I was last in Harrogate in the 1980s, when I visited a cactus nursey and a big cactus show in the Royal Halls. (I used to be big in cacti, in fact I specialised in desert plants and their adaptations for many years.) I remember it as a quiet, attractive Victorian town, with lots of municipal buildings in attractive local stone. I’m pretty sure I stayed in a camping site outside the town, in our lime-green Fiat Amigo caravanette – I was known for my lack of taste even then.
Revisiting this weekend was a bit of a disappointment. Some of the original buildings are still there – including the Royal Halls – but it was now an adjunct to a huge modern exhibition hall, and next door was the equally modern, and architecturally barren, International Centre.
The old Royal Baths, with its impressive atrium and magnificent domed central hall, is now a vast and incongruous Chinese restaurant. I’ve nothing against Chinese food – I’ve eaten a lot of wonderful Chinese meals, including in China itself, but, Why? And Why here? Money, I suppose. The High Street frontages are a mish-mash of styles, mostly modern, but we did find an old Victorian-style shopping mall with small specialist shops. A good use of the building, I thought.
The trip was saved by a walk round Knaresborough – which I loved – Ripley – which was fascinating – and the RHS garden at Harlow Carr – one of my main reasons for going there. Quite simply, it is a magnificent and innovative garden, and well worth a visit. I’m writing a series of poetic essays on gardens, and this visit has provided the material for the first one.