Weekend In Harrogate: Pt 1 – Harrogate, North Yorkshire

Exactly one year ago today, I was sat in the auditorium in the Harrogate International Centre, for a very special ceremony. I am proud to say that my Mum stood up and received her degree with the Open University, something she had been looking forwards too for a long time, despite suffering from a terminal illness. She met the Mayor of Harrogate and received her degree.

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Less than a month later she passed away to my great sadness, so this set of posts is a tribute to a great lady, as I share our last adventure together, a weekend away in Harrogate, and North Yorkshire…

Harrogate: 

Status: Harrogate District, North Yorkshire, Town, England

Date: 14-17/03/2013

Travel: Car

Eating & Sleeping: Ascot House Hotel, Vivido Restaurant etc

Attractions: Harrogate Spa, International Centre, Town Hall, Royal Pump Room Museum, Royal Baths, The Stray, Betty’s Tea Rooms, St Peter’s Church, Hotel Majestic etc

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The Harrogate International Building is a grand building, and actually stretches the entire block and it takes a good 5-10 minutes to walk the whole length of the building. The main section we were in is pictured above, in the rounder section. The main event was being held inside on the bottom floor, then we walked up the curving ramp up to the top and into the vast auditorium.

The centre opened in 1982, just in time to host the Eurovision Song Contest held that year, and the songs were sung in the very same theatre we were sat in! The winners that year were Germany, who won it for the first time. Behind Alexandra Palace in London, and the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre (SECC) in Glasgow, the centre is the largest integrated venue in the UK.

The event took up the first full day we were there, we had arrived late the night before, and with some side trips, it wasn’t until a few days later that we explored Harrogate properly.

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After a reasonably long walk, we got to the end of the International Centre, which is the glass fronted building with the columns around the entrance.

Just left of this, is the Royal Hall, that opened in 1903. Like many old theatres, it was converted into a cinema in the 1950’s, but it expanded into a conference centre and it held different types of events.

It was reopened in 2008 by Princes Charles, Prince of Wales, after it underwent a large amount of restoration, and together with its neighbouring building, the International Centre, it is an important events venue in the town.

Just down from here is Harrogate Town Hall, an impressive stone building with columns above the entrance, with a bandstand type building in front of it containing a white statue, all in the area known as Valley Gardens.

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Harrogate is famous as a spa town, and at the end of the International Centre, we found the impressive former home of the Harrogate Royal Baths. Mainly from the 17th century, the residents of Harrogate were bathing in Sulphur Wells, which act as spa’s. This gradually attracted tourists from around the country who wanted to experience this, and by the 1830’s over 10000 people were visiting annually.

In 1897 the new building for the baths was opened by the current Duke of Cambridge, and it contained various different types of sauna’s, with hydrotherapy and Turkish baths. By 1966 it’s popularity had waned and fewer fewer people were visiting, so most parts of the baths closed down, apart from the Turkish baths, which lasted until the 2000’s, and after a redevelopment the baths have been converted into shops and restaurants, whilst retaining as much of the original buildings charm and character as possible. Also in this area of the town you will find the Royal Pump Room Museum, which was an old spa water pump from 1842, and is the strongest sulphur well in Europe, with 15000 visitors whilst it was open. Today two wells survive and you can even taste the water to get a feel for it yourself.

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Moving into the town centre, there are various old style streets, with cobbled roads. All of the buildings through the centre of the town have the same lovely stone design, and it really feels like an old town from the 18th century, and its a pleasure to look around the town. An information board around the back of the bath house gives some extra information on the history of the town.

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The next area of the town we arrived in is called the Stray, which is a large stretch of open park that stretches into the heart of the town. It was established around 1770 and has remained a public space ever since. It’s a beautiful part of the town, amongst the fabulous old buildings, with trees and well kept flower beds.

On the far side of the Stray as you approach the centre of the town, is the most famous cafe in the town, and possibly the county…

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Betty’s Tea Rooms is an iconic part of Harrogate, and is the original out of the 6 separate cafes of the same name, spread around the county, in places that include Ilkley and York. Established in 1919 by a Swiss Confectioner, named Frederick Belmont, it became an instant hit and although it only moved to it’s present location much later, it is the most popular cafe in Harrogate, and the queue’s at peak times literally go out of the door and down the street. Needless to say we didn’t try to get in, it was incredibly busy.

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Looking towards the town centre, the impressive War Memorial has stood here since 1923 and is dedicated to the soldiers of World War I, and World War II was added later.

On the left side of the picture, stands the Parish Church of St Peter’s, dating from 1870 when the foundation stone was laid. The architecture in Harrogate is fantastic, just look at the curved buildings in the above picture, behind the War Memorial. The town is full of them and it truly is like stepping back in time.

A lot of the town is made up of gardens and open spaces, so it is the perfect place to relax. The Victoria Shopping Centre is situated in the middle of the town, and the train station is only a few minutes walk away, providing links to Knaresborough, York, Leeds and a daily service to London. Local buses can take you to the nearby city of Ripon as well as to Leeds, and Leeds/Bradford International Airport is only 10 miles away from Harrogate, providing international destinations.

The A1 (M) from Newcastle runs around the town, and various main roads from all over Yorkshire converge in Harrogate so it’s very hard to miss.

It’s a great town, with plenty of history and it is well known as a place of leisure. There are various fancy hotels in the town, including the Majestic, next to the International Centre which has 170 rooms. The town was even at the centre of a major mystery concerning notable author Agatha Christie (1890 – 1976) who disappeared on the 3rd December 1925, and turned up 10 days later on the 14th, in Harrogate at the Swan Hotel. She never said exactly what happened, so it is a mystery that has remained unsolved, although there have been numerous theories.

Our weekend in Harrogate was made up of a number of trips to surrounding towns and cities, and our first stop was the fantastic Fountains Abbey, on the way to the City of Ripon…

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