Harrogate, North Yorkshire
Harrogate is Yorkshire’s refreshing spa town of Turkish baths, colourfully handsome English gardens and glorious Edwardian architecture.
North Yorkshire’s famous spa town stands its ground in splendid fashion against the rolling beauty of the Dales to its west, aside the historic architecture of county capital York and above the cosmopolitan perks of Leeds below. Harrogate has English stately magnificence in one of the country’s most attractive regions.
Not only is Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal Water Garden visually astounding, but with UNESCO declaring it a World Heritage Site, it is internationally recognised too – and the praise is with good reason. The abbey itself was once one of the largest monasteries in Europe before Henry VIII’s disbanding of the Catholic Church left it to ruin.
Today its dominating, sky-bound arches are all that remain, and following the foresight of the Studley Royal’s 17th century owner, John Aislabie, the dramatic ruins have been complemented by exceptional water gardens of clipped lawns and trickling fountains, as well as an idyllic deer park.
Tranquillity can be found in Harrogate’s town centre too. The restoration of the Turkish Baths means that visitors unwinding in the plunge pools and steam rooms can do so in the Moorish elegance that Harrogate afforded visitors during its 19th-century glory days. With Islamic archways, mosaic flooring and bright, white walls, the baths are the most sophisticated way to relax in the town.
Old-fashioned English charm prevails in the Montpellier Quarter. Pop into Betty’s Tea Rooms to refuel with tea and cake and be seduced by its wrought-iron canopies, hanging baskets and mahogany interior. Elsewhere in the cobbled streets, boutique shops, antique dealers and fine art galleries offer a stylish stroll and chance to shop in the rustic, gritstone buildings.
Despite its turrets, nearby Ripley Castle is actually a house with gritstone the material of choice here too. Such eccentricities seem to follow the castle’s longstanding owners and tours reveal an Ingilby family member holding Parliamentary protagonist Oliver Cromwell at gunpoint during the Civil War as well as their involvement with the gunpowder plot and a well-hidden priest hole. Among the grounds, the walled garden is never prettier than in spring, and the surrounding village itself is worthy of a visit after a certain 19th-century Ingilby, Sir William Amcotts, tore down and remodelled it after admiring Alsace.
Alice in Wonderland
Just north of Harrogate, admiration for Ripon’s cathedral has been centuries long. Though its twin towers loom high and its triple-arched entrance opens to an atmospheric nave, it is the modest Saxon crypt (believed to be the oldest in England) that draws visitors to the city. There is a literary link too: a regular visitor to the church, the author Lewis Carroll, is said to have found inspiration for his book Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland in the medieval woodcarvings he saw under the choir stalls.
England’s oldest attraction
Carved into the rocky gorge, the medieval town of Knaresborough is the home of England’s oldest tourist attraction, but before checking out Mother Shipton’s Cave, visitors should row beneath the settlement’s mighty viaduct and try their hand at lawn bowls at Knaresborough Castle.