Go with the flow
The Romans discovered the healing benefits of natural spa waters thousands of years ago. We're lucky enough to have so many mineral-rich springs in Britain we continue to indulge ourselves today. Why not go with the flow and enjoy the therapeutic waters of one of Britain's best spa towns?
Harrogate in Yorkshire is the picture of English gentility with a spa history that goes back 400 years. Discover the stories of Harrogate’s past and taste the smelly sulphur waters at the Royal Pump Room Museum, or indulge yourself at the newly redeveloped Victorian Turkish Baths. With its elaborate arched roofs and original Arabic mosaics, it’s the perfect place to enjoy hot chambers, plunge baths and decadent treatments. And don’t forget to look out for the listed toilet!
Cheltenham became a spa town in 1716 and is one of the most complete Regency towns in Britain. The jewel of Cheltenham’s Regency architecture, the Pump Room is the grandest surviving of the town’s many spa buildings. Overlooking the sweeping lawns and ornamental lakes of Pittville Park, it’s the perfect place to step back in time and sample the mineral-rich spring waters – a bit unpleasant tasting really, but supposedly has the power to cure all ills!
The Romans knew Droitwich as 'Salinae', the place of salt. Don’t go sampling the spa waters here though as the natural Droitwich brine contains 2.5 lbs of salt per gallon – ten times stronger than sea water and only rivalled by the Dead Sea! Alternatively relax and experience the remedial benefits of floating weightless in the warm brine bathing pools at Droitwich Spa Brine Bath Complex – the first spa facility built in Britain this century.
Leamington is one of Britain’s largest towns, but would have probably remained as a small village near Warwick if it wasn’t for the discovery of its healing spa waters. The magnificent Royal Pump Rooms and Baths opened in 1814 attracting visitors hoping to soothe various pains and ailments by bathing in the spa pools. Today you can explore the Pump House and learn about the world's first gravity fed piped hot water system as well as try the salty spa waters.
The Romans called Buxton 'Aquae Arnemetiae' (waters of the goddess of spring), and it’s the only place in Britain other than Bath (known as 'Aquae Sulis' in Roman times) to be honoured with title 'Aquae'. Hot spa waters bubble up from thermal springs at a constant temperature of 82° Fahrenheit and at the Pump Room you can sample the water from St Ann's Well. If you’re here at well dressing time, you can also enjoy the English tradition of decorating all the wells in the town to celebrate the purity of the water.
Tunbridge Wells owes its existence to the discovery of the Chalybeate Spring in 1606 by the young Lord North. Story has it, North was riding back from several days of “merrymaking” and feeling a bit worse for wear stopped to quench his thirst on the reddish spring waters. Feeling much better he declared the water health-giving, and so Tunbridge Wells became the popular Regency town you see today. You can still visit Chalybeate Spring and see for yourself if it really cures hangovers!
The pure spring waters of the Malvern Hills became famous for containing “nothing at all”. Queen Elizabeth I made a point of drinking it in public, Queen Victoria refused to travel without it and today, it's the only bottled water used by Queen Elizabeth II – so it must be good! International beverage giant, Schweppes, bottles millions of litres of Malvern Water every year for worldwide distribution, but you can take it direct from the source from one of the many free-flowing historical fountains and springs throughout the Malvern area.
Back in the 1700s, Llandrindod was a fashionable spa resort described as the “Queen of Welsh Watering Places”. The town crest even portrays Hygeia, the mythical goddess of health striking rocks with a wand to make the health-giving waters flow forth. It was farmer's wife, Mrs Jenkins, who first discovered the saline-sulphur spring in 1736 and began selling it to visitors. Word of its healing effects soon spread and the farm was transformed into a hotel called the Pump House to cope with all the visitors. Unfortunately The Pump House no longer exists, but Llandrindod Wells retains its unique spa town charm.
You'll have to leave the beaten track to get to this former spa town in the Scottish Highlands, but it's well worth it. How often do you get spa town Victorian Regency combined with Highland culture and tradition (not to mention scenery)? Strathpeffer was simply a remote Highland village until the discovery of sulphurous springs in the 1700s, which at the time were declared the healthiest in Britain. Soon a stream of visitors Europe and beyond descended on the village and the historic Spa Pavilion was created. Today, the Pavilion has been magnificently restored and is a great place to start your Highland adventure!