My Britain: Harrogate

Anna Walker 8 December 2021

The Yorkshire town of Harrogate is a must-visit for fans of relaxation and Victorian architecture

With a renowned history as a boutique spa resort, Harrogate boasts the last working Turkish Baths in the country, housed in an ornate Moorish-style building with glazed brickwork and stunning painted ceilings.

Harrogate’s 100 recorded mineral springs have been the source of health tourists from the Victorian era who sought to bathe in its sulphur rich water in the hope of alleviating various skin conditions. The Royal Pump Museum, a grade II listed building where the water used to be pumped, now tells the story of this fascinating history. 

As well as its reputation as a wellbeing mecca, Harrogate is home to delightful tea rooms, the Mercer Art Gallery, and award-winning public gardens. You might also be surprised to find out that the town held the Eurovision Song Contest in 1982. No wonder, then, that it’s been listed as Britain’s “happiest town” for three consecutive years.

Tori Moor

Tori Moor, 32, is the marketing and administration officer at Harrogate Theatre, and has lived in a village just outside Harrogate for 24 years.

"I love the feel and atmosphere of Harrogate, and there are so many things to see and do. A walk around the Valley Gardens, visiting the Turkish Baths or the Pump Room Museum. The Montpellier Quarter has a great selection of independent shops and cafes, not forgetting Farrah’s of Harrogate and the legendary Bettys!  I’m a huge fan of the Great Yorkshire Show, too, which is held here every July and is the biggest agricultural show in the country. 

Harrogate Theatre opened in January 1900. It is one of the very few remaining "hemp houses" in the country, using hemp rope to suspend, raise and lower backdrops, lighting and scenery. If you look up to the ceiling you will see a series of holes from which were once pumped fragrant smells, like lavender. This was due to the fact that the Victorian audiences of the day did not pay much attention to their personal hygiene. 

The interior of Harrogate Theatre, photo courtesy of Richard Jemison

The theatre has a resident ghost called Alice who has most recently been seen in the stalls. She often leaves a lingering smell of peppermint in her wake! I have been involved with Harrogate Theatre since I was a teenager performing as a dancer in the annual pantomime and have worked here for 13 years. The theatre feels like a second home to me. There’s a real family feel to the organisation and I absolutely love working here.

Harrogate is special at Christmas. The local shops and traders make a brilliant effort with festive window displays which beautifully complement the Christmas lights around the town. The theatre’s annual pantomime is an integral part of a Harrogate Christmas and the cast is usually involved in the switching on of the lights in November. After such a long time closed due to the pandemic and a massive re-roofing project, we are so excited to be back this year with our magical production of Cinderella. This will be packed with festive fun and is suitable for families of all ages. 

Tickets are available from harrogatetheatre.co.uk or by calling 07762 159115

Katie Summersall

Katie Summersall, 35, is the assistant manager at the Turkish Baths and was born and raised in Harrogate.

I was born in Harrogate and lived here all my life. When my husband got a job opportunity in York, we moved away for a while but came straight back as soon as we were able to. I just love it here, Harrogate is full of amazing history. It all started with the spa waters. In 1571 the springs were found to be medicinal, and some contained magnesium and iron. Then the hotels and railways came about, and eventually, the Royal Baths hydrotherapy centre was created.

I love the fact that the Turkish Baths [the only remaining spa facility of the centre] are still used for their original intention. They comprise three heat rooms, a steam room, a cold plunge pool and a relaxation area. The idea is that you alternate between the hot and cold. The experience is exhilarating and you feel clean and refreshed at the end. Over the years, our menu has developed to include beauty treatments and body treatments. Most of our clients are tourists looking to experience the baths, but many people come for the guided tours, so they can go inside and admire the beauty inside the baths.

Harrogate's famous Turkish Baths

What makes Harrogate truly great is the community spirit; people always help each other out. This was brought especially to the forefront because of COVID. Throughout the pandemic we had a “Harrogate Scrubbers” group—these lovely people who sewed scrubs for Harrogate hospital. There were also various support groups set up—if someone needed anything at all, a request would go out and within minutes there would be an offer to assist.

Another thing I love about Harrogate is the open space—you’re never too far away from greenery and trees. The Valley Gardens are especially beautiful and as you walk around them, you can find iron and magnesium wells—it’s amazing to think that the Victorians used to do the same. There are also loads of great bars, cafes and shops. My favourite spot is Mama Doreen’s for brunch or afternoon tea. The portions are huge—there’s always enough to bring some home. You must try the onion tart when you’re there!  

Visit Turkish Baths Harrogate for more information, and to plan a future visit to Harrogate, head here

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