Right, before you start reading this i thought i'd just warn you that it a long one so go and make yourself a cuppa or pour yourself a glass of prosecco depending on the time of day and make yourself comfy. I absolutely, throughly enjoyed this break so much that i wanted to make sure i didn't miss anything out! So, here goes...
Harrogate is a town in North Yorkshire, east of the Yorkshire Dales National Park. Famous for its cream teas and Turkish baths, Harrogate is England's classic spa town with quaint streets, historic houses, landscaped gardens and so many fun things to do. I’ve visited Harrogate previously, however this was for work so I never really got to explore Harrogate but what I did manage to get glimpses of blew me away with it’s charm.
We decided to stay at Hotel Du Vin, I’ve always loved this hotel’s timeless elegance and the service is always next level… and they certainly did go above and beyond during our stay. Not only was our room upgraded but we were given breakfast in bed on the first morning and breakfast in the brassiere on the second morning at no extra charge. Our room was beautiful, with views across the park. The bathroom stole the show for me, with its large roll top bath which looked out over the park area too which was perfect for a proper bubble bath, glass of crisp, cold champagne… whilst indulging in a spot of people watching.
We arrived at the hotel a bit earlier than expected so we dropped off our bags and headed out for lunch, obviously Cote Brasserie was around the corner, conveniently, so the decision was made. Cote Brasserie is always my go-to restaurant no matter what city of the UK I’m in. I’m a huge fan of French dining and Cote Brasserie always pulls out the stops in all aspects from service, dining, atmosphere, it whisks me away from UK life and back to being in Paris.
Naturally, every time I’m away I get the Mam guilt so end up buying our son loads of presents. This time was no different. First up was a bath bomb from The Yorkshire Soap Co. From the moment I caught a glimpse of this shop I fell in love. It reminded me of Peggy Porschen Cakes in London with its pink interior, candy stripes and general prettiness.
Harrogate is a great shopping destination - crammed full with a selection of designer shops and independent boutiques for the fashion conscious, not to mention stylish home ware, jewellery, cosmetics and accessories. Harrogate offers an elegant mix of boutiques and galleries, set within stunning architecture and handsome tree lined avenues. The town centre is home to more than twenty antiques dealers and many exclusive shops, pavement cafés and award-winning restaurants, many based around the Montpellier Quarter. The streets around Bettys Tea Rooms all make up the Montpellier Quarter, which was first developed by the entrepreneur George Dawson in the 1860s with the construction of the Montpellier Parade.
After wandering around the town for a couple of hours, finding our feet ready for our 2 days of being child free, we headed back to the hotel to freshen up before setting off out for our evening meal. We should have been in Skiathos, Greece, celebrating our wedding anniversary. In light of this, we headed to Mykonos that evening. Mykonos Bar & Grill that is, not Mykonos Island. The restaurant was about a 15-minute walk in the wind and rain but it was 100% worth it. Our hosts, who thought my husband was Greek as he speaks their language, warmly greeted us. Pictures of Greece where all over and traditional Greek music played in the background, a cold Mythos beer in my hand I was back in my happy place.
We opted for the 3-course seafood meze from their A La Carte menu, which was £21.95 per person, I have never seen so much food in my life. Our starters included the best tasting Taramosalata I have ever had, Tsatsiki, Hummus and Greek Salad. The middle course (yes middle course! I thought this was our main it was so big) was sardines, calamari & prawns with Feta. Finally our main course arrived, and by this point I really couldn’t eat any more, was sea bass, salmon & Mykonos rice. Needless to say, there was no room for any dessert. How these guys create such a feast for that price is beyond me. The evening didn’t end there, we were child free so had to take advantage of the situation and headed to the bars. Two that stood out in the haze of cocktails and Patron Café shots were Foundry Project and Manhattan.
The following morning we were treated to breakfast in bed by Hotel Du Vin. We placed our breakfast orders the day previous which also gave us the option to choose what time to have it delivered to our room. The aroma of fresh pastries and fresh coffee filled our room, the perfect start to our day. We decided we would have a nice relaxing day.
Two things, which are a must when visiting Harrogate, are Betty’s Tearooms and The Turkish Baths. Bettys is a Yorkshire institution, an elegant, traditional café opened nearly a century ago by a Swiss confectioner. Betty’s is the best place for afternoon tea. Think silver cake stands, staff in period costume, tea galore and a view of the pretty Montpelier Gardens. Make sure you have a Fat Rascal (a Yorkshire scone) to really feel like you’re in Gods Own Country. Harrogate Turkish Baths are the jewel in Harrogate’s crown. A beautifully designed steam room, plunge pool and spa with Moorish mosaics and terrazzo floors. The Turkish baths are what put Harrogate on the map in Victorian times and by the 19th century had made the town one of Europe’s leading spas. Perhaps more importantly, though, it’s the ideal place to get a massage and steam your self into serenity. We ended our day with a few drinks at the Slug and Lettuce, hello 2-4-1 cocktails and headed to Yo Sushi (which was seriosuly disappointing and would never return now) before retiring back to our room with a glass of vino and an early night. I know, we are so rock and roll.
The following day we had an early start so headed down to the hotel brassiere for breakfast. There was so much choice from the breakfast menu, I chose the grilled kippers serviced with lemon and parsley butter and the husband chose the eggs benedict. There was so much to choose from on the country table too, that’s the continental breakfast to you and me. A huge thank you to the team at Hotel Du Vin Harrogate for taking care of us during our stay, from start to finish we were extremely well looked after. If you’re ever visiting Harrogate I would highly recommend staying at Hotel Du Vin. Its location is fantastic and there is parking right outside of the hotel, which is perfect especially if you’re visiting during the busier summer months.
Next stop, Knaresborough. Knaresborough is a market and spa town and civil parish in the Borough of Harrogate, North Yorkshire, England, on the River Nidd 4 miles east of Harrogate. A warren of medieval streets and stone staircases weave their way around Knaresborough. The exact origins of this market town of ancient walkways, cobbled alleys and secret passageways are shrouded in mystery. But one thing's for sure, Knaresborough has carved out a real character for itself with a Tudor prophetess, once royal castle, magnificent viaduct and breath taking countryside views. With its winding streets, spectacular stone viaduct over the River Nidd and inner-town greenery, Knaresborough is easily one of the most picturesque places in Yorkshire if not the whole of England.
The river splits the town into two. On one side of the valley are beautiful houses and cafes that rise up the hill, while on the other is a thick woodland that is home to an abundance of wildlife. Hidden away in that wood is Mother Shipton's cave. This magical place has been open to the public since 1630 and claims to be England's oldest tourist attraction. I’ve always been fascinated with all things witchcraft so whilst we were in the area I really wanted to make visiting here a priority.
Mother Shipton, originally named Ursula Sonthiel, was born in the cave when the land formed part of a royal hunting ground in 1488. Little is known about her parents, but legend has it that her mother was just 15 when she gave birth and had no family or friends to support her so she tried to bring Ursula up in the cave. When Ursula was still a child the Abbott of Beverley arranged for her to be live with a local family in Knaresborough while her young mother was sent off to a nunnery, where she later died. Ursula was said to be a very strange girl and had a long and crocked nose giving her the appearance of a witch. With few friends she would regularly go back to the cave and began making potions with the flowers she picked from the wood.
When she got older she discovered that she had another talent – successfully predicting the future. It is claimed that she correctly prophesised many events including the Great Fire of London in 1666 and the defeat of the Spanish Armada. Inside the cave today you can take a self-guided audio tour and visit a small museum that explains all of Mother Shipton's prophesies. You can also see the Petrifying Well, which has minerals capable of turning everyday items in stone in just a few months thanks to a process known as calcification. During your visit it is an old tradition to make a wish at the Wishing Well, situated behind the Petrifying Well, adjacent to Mother Shipton’s Cave. The wishing well is fed by the same magical waters as the Petrifying Well and has been wished in for over 300 years. Many visitors have even went on to say that their wishes have come true! You can also buy bottles of Wishing Well water from the gift shop to take home as a souvenir.
The walk towards Old Mother Shipton’s Cave is a unique, unspoilt remnant of the Royal Forest of Knaresborough. Sir Henry Slingsby’s Long Walk is described by English Heritage as “one of the best” of its kind. I was mesmerised by the park’s natural beauty and it really did set the scene in the lead up to the cave, Petrifying Well and Wishing Well. There was certainly something in the air, I couldn’t help but think about the history of this place and what happened here all those years ago now. We continued along a lovely avenue of beech trees, which are quite tall and majestic. It was a lovely sunny day when we were there and the light dappling through the tops of the trees was magical. We passed some spectacular wooden sculptures before arriving at the gift shop. It really is a magical fairy and wizard wonderland and I really can’t wait to take my son in the summer months! The gift shop is packed full of weird, wonderful and quirky items. What’s great is that there are many lovely little bits that are within a pocket money budget, and not the usual plastic tat that can be found in so many of attraction gift shops.
After our visit to Mother Shipton’s Cave we headed into Knaresborough. We didn’t have too much time as I wanted to get back home to pick my little one up from school. Stairways and cobblestone alleys twist up from the riverside to the old town centre, which lead you at England’s oldest pharmacy and a cosy rural market on Wednesdays.
A short walk from the market it Knaresborough Castle. This ruined fortress has a commanding position high over the River Nidd on a cliff. Built by the Normans at the turn of the 12th century, Knaresborough Castle was reinforced in stone a century later by King John, and expanded further under Edward I and Edward II in the 14th century. Although the castle was pulled down after the Civil War and its stone reused in the town centre, you can peer into the dungeon and scale the King’s Tower. The castle and the Courthouse Museum in the grounds is a seasonal attraction, open from Easter to September, but you can make visits by appointment for the rest of the year. The views from the castle are breathtaking and it helped that the day we visited the weather was beautifully sunny. The Bebra Gardens are a small but elegant park in the castle grounds and has a swirl of pathways under mature conifers and broadleaf trees, and past well-tended rockeries and herbaceous borders. At the bottom of the slope is a paddling pool for the smallest members of the family, open from the spring bank holiday to the start of September.
We followed the River Nidd Waterside Walk back to our car at Mother Shipton’s Cave. The Nidd riverside in the centre of Knaresborough is extremely photogenic for the high banks of the gorge and dense vegetation. You can easily walk the length of the town centre’s riverside, from Mother Shipton’s Cave down to Our Lady of the Crag. A constant presence along the route will be Knaresborough’s Victorian viaduct leaping across the gorge. In summer you can hire a rowboat to float down under the viaduct and see it from a new angle. On the waterside there’s a line of cafes under the castle’s cliff, with waterfront terraces where you can sit and take in this beautiful scene.
Needless to say, we had the best few days away. As you can see, I’m not one to just sit down and relax when I go away. I love to explore and see as much as the area as I can possibly squeeze in. We’ll certainly be back in the summer season to visit Knareborough with my son and Harrogate is on my list of places to visit again in 2020, maybe a visit in December for my birthday with the girls, we shall see. Overall, the highlight of our visit was staying at Hotel Du Vin and visiting Mother Shipton’s Cave. Hotel Du Vin always goes above and beyond my expectations and this visit was no different. Until next time…