A Weekend in Harrogate
Harrogate was a nice change of scenery from the man-made art glut I’ve been feasting my eyes on for the past week or so. By scenery, I literally mean SCENERY. Situated in the Yorkshire Dales, Harrogate boasts lush scenery all around. Rolling hills of green and valleys surround you. Livestock graze freely in the fields. Neatly manicured gardens and cute little houses.
I could see myself relocating here for good. It’s no surprise that Harrogate is consistently voted as the best place to live in the UK. It also has the happiest residents according to a recent poll and why wouldn’t they be!
Harrogate is often described as a spa town and more recently a convention town. Both of these descriptions holds true. Numerous conventions are held here yearly and the town’s historical claim to fame were indeed it’s natural spa waters, discovered in the 17th century. But to simply pass it off as a spa and convention town is a grave injustice. Harrogate has so much more to offer! Cobble-stoned Medieval Villages, Ancient castles and churches, nature parks and farms just to name a few. If that isn’t enough, the historic city of York and the Yorkshire Dales National Park are just a short train ride away.
I woke up to this on my first day in Harrogate.
First up on the itinerary was a trip to the local Marks & Spencer where I was treated to a delicious scone and a nice cup of tea at the in-house cafe. The Marks & Spencer’s here definitely trumps the one we have back home. It occupies a whole building for starters and the range as well as variety of products offered were extensive. I picked myself some nice clothes from the men’s floor to bring back home.The highlight of the entire visit was definitely the food hall. Every food item you could possibly dream of was available here. From pre-packed gourmet meals to artisanal hams & cheeses.Two words- Gastronomical Heaven
When we returned from grocery shopping; I met up with my Aunt’s friend, Helen, over tea. She offered to show me around the following day. Who was I to refuse?
Sunday began early. My Aunt needed to run some errands at her friend’s place so I tagged along. Little did I know that her friend’s “place” was actually a farmhouse mansion. A massive structure of stone masonry with the interiors finished off in beautiful wood. I fed the brood of hens while my Aunt went about her work. First time for everything eh?
We were in luck that day as the hens had just laid a fresh batch of eggs.With the bounty, my Aunt cooked up a sumptuous English breakfast when we returned to the house. Breakfast consisted of bacon and sausages from the local butcher, fresh farm eggs, toast and tomato puree. Cue food coma.
We took the dogs out for a walk at the nearby woods to burn some of the calories off. After a short 15 minute stroll through the neighbourhood and a worn dirt rack, I found myself in the wilderness of the English countryside.
I’ve got to admit. I was jealous. Jealous that my Aunt gets to escape from civilisation and lose herself in nature every morning.
Helen arrived not long after I returned and it was time to explore the best that Harrogate had to offer.
First up was a trip to Knaresborough, famous for its ancient royal castle dating back to the 11th Century. Situated atop a cliff overlooking the town and River Nidd below, Knaresborough Castle offers some sweeping views all round. It was a steep climb up and down to the river on irregular steps carved into the rock.The riverfront below features a number of cafes but unfortunately they were all closed when I was there.
I met up with Helen, who was waiting for me at a cafe nearby, and tucked into a freshly baked scone and a cup of tea. I think scones might just be my newfound pastry obsession.The consistency, flavour, texture, aroma and of course not forgetting the fresh farm made clotted cream. A treat for the senses.There’s nothing quite like it. Pure bliss.
Our last stop for the day was a trip to Ripley Castle. While Knaresborough Castle was in rather bad shape, Ripley Castle was still standing tall in all its majestic glory. The castle is still occupied by the Ingilby family from time to time as they have done for the past 700 years.
The castle grounds are huge. It even has its own chapel. Unfortunately for some reason, the castle was closed that day. I can’t recall the exact reason. It was either we came too late or it was off season. If you are unable to visit the castle, fret not! You still get to try the World Famous Ripley Ice Cream.
I don’t know exactly why it’s world famous but damm it tasted good! With an ice cream in your hand, tour the castle grounds.
It was quite an experience eating ice-cream at 0 degrees. BRAINFREEZE! The good thing was it lasted quite long. It would have been perfect in the summer. I can only imagine.
I went for Sunday mass with my Aunt in the evening at the local parish.The day ended with a traditional Sunday Roast with Helen and her husband Mike. Roast lamb, baked potatoes and parsnips, delicious vegetables and not forgetting the quintessential Yorkshire Pudding paired with white wine from New Zealand. What a feast! The parsnips were delicious. Europe made being a vegetarian a tantalizing option.
My aunt took me out to a place called Brimham Rocks in the morning. I took geography in college and one of the topics was dedicated solely to rocks. I also learnt a fair bit on the Yorkshire Dales so it was awesome to witness my textbook come alive! Admission to the park is free. It was mid-term break and the park was filled with school children. I felt old. Children were climbing all over the rock formations so I decided to join in the fun.The rocks are granite landforms, the result of many many many years of weathering and erosional processes. Massive structures of natural beauty.
My Virgin English Football Match
Everyone who knows me are aware that I’m a huge football fan. I play it, watch it, dream it, study it and eat it. Ok I was joking about the eating part. Although I was already scheduled to watch my beloved Arsenal play at the Emirates in the BPL further on in the trip, I still wanted to have a taste of authentic English Football. And what better occasion to do just that than a conference league match featuring the local team- Harrogate FC! It was a midweek match against Droylsden, a small town outside of Manchester.The ticket attendant gave me the kids price without even asking. A 5 pound discount yipeeee! Benefits of looking like a prepubescent teen. I wasn’t complaining.The stadium was small, with only one main stand but it was packed. Everyone here supports their local football team even though they also follow one of teams in the BPL.
Watching a football match at night in England is a chilling experience. I was freezing my butt off in the first half.When half time arrived, I rushed to grab some curry fries and tea to warm myself up.The match was entertaining – End to end action with both teams throwing caution to the wind, rough tackling and off-ball squabbles. Hallmarks of the English game. The game ended in a 1-1 draw. A fair result for both sides.
Wednesday marked the end of my time here. It was a wonderful five days spending time with my Aunt and her lovely friends. Harrogate remains my favourite English town to date. To be honest, that statement might be biased since it’s the only English town I’ve visited. But hey I’ll die happy if it’s the only town I ever get to visit! Jokes aside, there’s just something about Harrogate that calms and soothes you. Each day spent here was carefree and blissful.Special thanks to my new friend Helen and my Aunt if you’re reading this.Thanks for all the beautiful memories 🙂
Armed with a strawberry scone, home-made ham sandwiches and a capri-sonne, courtesy of my Aunt, I headed North on the East Coast Line to Edinburgh. My time in Harrogate will forever be treasured and like Arnold Schwarzenegger from the Terminator series said- ” I’ll be back “