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Review: Harrogate


United Kingdom

A Week in Harrogate, Yorkshire

  • By SilverTraveller DRSask

    403 reviews

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  • 2010
  • Solo

44 people found this review helpful

Anyone looking for a quiet spot to spend some time in England would be well satisfied in Harrogate. I spent a week in Harrogate, a lovely spa town in Yorkshire. I have been to Yorkshire a number of times over the years but had never been to Harrogate. A couple of years ago I decided to put it on the list of places to visit while I was in England for a few months. I purchased a BritRail pass before leaving Canada that provides for 8 days of travel within a 2 month period starting the first day you use the pass. This allowed me to do some travelling from my home base. Harrogate was my first trip in April.

Harrogate has a very popular flower festival in April so I went the week before when rooms where still available. I booked The Dales bed and breakfast through and it turned out to be a perfect choice and location. The house is across the road from the Valley Gardens and was very easy to find. From the railway station I followed the tourist signs for the Royal Pump Room Museum which is at one end of the Valley Gardens and Valley Drive. Walking in the gardens was a pleasant way to start and end each day. The gardens are well used and include tennis, crazy golf, a model boating pool, a large children’s play area, pitch ‘n put, lawn bowling, a cafe and numerous walking paths. One of the paths proceeds across Harlow Moor Road, through the Pinewoods to Crag Lane which is close to RHS Garden Harlow Carr, another garden on the edge of town. More about this location later.

The bed and breakfast was very comfortable and I got an upgrade to a double room for the price of a single. The room was spacious and included fresh cut flowers and a fruit bowl and the breakfasts were ample and delicious. After checking in and unpacking I headed back up Montpellier Hill for a late lunch/early supper at Betty’s Cafe. Then it was time for a bit of shopping before I went back to the B&B armed with brochures to plan my week in and around Harrogate. If any of you have been to York and have had the opportunity to sample Betty’s Cafe – this is the mother ship and one of the reasons I wanted to spend some time in Harrogate. The service and the food are impeccable and I ate there just about every day trying out different things on the varied menu. Late afternoon and evenings there is a pianist playing in the Cafe.

The next day there was some mist and rain so I opted to focus on inside activities. First stop was the Mercer Art Gallery which is just a few minute’s walk from the B&B and 100 yards from the entrance of the Valley Gardens. The current exhibits were: The Secret Garden which was inspired by Frances Hodgson Burnett’s 1910 classic children’s novel; and Treasures of the Mercer which showed highlights of the Harrogate Borough Council’s own Fine Art Collection. The latter included William Powell Frith’s paintings “Private View at the Royal Academy” featuring Oscar Wilde and “Many Happy Returns of the Day”. The next stop was the Royal Pump Room Museum which is housed in the Victorian Royal Pump Room. The museum tells the story of how Harrogate became a spa town and if you can stomach it, you can have a glass of the spa water. The museum also has a permanent exhibit of ancient Egyptian treasures. I spent the rest of the day shopping in Montpellier Quarter with its cobbled streets and sidewalk cafes. There are a wide variety of shops in the quarter including antique shops and art galleries as it is home to the Antiques and Art Centre of the North. The cherry blossoms were in bloom as were the tulips which added to the picturesque quality of the area.

The next day I took the bus to Knaresborough. The bus station is next to the railway station and there are regular buses to nearby towns and villages if you do not have a vehicle to get around. There is a lovely view of the River Nidd and the castle as you arrive into town. After checking out the local market I went to the castle which is mostly a ruin but a very interesting place to visit. There has been a castle on this sight since the 12th century. I took a 40 minute tour of the ruins that culminated in a walk through the secret tunnel via the Sallyport that was used when the castle was under siege. I had lunch in a local cafe then took a walk along the river before catching the bus back to Harrogate. The ticket I purchased cost £3.50 and was good for the day in and around Knaresborough and Harrogate so when I returned to Harrogate I caught another bus out to RHS Garden Harlow Carr, also another location for Betty’s Cafe Tea Rooms. Although there were many rhododendrons in bloom and there was an interesting exhibit of gardens (Gardens Through Time) from different centuries showing how the use and design of garden space has changed over the years, the gardens were under construction so not at their best.

Ripon was the destination the next day, again by local bus (#36 which makes 110 trips daily) on a day pass for £6. After a walk through the market I headed to the Cathedral – note it will cost you £3 to take pictures inside the cathedral. I have noticed in my travels that some cathedrals charge an entrance fee (e.g., Chester), some charge for pictures and others rely solely on donations at your discretion (e.g., Norwich). The stained glass windows in Ripon Cathedral are lovely and well worth the £3 fee, especially the one depicting St. Wilfrid who is responsible for the oldest existing Saxon Crypt in England from 672. St. Wilfrid was abbot of a Benedictine monastery on the site of Ripon Cathedral and he built a new church here, the crypt of which is part of the existing cathedral. Lewis Caroll’s father was a Canon here between 1852 and 1868 and one of the carved medieval misericords decorating the Choir Stalls is said to have inspired Lewis Caroll to write ‘Alice in Wonderland’. I was able to hear the choir practicing which is always a treat whenever visiting cathedrals. However, the choir were preparing for a funeral that was about to take place, so I made a swift exit.

On the way back to Harrogate I got off the bus in Ripley which is 3 miles north of Harrogate and made it to the castle just in time for the 2:00 pm tour. There were only three of us on the tour and it lasted 1 ½ hours although the time just flew by. The guide was very informative about the history of the castle and the Ingilby family which has lived there for 700 years with tales including the Gunpowder Plot and Oliver Cromwell. It is well worth your time to also explore the grounds which include a four acre Victorian walled garden and a lakeside path that goes around the lake and through the Deer Park with great views of the castle. Being there in April I was able to see the National Hyacinth Collection and a vision of daffodils. It is no surprise that Ripley Castle was Yorkshire’s best small visitor attraction of the year in the Welcome to Yorkshire White Rose Awards in 2009. The castle also includes the obligatory tearoom and shop.

While waiting for the bus back to Harrogate I had some time to explore the village of Ripley and to enjoy a Ripley ice cream which is famous in the area, and rightly so. The cafe in the Valley Gardens in Harrogate sells Ripley ice cream too. The public areas in the village include the Boar’s Head Hotel, All Saint’s Church, the Chantry House Art Gallery, the Town Hall and Hopkins Porter for wine and cheese.

My last full day in Harrogate I again headed for Ripon on the bus in order to catch the 10:30 bus from Ripon to Fountains Abbey which is a World Heritage Site. I had been to Fountains Abbey a couple of years before but there is so much to see there that one visit is not enough, and indeed, neither is two. I went again earlier this year. The Little Red Bus provides round trip service to Fountains Abbey from Ripon for £2.95. Those wishing to walk can follow the foot path from Ripon for 3 miles to the Abbey. Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal Water Garden, to give it the full name, is a National Trust site and as I am going to be in England for a while I joined the trust rather than pay the entrance fee. A year’s membership is £48.50 whereas the adult entrance fee is £8.50 (although there are often concessions if you arrive at attractions via public transport). If you’re going to be visiting a number of sites a membership is worthwhile.

It was a lovely day and a stark contrast to the thunder and lightning show I experienced on my last visit to the abbey. Last time we spent most of our time in Fountains Hall escaping the weather followed by a walk though the gardens and up on the hill to see the Surprise View/Anne Boleyn’s Seat, the Temples of Fame and Piety, the Octagon Tower and the Serpentine Tunnel before heading into the Deer Park and St Mary’s Church. We arrived too late to go into the church as it closes at 4:00 due to the lack of electricity (i.e., no lights). This time I took two tours in the grounds: the Aislabie Garden Tour at 11:30 and a tour of the abbey at 2:00. The first tour started at the Porter’s Lodge, went past the abbey along the water and round to the rustic bridge along the canal up to the Banqueting House for views across the formal water garden to the Temple of Piety, continuing along to Lakeside. The guide was very knowledgeable about the creation of the gardens by John Aislabie capturing the views to be enjoyed of the abbey and the temples and statues which adorn the gardens. The second tour was also very informative about the abbey ruins and how the monks lived and worked.

Between the two tours I went to St. Mary’s Church to see the inside which has a beautifully decorated and colourful sanctuary in reds and gold of lions and musical angels. The church was built by William Burges for the 1st Marquess and Marchioness of Ripon. One wonderful aspect on the outside of the church is that if you stand outside behind the sanctuary you can see Ripon Cathedral in the distance through an avenue of trees. It is wonderful that this view has not been interfered with in all these years.

The last Little Red Bus leaves Fountains Abbey at 3:47 for Ripon and I managed to catch it after the Abbey Tour and a quick stop in the shop to pick up my National Trust Portfolio and purchase some postcards and a guide book for Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal. There is so much to see there and more walks that I have not been on such as the Seven Bridges Walk, that I know I will be back.

Most B&Bs will keep your bags for you or let you keep your room until you are ready to leave. This was the case the next day when I was able to do some more shopping (including Farrah’s of Harrogate for fudge and chocolates) and have one last walk in Abbey Gardens before catching the train back to home base. Ready to plan the next adventure…..

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Other Members' Thoughts - 1 Comment(s)

  • ESW
    almost 8 years ago
    I have enjoyed reading your review - it takes me over past stamping grounds. There is so much to do and see around the area and Harrogate makes an excellent centre. It is a shame that so many tourists miss out on tis gem.