After visiting Leeds on the 27th and Manchester on the 28th, today (29th) saw us embark on yet more train journeys to Harrogate. Sadly, this will be our last day trip together for almost a week (boo hoo😭), but on a more positive note, we had another enjoyable day in a location neither of us had properly spent time in for years – the last time I was in Harrogate I was there for work. Despite the weather not being on our side, with cold gusts and drizzle for much of the afternoon, we still had fun walking around the posh streets and dropped by a J.M.W Turner exhibition at the Mercer Gallery.
Harrogate is situated in North Yorkshire, a picturesque Northern county, an idyllic setting for many landscapes and films. With its stunning rolling hills and peaceful small towns, it is certainly a gem of Britain. It is bigger than most locations around the Yorkshire Dales, with a population of roughly 70,000. It is famous for Bettys Cafe Tea Rooms (a classy cafe and tea shop which has been running for over a century now from the people who own Yorkshire Tea), and for historically being a spa town – indeed much of the bottled water Brits drink originates from Harrogate.
What’s Available: In the town centre itself we found there were plenty of shops; as soon as you step off the train you can see the Victoria Shopping Centre. Harrogate provides all the traditional shops you are accustomed to seeing in the North like T K Maxx and Bodycare, but given Harrogate is a middle class town, there are also a fruitful amount of independent tailor/clothing and jewellery shops too. The town centre was bigger than I expected, so there were also more shops than we thought there would be too. One of our favourites was Space, which sold an eclectic range of goods – antiques, memorabilia and a range of very colourful and vibrant shirts, some with flamingos and other animals on them. They were so jazzy and incredibly tempting to buy! You also had a cafe and a vinyl store upstairs; independent stores which have a number of different functions are rare and usually close down due to lack of sales which has been caused in part by my generation preferring to online shop, so whenever I come across one, I always make sure I pay a visit to it.
Additionally within the town centre there is a theatre, and a couple of museums/galleries. Keeping in line with the rest of the week, one of the attractions we were hoping to go to (Harrogate’s Pump House Museum) had sadly closed for the week to undergo refurbishment, but fortunately just a couple of minutes walk away was the Mercer Gallery. Situated inside the Town Hall, at the time we went it had a couple of exhibitions which linked with one another succinctly. The first consisted of a mixture of sketchbook etchings and watercolour pieces from J.M.W Turner spanning his travels to the North of England and Scotland between 1797 and 1831. It was a privilege to be up close and personal to some of his finest work, given he is one of my country’s most brilliant artists. In the next room you had a selection of modern and classic photography, collage pieces and paintings of Northern wilderness scenes from a variety of local artists, who had taken inspiration from Turner. It was a lovely way to pass time and keep inside in the warm for an hour or so, and even better the Gallery was free entry, albeit a small donation fee if you wished to give it. Further outside the town centre there are parklands to wonder around for hours on end such as The Stray, and a number of RHS and other natural attractions including the famous National Trust site Brimham Rocks.
Cleanliness of the Town: Harrogate was practically immaculate; it was a very clean town and the buildings were all very smart and appeared to be well-maintained as well. It had the same sort of well-kept appearance as other older ancient places I have been to, including York and the Bailgate area of Lincoln. It was refreshing to see not much traffic within the town centre too; Harrogate for its location and size has a good amount of public transport – you can get to Leeds around every 20/30 minutes, and there are also frequent connections to York and other nearby settlements like Knaresborough.
Ease of Way Around: Although we did lose our bearings a few times due to the structure of the town’s streets, there are plenty of maps and signs around to direct you; probably erected due to the town’s reputation as a tourist site. Speaking of tourism, we popped into the town’s Tourist Centre just before we left and the workers in there were very helpful, suggesting other places around the town and area to go and visit.
Food and Drink: There are definitely more expensive food and drink outlets than cheaper budget range places in Harrogate – again, likely due to it being a posher town than most – but we did manage to find a Wetherspoons for a coffee. Even that was the fanciest Spoons we had ever been in, with fancy seating and an even fancier decor; it had been previously used as The Winter Gardens for citizens who had just used the Turkish Spa Baths back in the 1920s/1930s, so it has never lost its jazzier atmosphere from that era. We wanted to try something local for lunch, so we ate at the Starling. We ordered a Benchmark Pizza with a couple of half pints of Coke; the pizza was huge and definitely enough of a portion for two people sharing, and the drinks were larger than we anticipated for half pints; all in all, for £10.50 it was remarkably good value.
Concluding Thoughts: Whilst we were both really happy that we visited Harrogate with our 10p tickets, ultimately we wished it had been better weather so we could have walked around more, and perhaps it would have been better to go in the spring/summer with so much to see and do outdoors. Still, this gives us a firm reason to go back! Today, we felt that the five hours our tickets had given us in the town were ideal, but in the future a night away would be perfect.
As I write this on the train back to Retford, I am sad our adventures with these 10p tickets are on pause for a few days, but we have so much to look forward to seeing come February, with trips to Hull, Scarborough, York and Windermere still to come! And with the news today that Northern Trains (the provider we have been using) will soon be under government ownership, fingers crossed tickets will under normal circumstances become cheaper so we can go on amazing days away together more often, and not just when the tickets are on sale for a ridiculously good offer.👍🏻