When Spring arrives in Bath, a familiar sound is heard in the parks, and that sound is Pétanque! Pétanque (also known as Boules), is a much-loved ball game that has become a French institution and has become beloved in Bath. This enjoyable game has become increasingly popular in the city, and several parks now provide custom built boules pitches. My favourite pitch is in Alexandra Park on one of the city's seven hills (Shakespeare Ave, Bath BA2 4RQ).
With benches, parkland and panoramic views of the city, there is also plenty to do after playing a few rounds. It is the perfect weekend destination.
Essential equipment for Petanque (and some boules!)
There are fiercely held views on the intricacies of the rules, but the general gist of the game is to get your balls (or boules) closer to a smaller wooden ball than your opponents. Whoever lands their boule closest to the cochonnet (piglet) ball is the winner of the round. The first player to reach 13 points wins the entire game. For more detailed rules, please click here.
An avid young player considers his next throw.
There is even an annual festival (held on June 14th-16th this year), where the City's Queens Square is transformed into a little corner of France, complete with fresh food, wine, music, and of course, Petanque. It is also organised as a fundraising event for local causes, close to the heart of Bath. If you are visiting the city at this time, then a trip to Queens Square will not disappoint:
In Alexandra Park, the pitch even has a handy scoreboard for Petanque games, and three groups can play at the same time. We employed the help of some twigs to keep track of our scores. If these are ever full, then it is also possible (although perhaps not so French) to play on the park grass.
Our trusty scoring board
No trip to Alexandra Park is complete without a stroll over to the benches which overlook the city. Many folks feel that Bath resembles Paris when viewed from above, and at Sunset it is easy to see why. After getting soundly beaten at Petanque by my son, I consoled myself by gazing over the city.
The park is also the ideal viewing platform for Hot Air Balloon watching. Whilst playing, we watched several balloons take off from Victoria Park, and sail over our heads. The sky is full of balloons at this time, and flights always operate at dawn and dusk during Spring and Summer.
One of the iconic Bath Hot Air Balloons
One of the wonderful things about the park is how safe it is. Adjoining a residential area and surrounded by gates and railings, it is both secure and welcoming. The children's playground is well- maintained, and there are table tennis and basketball facilities available if Petanque doesn't float your boat. I recommend going at this time of year when the park trees are blossoming, and the grass is crowded with beautiful daffodils.