The Town of Harrogate

The Royal Pump Room Museum“The Best Place To Live”  –  this was how the property company ‘Right Move’ rated Harrogate in 2013.

Charles Dickens, much earlier, described Harrogate as “the queerest place with the strangest people leading the oddest lives of dancing, newspaper-reading and dining”!

I found it belonged somewhere between these two descriptions!

Situated at the most southerly point of The Dales, Harrogate has Georgian elegance, fine restaurants, museums, theatres, hotels and shops.

Since the eighteenth century it has been a popular destination for ‘taking the waters’. The strongest sulphur wells in Europe are housed in The Royal Pump Room Museum. Unfortunately (due to health and safety) The Pump Room has not been allowed, since 2012, to sell ‘the waters’, but you can certainly smell the sulphurous odour throughout the building. Built in 1842, here you can gain an insight into how the phenomenon shaped the town and there are records of the illustrious visitors that it attracted. The ‘waters’ can still be enjoyed at the luxuriously restored , fabulously tiled Victorian Turkish Baths. It offers a range of watery delights –  hot rooms, steam rooms and plunge pools, with a visit expected to last about 1 to 2 hours.

Mercer Art GalleryHarrogate has long been associated with a certain kind of old-fashioned Englishness, the kind that seems to be the preserve of retired army chaps and formidable dowagers who always vote Tory.

One of the town’s most famous visitor was Agatha Christie, who arrived incognito in 1926, fleeing from her broken marriage.

In 1949 Princess Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh visited Harrogate for the Great Yorkshire Show.

The Mercer Art Gallery is home to the district’s collection of fine art and has a rich diversity of exhibitions.

Harrogate has a legacy of wide open spaces and elegant hotels, such as the DoubleTree by Hilton Majestic Harrogate Hotel & Spa – and has become a popular conference centre throughout the year. The International Centre, which includes the beautifully restored Edwardian Royal Hall, attracts major performers. The BBC Good Food Show is due to be held there soon.

Betty's Tea RoomsOf course we had to try the famous Betty’s Tea Rooms during our brief stay in Harrogate. It is a family-run, traditional business in a delightful building on a busy corner in the centre of Harrogate. Afternoon Tea (the full works) can be booked in advance, but we chose a self-service ‘tea’n’cake. The pot of tea contained loose tea leaves and a tea strainer was provided – I’m sure this would puzzle some tourists!

Later that afternoon, while trying to walk off some of the calories from Betty’s ‘Fat Rascal’ cake, we came across Carluccio’s Tea Shop. No, we didn’t treat ourselves there as well but we were allowed to photograph their cake selection – Betty’s had better watch out!

The Montpellier Quarter is a very attractive part of town – pedestrianised streets lined with restored 19th century buildings that are now the home to art galleries, antique shops, boutiques and cafes.

Zena Nattriss with her Silver Travel bagDuring our afternoon stroll we found some lovely sights. The interior of St Peter’s Church was especially lovely with decorations from Palm Sunday still there. The variety of shops in Harrogate were excellent. From Poundland (which had been opened by the Mayor of Harrogate) accompanied by the quote from the chain’s MD: “Harrogate’s not too posh for Poundland” to Rigby & Peller (by Royal Appointment to HM Queen Elizabeth II Corsetiere). I must admit, I did make a small purchase there … well, not that small!

After a sumptious breakfast, on yet another beautiful sunny day, we took a walk to the nearby Valley Gardens, overlooked by the vast, glass-domed Sun Pavilion built in 1933. The nearby bandstand houses concerts on summer Sunday afternoons. The Gardens were beautiful and obviously well loved by both Harrogate’s residents and visitors. “Holidaying Horticulturalists are in Heaven in Harrogate” at Valley Gardens!

On returning to our hotel the town was quiet, clean and colourful – just a delight.

We left Harrogate with many fine memories.

Read Zena’s review about the Majestic Harrogate Hotel.

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Zena Nattriss

Keen traveller, photographer & writer

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