced cycle trip in Wiltshire offered by a company called History on Your Handlebars. It was operated by a retired stockbroker, who I believe has taken his second retirement. But when it operated he met you at the Chippenham train station, where he traded maps and bike for my luggage. Each day I would leave my assigned B&B along a route developed to match my interests and he would pick up my bags and drive them to the next stop about 30 miles away. I cycled through a quiet, bucolic countryside familiar to novelists and Merchant-Ivory films.

It was Friday afternoon, I was returning to a B&B in Bradford-on-Avon, and to get out of growing bank-holiday traffic, I decided to ride on the open sidewalk. Alas, it’s an old story of the wheel and curb not being in harmony. The bike went one way, while I did an OMG-slow-motion head-first dive to the pavement. I’m still uncertain if I hit a telephone pole or not. I knew I wasn’t about to die because my life didn’t flash before me, instead every curse word in every language I ever heard did.

After the initial impact I remember attempting to get off the ground before anyone saw my stupidity.

On the upside, two off-duty nurses witnessed the whole thing. Before I could move someone was wrapping me in a blanket and holding an umbrella to keep the mid-day sun off me, while another voice called for an ambulance.

Since this was my first ride in an ambulance I was annoyed that the paramedics wouldn’t put on the siren.

After a few hours in the ER, where I had tetanus shots and eight stitches, I had a £50 cab ride back to the B&B. At breakfast the next morning two men asked what happened. I filled them in on the few details I could remember. They generously went out to search ditches for my bike, which they found and returned to the B&B. This was supremely kind of them since one of this tuxedoed pair was getting married in two hours!

I dragged my battered self to the station to get a train to Bath. At the hotel I was greeted by an overly cheerful clerk, who through her smile asked if I had had a mishap? I felt like saying, “No, I usually look like hell.” I had eight stitches in my forehead, the white of my eyes were red, which stood out against the two black eyes and scraped cheeks. I could see only because of a separate pair of prescription sunglasses and to not offend people with my wounds wore a golf cap gently pulled down almost to my nose.

That afternoon I had to have my dressings checked at a local clinic. The clinic clerk was scandalized by a £25 ($43.45) charge for the visit because Canada didn’t have a reciprocal health agreement with the UK (always sell travel insurance!). To rectify this she decided I looked Australian and put that down on my appointment card, sparing me the charge.

Saving £25 improved my mood and I signed on for the Bizarre Bath Walk. Their advertising and guide explicitly explain the walk “has nothing to do with Bath. We don’t bore you with history or facts or any of that rubbish.”

Bike Walk, blindfolded guide

Instead our Austen-free experience was more like a type of walking vaudeville show, which was so (in)famous locals interacted with it. Mostly they tried to trip up the guide. For example, for the first part of the tour the guide is blindfolded. Just as he undid his blindfold a teenaged cyclist rode through our group with his arms outstretched and face covered by his t-shirt. Our guide was speechless.

From Bath I returned to London where VisitBritain had provided accommodations in a Red Carnation property, The Montague on the Gardens. The Montague is like a country house in the city. My stay coincided with Ascot race week. All the Montague’s other guests had passes to the Royal Enclosure.

On Ladies Day, when the world’s most fantastical hats are on display, female guests rode the elevator one at a time. There was no room for others. Doors were held for them as they deftly slid into the cavernous backseats of the chauffeured Rolls Royces and Bentleys which lined the street.

Meanwhile I still looked like the victim of a serious mugging.

First published at Travel Industry Today

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