Round The World and other travels

A frequent flyer's collection of trip diaries

This is: A Yorkshire Ramble (2014)

Prosperous Harrogate

After a good night's sleep, I awoke to my favourite kind of autumn morning: crisp and cold, with a clear blue sky that showed every promise of a fine and warm afternoon to come. Bearing in mind the clearance in the western sky that had allowed York Minster to be lit up so spectacularly by the previous evening's setting sun, I had been hoping for exactly this kind of start to the new day, and now the promise had been delivered. I wasted no time in getting on with my usual morning routine, then had breakfast on the ground floor of the Hampton. While it was never going to be up to the standard of the equivalent offering in a full-service hotel, the first meal of the day wasn't bad at all: a reasonable selection of hot and cold items was provided, albeit on a purely self-serve basis. As the clock approached 9am, I decided that I could and should go for a brief walk to make the most of the favourable weather and to burn off some of the calories just consumed!

ABOVE: Morning walk in York prior to departure for Harrogate

I arrived back at base in good time to organise my belongings, check out and walk round to the station to catch the 1011 service to Harrogate, which actually ran on to Leeds but was not designed for end-to-end travellers. In due course, a four-car Class 150 diesel multiple unit trundled into the station, this being one of the more spartan varieties of the 'Sprinter' units introduced by the now-defunct British Rail in the 1980s. I remembered the 150s from my native Scotland, where they had proved unpopular and had now been banished from the land for around a decade. Two of the cars were left behind at York and the diminutive train formed by the remaining two set off on what I hoped would be a reasonably scenic journey. The high point was a short stop at Knaresborough, where I caught teasing glimpses of what appeared to be an attractive little market town - one that probably deserved to be on my itinerary, but hadn't made the final cut. As so often happens on these trips, I was already mentally filing away tentative plans for next time!

I arrived in Harrogate in bright sunshine and immediately liked what I saw: a visually attractive and obviously wealthy spa town that was neat in appearance without being prim, historic but not a museum piece. Regularly voted one of the most pleasant places in the UK in which to live, Harrogate can attribute some of its prosperity to a thriving conference trade; indeed its facilities were sufficiently impressive more than 30 years ago to allow this town of just 75,000 people to host the 1982 Eurovision Song Contest. More recently, two startling statistics have emerged: Harrogate was named in 2012 as having the worst drink-driving record in Britain, while in 2010 it was identified by a BBC2 documentary as having the UK's highest consumption (per head of population, presumably) of online pornography. (Said the local paper at the time of this latter story: The Harrogate Advertiser could not think of anybody to ask for a comment. ) To be fair, I'm guessing that the regular influxes of conference attendees from far and wide might just have something to do with both phenomena.

My first objective was to find my new base for the next two nights, a task that I managed without difficulty. It was far too early to check in at the Holiday Inn, but at least I was able to leave my luggage in safekeeping. Back outside and enjoying the pleasing autumnal combination of cool air and warm sunshine, I had time for a preliminary walk around the town centre before lunch, taking in Victoria Gardens, the main shopping area, the well-known local landmark called Betty's Café & Tearooms and the cenotaph. A nicely furnished and tastefully decorated branch of Caffè Nero on Cambridge Crescent provided the perfect venue for a light midday meal.

ABOVE: An initial walk in Harrogate town centre, bathed in glorious sunshine

After taking my time over lunch, I continued my walk through the town's pretty Montpellier quarter, where a prominent branch of Sotheby's, the prestigious international dealer in fine art and collectibles, set the overall tone. Passing the Royal Pump Room, an impressive small building now housing a museum and bearing the dubious distinction of sitting atop the most sulphurous spring in Europe, I entered the huge area of formal gardens and parkland known as Valley Gardens, where I believe I clocked up enough footsteps to burn off everything that I had eaten for lunch! On my way back to the town centre I saw the Mercer Art Gallery, the Town Hall and the Royal Baths.

ABOVE: My walk continues through the Montpellier quarter, Valley Gardens and Crescent Gardens

Eventually returning to the Holiday Inn, I got access to my room, lay down on the bed to relax and promptly fell asleep; thankfully I woke up in sufficient time so that my evening plans were not compromised.

I had dinner at the local branch of Café Rouge and then walked the short distance to Harrogate Theatre, the exact location of which I had been careful to identify earlier in the day. It says much that a town the size of Harrogate can sustain no fewer than three theatre buildings; it struck me as more impressive still that this one had two separate performances starting within fifteen minutes of each other. The main auditorium featured a performance of Goldsmith's comedy She Stoops to Conquer, while the smaller 'studio' was showing The Man Who Woke Up Dead, a dark and taut thriller said to be inspired by 1950s 'film noir'. I saw the latter and enjoyed it immensely.

I got back to the hotel just in time to catch Die Hard 4 (otherwise known as Live Free or Die Hard) on the Film 4 TV channel, an outcome that had not been planned but which fell serendipitously into place. The transition from spine-tingling theatrical suspense to wisecrack-a-minute, action-packed celluloid mayhem ensured my continuing entertainment for another couple of hours and was, on the whole, probably a positive development in terms of my ability to get a good night's sleep afterwards.

Thursday 02 Oct

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