Saturday, June 07, 2008

Harrogate, Yorkshire

As you leave London the sign on the M1 motorway just says: "The North", as if everything north of London were a dark and mysterious place where few dare to go. A mere four hours' drive further on brings you to Yorkshire. I was born and grew up in Harrogate, North Yorkshire and left as soon as I could: the day after I finished my A-levels (high school leaving exams). I have only ventured back three times since then - the third time was from the 11th to 16th May this year. I went with Helen, an old friend from high school, who had also escaped at the same time.

A typical Yorkshire sight: lots of green fields, sheep in the distance

You know you're in Yorkshire when you see fields full of sheep! May is still Spring, and springtime in Yorkshire means lambs in the fields. Falling asleep to the sound of the ewes baa-ing and lambs meh-meh-ing, I felt like I was back in a very familiar place, although it's been many years since I called it home.

Sheep in the fields at Burnbridge outside Harrogate

Harrogate was well-known as a spa town where people used to come to "take the waters" for cures. Grand hotels like the Swan and the Majestic sprang up to cater for all the visitors, and facilities where they could take the waters were also built, such as The Royal Baths and the Pump Room.

The Pump Room Museum - you can drink the water, which has a strong taste of sulphur!

The Swan Hotel later became famous as the place where Agatha Christie disappeared to when she had a nervous breakdown.
The Swan Hotel is in the background of this Harrogate street scene

Nowadays Harrogate has developed into a major conference center where the large hotels and meeting and exhibition facilities cater to many big events. One of the attractions of the town are the Valley Gardens - a large park with beautifully tended gardens and tall trees.

A path through the Valley Gardens

Man on a bench in the Valley Gardens - note the size of the trees! All trees in Harrogate - including those on private property - are under a preservation order and may not be cut down without permission.

The Valley Gardens Cafe, where we used to get vanilla wafer ice-creams when we were children (a small block of vanilla ice-cream pressed between two thin wafers; it was a special treat in those days!). When we were very small, my siblings and I were frequently taken for walks in the Gardens. When I attended primary school, my sister and I used to walk through the Gardens every day to reach our school. When there was enough snow we would go sledging on the hillside in the Gardens. I remember attending a performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream there one summer evening; a flower show one spring; art exhibitions in the covered terraces, and doubtless many other events over the years.

Walking out of the Valley Gardens, past the Pump Room and then the Crown Hotel, around a flower-decorated roundabout and past the divine Farrahs confectionary shop (heaven for chocaholics!), one comes to the much-photographed Montpellier Parade which leads up to the War Memorial and the town centre:

At the top of Montpellier Parade you will find the famous Betty's Cafe, a Harrogate tradition, where all the best ladies go for afternoon tea. You can now go there for dinner too. Betty's is a small, family-owned business which also owns "Yorkshire Tea" - a brand of strong English tea that you can probably find in a supermarket or speciality tea shop near you. Thanks to global warming they are now experimenting with actually growing tea in Yorkshire!

The famous Betty's Cafe, Harrogate

And close to Betty's you will see the War Memorial in the centre of Harrogate

Tree with blossoms, near the town centre

Just outside of town you will find the Harlow Carr Gardens, now owned by the Royal Horticultural Society. Here are a few photos to tempt the gardeners amongst you:

Decorative Garden Shed, 
Harlow Carr Gardens

Frilly Tulips in the Harlow Carr Gardens

The Facts: please note that due to writing this piece from a weak memory after 10pm in a hotel room in Crete without internet connection, I haven't actually bothered to check any facts. If you'd like to add corrections, please do!

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