I am a freelance writer, living in Bath with my wife and son.
I love my city, and love to live here. I write about Bath every day, and sometimes about travels in Ireland.
Published November 7th 2017
All sorts of stuff to do, and 'Bearly' enough time to do it
At the top of a steep hill (or foot of a slope, depending on your direction), lies the vibrant community of Bear Flat. To the south of the city, it is a short 15-minute walk from the centre, and fans out in a plateau that overlooks the pedestrianized Southgate Shopping Centre. Bear Flat is one of the many 'pocket' neighbourhoods that surround the city and is a firm favourite of mine. There are all sorts of shops and places to eat and drink here, but this article focuses on three of Bear Flat's finest establishments, namely 'Rolfey's' bric-a-brac and antiques emporium, The Bear Hotel, and Mercy in Action charity shop. Rolfey's- a fabulous, eclectic vintage phenomenon.
No trip to Bear Flat is complete without a look around Rolfey's, the creation of a local character going by the same name. Rolfey's shop is packed to the rafters with antiques, curios, jewellery, taxidermy, furniture and just about everything else that you could imagine being in a collectors or antique shop. It is always fairly and competitively priced too, so there are many wonderful purchased to be made. Find the shop at the bottom of Bear Flat opposite the pharmacy, on the corner where the main road sweeps downhill towards the city.
The main room of this wonderful shop. As you can see, it is packed from floor to ceiling with treasures, both old and new. I love the organised chaos of the place, with its offerings that seem to command attention from curious visitors.
Although this unique place gives shoppers a nostalgic longing for the past, it is anything but sleepy and backward. There is an immensely varied collection of items on offer, which is constantly refreshed every Saturday by Rolfey's army of buyers and spotters, and the cave of wonders that is his yellow van. It is a treat to turn up on Saturday morning and see fresh and exciting acquisitions being unloaded. In over ten years, I have never been into Rolfey's and found myself the only customer, which speaks volumes about its popularity.
A little glimpse of the main room in all its wonder. There is another room to the left, which mostly contains furniture and larger objects and ornaments.
2. The 'Mercy in Action' Charity Shop, with Bargains aplenty
Bath is full of charity shops, but this is one of the best, and with good reason. It offers very reasonable prices, regardless of the original prices of the pre-loved stock. As such, it is possible to find yourself some quality and stylish clothes, books and ornaments, for a modest price. There is always great music playing there too, which draws me in.
The interior of the shop, showing clothes rails and books.
This shop also has a well-stocked book and music collection that is usually of great quality. I have found many newly released books here, as well as some vinyl gems that I have never seen anywhere else. The staff here are always very helpful and positive which just adds to the positive atmosphere of this charitable place.
Beneath its lifesize Polarbear mascot can be found The Bear, within its Art Deco Facade. This classy but laid back place offers great food, drinks and accommodation, and even has a tiny community library in the comfy seating area. Art and prints by local artists also adorn the walls, which gives The Bear a cosy community feel. For me, it is a place to nip in for a coffee and some cake, but is also lovely in the evening, when the place glows with warm lighting and welcoming locals.
Beneath the Bear. The rather austere outside makes the enticing interior even more special.
This place is very inclusive, and you can rub shoulders with people from all walks of life. Popular with families and business social meets, there is also a lovely bar area for those after a quick pint and a coffee area for those after caffeine and a chat. The accommodation is all upstairs and in its own private area, connecting to the large carpark at the rear.
After a trawl through Rolfey's and Mercy in Action, I always have a post-shop beer at the Bear. It has a relaxed ambience that lends itself to leisurely afternoons and some reading, perhaps helped by the community library and book swap that is by the bar area. If you are visiting Bath and hoping to meet and mingle with some locals, then this is very much the place to be. It is the sort of place that puts you at your ease, even on miserable rainy days. In Summer, it is equally glorious.