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Exploring England's Bath and Ancient Mythic Sites : Historic city is a great base for traveling to Stonehenge, Avebury and Glastonbury.

September 05, 1993|LUCY IZON

BATH, England — In addition to experiencing this city's own fascinating history, budget travelers can use Bath as a base for exploring some of Great Britain's most mysterious sites.

Bath flourished from the 1st to the 5th centuries, after the Romans discovered natural hot springs and built an elaborate complex of baths over the site. The remains of those baths are in excellent condition and open to the public to view. Bath became popular again during the 18th Century when London high society deemed it "fashionable" and supported its development into an architectural showpiece.

BritRail Pass holders will find train service from London to Bath both fast and convenient. About 25 trains a day depart London's Paddington Station and cover this route in less than 90 minutes. By bus, the trip can be made from London's Victoria Station in about three hours, for about $7.65.

Bath is on the route of the Slow Coach budget bus service, which travels a circular, 932-mile route around Britain, stopping at key youth hostels. The full-circle fare, which allows travelers two months to complete their journey, is $107. Tickets are sold at YHA Travel, 14 Southampton St., London.

In the center of the city is the Abbey, site of the crowning (in AD 973) of Edgar, generally considered to be the first King of England. Admission is free. Entrance to the adjacent Roman Baths and Museum costs a hefty $6.20, and there are no student or youth discounts; but outside the museum entrance, a sign announces times when free walking tours are offered by the Mayor's Corps of Honorary Guides. These tours operate May to October, daily except Saturdays.

For $1.25, the No. 18 bus will take you from the central bus terminal about a mile up Bathwick Hill to the Bath Youth Hostel. Here, in a former private mansion, 161 beds are available in dormitory rooms for $13 per person, per night. The hostel also offers currency exchange, a cafe, kitchen, laundry and tickets for regional transportation, plus local tours.

Mad Max Tours takes travelers from the hostel on full-day minibus tours to two of Britain's most mysterious sites: Stonehenge and the Avebury Stone Circle. Tours are priced at $15.50 every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

Both Stonehenge and Avebury are World Heritage sites. Stonehenge, a monument comprised of a circle of giant stones, was created for some unknown purpose about 5,000 years ago. Equally as mysterious are the stone circles which encompass the tiny village of Avebury, covering an area 16 times as large as Stonehenge.

In addition, it's only about a two-hour trip by bus ($6) from Bath to Glastonbury, a small village steeped in legend.

In ancient times, this area is believed to have been an island in the center of marshland. One legend identifies it as the location of the mythical site of Avalon. Legend also claims that the bodies of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere were found in the Glastonbury Abbey cemetery in the 12th Century, and re-buried in front of the High Altar in the Abbey ruins.

Another legend of the area is that Joseph of Arimathea landed here and buried the chalice used at the Last Supper under the waters of a spring, by the slopes of a large mound known today as the Glastonbury Tor. Joseph is also said to have thrust his staff into the ground on a nearby hill, and it took root and grew into a thorn tree, descendants of which still bloom at Christmas.

For overnight stays in Glastonbury, travelers can choose between the closest youth hostel, three miles away in the village of Street, or bed and breakfast accommodations, which can be reserved at the Glastonbury Tourism Information Office.

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