A definitive A to Z of Harrogate

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Don’t know the difference between Harrow-gate and Harrer-get? Then read the latest in our series of guides to Yorkshire’s most celebrated towns and cities. This week: Harrogate.

A is for AFFLUENT - Harrogate is the most well-heeled town in Yorkshire. Yes, it has its fair share of social problems and is not without urban challenges but there are few places in the UK that feel as prosperous. It even has its own dialect: while the rest of Yorkshire calls it Harrer-get, locals refer to the town as Harrow-gate, possibly because many of them are more familiar with North London than North Yorkshire.

B is for BETTYS - The world’s most famous Yorkshire tea-room was opened by a Swiss confectioner and baker, Frederick Belmont in 1919, when his comestibles proved an instant hit, probably as they helped take away the taste of the eggy Harrogate waters. Few cafes or tea-rooms come as traditional, or as highly recommended, or as classy. Or as pricey.

C is for CAVENDISH, MARK - The UK’s most successful cycling sprinter crashed and burned on the opening stage of the 2014 Tour de France, just a few metres from the finish line in Harrogate, the hometown of his mother, Adele. The Manx Missile missed the rest of the tour with a broken collarbone, but at least he had a chance to grab a Fat Rascal and a cuppa at Bettys while the rest of the tour headed south to Sheffield the following day.

D is for DRUM AND MONKEY - Diners have a huge choice of restaurants in Harrogate and one of our favourites is the Drum and Monkey in the Montpellier Quarter, which has an enviable reputation for the quality of its seafood. A great example of why independent restaurants beat big chains hands down. Or in this case, fins down.

E is for EUROVISION SONG CONTEST - The Harrogate International Centre hosted Eurovision in 1982 as punishment for Bucks Fizz winning the previous year with Making Your Mind Up. The 1982 UK entry, One Step Further by Bardo, came seventh. The winner was German singer Nicole with Ein bißchen Frieden, which translates as ‘Load of old tosh’. Honest.

F is for FOLLIFOOT - A hamlet whose name comes from the Norse phrase “a place of the horse fight” which gained a national and international profile in the 1970s as the fictional setting for the Yorkshire TV children’s series Follifoot Farm. Its theme tune, The Lightning Tree by The Settlers, reached Number 36 in the UK charts in 1971.

G is for GAS - Water gas to be more precise, as used to illuminate Grove House by engineer and inventor Samson Fox, whose Harrogate home became the first in the world to be lit by the highly flammable gas. Fox is a descendant of actors Edward and Emilia Fox; Grove House, on Skipton Road, is now owned and operated by the Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes

H is for HARLOW CARR - One of four public gardens owned by the Royal Horticultural Society, Harlow Carr welcomes a quarter of a million green-fingered visitors every year. It was once home to a Victorian spa but is now more important as the home of some spectacular collections of RHS plants and flowers, whose fragrance helps mask the smell of sulphur.

I is for IDYLLIC - Harrogate has been named as the happiest place to live in Britain in each of the last three years and regularly ranks among the country’s top 10 friendliest towns. Two years ago it was named as the third most romantic destination in the world. Scunthorpe and Croydon were first and second. Only kidding...

J is for JOKE SHOP - You just know a town is special when it still has its own traditional joke shop, and no shopping trip to Harrogate should be complete without a look-see at Butterfingers on Chatsworth Road, where you can still buy stink bombs, itching powder and sweets that turn your mouth blue.

K is for KILLINGHALL - One of Yorkshire’s most ancient villages, Killinghall dates back to Celtic times and has a rich history, including housing Oliver Cromwell’s soldiers and horses following the battle of Marston Moor in 1644.

L is for LADIES’ COLLEGE - An independent school with a strong tradition and an impressive record with exam results (in 2014 over 87 per cent of girls secured places at their first or second choice university), Harrogate Ladies’ College has been the place to send your little princess since 1893, when fees were slightly less than today’s £21,000 per year.

M is for MARX, KARL - The author of the communist manifesto was a visitor to Harrogate in 1873 when he spent three weeks at the Old Swan Hotel taking the waters after falling ill while researching a book at the British Museum in London. Marx once wrote “Communism is the riddle of history solved, and it knows itself to be this solution.” Who needs Miss Marple, eh, Agatha Christie?

N is for NOBBS, DAVID - The author of The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin, A Bit of a Do and the Pratt of the Argus series of books died in Harrogate, his home in the later years of his life, aged 80 in August 2015. Fortunately mourners attending the funeral by train did not arrive 11 minutes late.

O is for OLD BELL TAVERN - Many people have downed a pint or two and enjoyed a pub lunch at this fine hostelry on Royal Parade but few have a higher profile than former US President Bill Clinton, who popped in for a pie during a visit to the town in 2001. We don’t know if he inhaled, but the steak and ale was definitely swallowed.

P is for PUMP ROOM - Now a museum, the Royal Pump Room is a former a spa water pump house where visitors could take the sulphur-infused water that Victorians believed could cure major and minor ailments. The museum includes re-creations of Victorian treatment rooms using original fixtures.

Q is for QUILT SHOW - Held annually at the Great Yorkshire Showground in September, the quilt show attracts needlework and quilt enthusiasts from around the world. The food and refreshments are said to be very good. Well, there’s always a good spread...I’ll get my coat.

R is for ROCK AND ROLL - Brimham Rocks are spectacular rock formations at Summerbridge which were formed by the erosion of millstone grit. Fantastic to look at, even better to climb: the National Trust has few better hands-on attractions.

S is for STRAY - Not a dog on the loose but 200 acres of open park and grassland that provides a highly visible green belt to the town. There’s not much green to be seen in the spring, though, when around seven millions crocuses provide a spectacular splash of colour.

T is for TREASURE - In 2007, two metal detectorists from Leeds unearthed an undisturbed Viking hoard of 617 silver coins and 65 other items which was hailed as the most important find in the UK for 150 years. Valued at £1,082,000, the hoard was purchased by the British Museum and the York Museum Trust after two years of fundraising.

U is for UNITED STATES AIR FORCE - Communications have been monitored by the US Government at Menwith Hill RAF base since 1954, when the site was first leased to the world’s biggest superpower. Now managed by the USA’s National Security Agency. Don’t tell anyone we told you this but Menwith Hill has been the secret home of US Marine Sergeant Nicholas Brody since his death was faked in the Middle East in 2013...

V is for VALLEY GARDENS - Seventeen acres of sweet serenity, the Grade II-Iisted Valley Gardens feature more natural springs than the home of Zebedee. Thirty six of the town’s 88 mineral wells can be found here, as can glorious floral displays in summer.

W is for WHODUNNIT? - Harrogate has hosted murder mystery weekends since the 1920s when Agatha Christie famously took sanctuary at the Old Swan Hotel as 1,000 police officers conducted a nationwide manhunt for the missing novelist. Ms Christie had bolted to escape a domestic crisis and checked into the hotel in the name of Theresa Neele, her husband’s mistress.

X is for X-RATED - According to a BBC documentary, The Virtual Revolution, screened in 2010, Harrogate people spend more time watching online porn than the residents of any other town in the UK. You’ve got to hand it to them.

Y is for YORKSHIRE SHOW - The Great Yorkshire Showground at Hook Oval has hosted the Great Yorkshire Show, the biggest country show in England, every year since 1951, with the exception of 2001 when it was cancelled due to a foot and mouth outbreak. The three-day show is an annual coming together of the county’s great and good and a fantastic celebration of the broad acres.

Z is for ZOO LICENCE - Anyone looking to open an establishment where wild animals are kept for exhibition to the public, other than for the purposes of a circus or a pet shop, must buy a licence from Harrogate Borough Council. The cost? Only £294. What’s stopping you?