Sunday 26 May 2013


Just 11 miles from Otley, over the border in North Yorkshire, is the spa town of Harrogate.  I love spa towns, they are always classy places and Harrogate is no exception.

It takes about an hour and a half to get to Harrogate from Manchester.  There is no quick way to get there. It’s 55 or so miles using M62 and then a variety of A roads, or 72 miles using M62 and A1.  Either way it’s one and a half hours.  At the moment even longer as there are road works on the M62 with the average speed limit of 50 miles per hour.  I’m seriously considering curtailing trips to Yorkshire on the basis of these road works.

We’ve been to Harrogate a few times over the years.  My friend Shaun loves Harrogate and can always be found here in December doing his Christmas shopping.  I’ve stopped overnight here on a business trip and it’s all very civilized apart from the kids hanging around outside the supermarket at night.
As we spent more time than anticipated in Otley, our trip to Harrogate was just a two hour quick whizz around the town.  We parked at a pay-and-display by the park as you drive into Harrogate.  It can be expensive to park in Harrogate, especially if you park at the Harrogate International Conference Centre like we did the last time we came here.

It was a lovely day and as we walked into Harrogate all the pubs were jam packed full of people drinking in the beer gardens.  Any sign of sunshine and it’s practically a national holiday in this country with people flocking to the pub.  We noticed a number of convertible cars with their tops down cruising through the town - it must have been their first outing this year.
Harrogate has a pedestrianized shopping area, which is good for a safe wander.  It’s a classy place and there are plenty of classy shops in Harrogate.  Obviously there was the obligatory Betty’sTea Room.  It has all your usual high street shops along with your classy chains like The White Room and Molton Brown, so there is no real need for the locals to head off to nearby Leeds. 

In the past we’ve explored the antique shops here.  Unfortunately as time was pressing we hadn’t the chance to browse round them.  I definitely would check out Space which does 20th century vintage and retro antiques.  It’s a fun shop to browse round and there I found out the vase I bought for my Mum in the 80s was worth about £40.
The town is predominantly populated with rather impressive Victorian buildings made of Yorkshire stone.  On the road into Harrogate you couldn’t help but notice the grand Victorian Villas that line the streets.  Given the well-to-do nature of the town, as it’s a commuter town for the wealthy who work in nearby Leeds, there is little to indicate there is a recession going on.  It’s only when you get off the main drag of shops where you find the odd empty shop.

Harrogate is well known for being a conference town.  The large Conference Centre is on the edge of the shopping area.  If there is a conference on it can be hard to find parking.  The nearby streets are often packed with people with conference passes hanging from lanyards having a crafty smoke or a gossip with other delegates.  I would definitely jump at the chance at going to a conference here as it’s a nice place to go and I would bunk off the networking sessions to go visit the town centre.
Our main focus of our trip to Harrogate was the charity shops.  Classy towns often mean classy charity shops.  Neil was in his element browsing the vinyl records and I was happy browsing the rather well organised and extensive book section.  If I was at a conference here and needed something to read I would definitely head to the charity shops rather than the nearby WHSmiths as they have a great range of books: British Heart Foundation and Oxfam spring to mind.

Typically my favourite places in a town are not necessarily the posh places, but the dubious little side streets with interesting independent shops and often lots of charity shops (cheap rents).  In Harrogate that street is called Commercial Street.  In recent times I’ve gotten into patchwork and there are a couple of fabric shops that are worth a visit: The Remnant House which is packed full of fabric at really cheap prices; and the White Rose Sewing and Craft Centre for all your crafting needs.  Neil is a fan of a tiny, but filled to the rafters, second hand book shop along here called Books for All.  He found another ‘Top of the Pops’ annual to add to his growing collection.
If you are looking for a classy weekend away in North Yorkshire, Harrogate is the place for you – even the dogs are classy here.  Harrogate is packed full of hotels for all budget ranges.  Although beware not all hotels are hotels, some are just glorified B&B’s - check out Tripadvisor for recommendations.  Years ago I stayed in a ‘hotel’ for a work trip.  It was more a bed and breakfast and it really wasn’t that nice in my single, uncomfortable bed.  The nightlife wasn’t that exciting, but that was more down to who I was with rather than the town itself.

Our two hours were up and we headed off back to Manchester.  However you really have to spend a whole day here to experience the loveliness of this town. I’ve yet to find a tolerable drive back to Manchester from Harrogate, however it’s worth the aggravation as not only is it a classy town, but you also get to drive through some beautiful countryside.


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