Harrogate, an Elegant Haven by Angela Caldin
I’ve just returned from spending a few days in Harrogate in the beautiful West Riding of Yorkshire. Harrogate is a spa town and its spring water contains iron, sulphur and common salt. The town became known as ‘The English Spa’ in the Georgian era and in the 17th and 18th centuries the iron-rich waters were a popular health treatment bringing an influx of well-off but sickly visitors who contributed greatly to the wealth of the town. After the enclosure of surrounding lands in 1770, 200 acres were reserved as a public common to link most of Harrogate’s springs in one protected area known as The Stray, which has remained a popular spot for picnicking, kite-flying, outdoor games, running and local football matches. Harrogate is consistently voted as one of the best places to live in the UK and in 2013 a poll by Rightmove of 40,000 people found that Harrogate was the happiest place to live in the United Kingdom. As if that wasn’t enough, in 2013 Harrogate was declared to be the third most romantic destination in the world, beating off rivals such as Paris, Rome and Vienna. To cap it all, the town is now in a fever of excitement about the Tour de France which this year in July will see its first stage start in Leeds and finish with a sprint into Harrogate. The town is festooned with yellow bicycles in all kinds of unexpected places with bunting made of little yellow knitted jerseys bedecking the streets.
Bettys and Harlow Carr
There are two must-see places to visit. Most people try to fit in a visit to the renowned Bettys Tea Rooms which are owned by Bettys and Taylors of Harrogate – the same company that makes Yorkshire Tea. Bettys is a gloriously and unashamedly old-fashioned sort of place, serving teas and coffees of every description and a selection of outrageous and cholesterol-raising pastries. You’ll notice that Bettys has lost its apostrophe; their website explains that it’s generally believed that the name was thought to look better without one – more distinctive, less messy – and as a brand name was not subject to the same rules as everyday words. The Royal Horticultural Society’s Gardens at Harlow Carr are set in a valley covering 68 acres and have a wide variety of growing landscapes, from running and still water to woodland and wildflower meadows. In June, they are a riot of colour with vibrant allium displays in the borders, and immense drifts of Camassias. And, joy of joys, once you have toured the Gardens and are feeling in need of refreshment, there is another Bettys Tearoom to restore and revive you.
Our reason for going to Harrogate was to visit my husband’s second cousin once removed, Sister Pamela Hussey MBE, who now lives in her Order’s retirement home not far from The Stray. She is 92 years old and has led a most eventful life. Although she was born and brought up in Argentina, she sailed for England on the outbreak of World War II to join the Wrens, ending up in Scarborough taking down coded messages from German U boats which were then sent to Bletchley Park to be decoded. After the war she joined the Society of the Holy Child Jesus, studied languages at Oxford and taught for some years at Mayfield School. Later, she was desk officer for Latin America at the Catholic Institute for International Relations (now known as Progessio). She spent some considerable time in El Salvador in order to research the political situation there and report back on the oppression suffered by the poor. It was for this contribution to the cause of human rights in El Salvador that she was awarded the MBE. She was instrumental in setting up the Oscar Romero Trust in memory of the Archbishop of San Salvador who spoke out against poverty, social injustice and torture and was assassinated while saying Mass in 1980. Pamela is still full of vigour, sharp intellectual conversation and a wicked sense of humour. She is enjoying a well-deserved retirement in a wonderfully run home, set in beautiful grounds. The food is excellent and plentiful and no sooner is one meal over than it’s almost time for the next; the staff are exceptionally kind and friendly so that nothing is too much trouble. We came away with the strong impression that here she was in a safe haven at last after a full life well lived.