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A pretty spa town in North Yorkshire

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Harrogate is a pretty spa town in North Yorkshire, not far from Leeds. It used to consist of two separate villages, but they both began to expand when the local water was found to contain iron, sulphur, and salt. A few hundred years ago, water like this was thought to help cure a wide range of diseases and ailments. The two villages grew into a single town, which became a health spa for ill noblemen and women from all over Europe.
Harrogate became arguably the most popular spa town in the UK, and even today there are still bathhouses where you can relax in the waters or steam rooms. But nowadays, there's plenty more to the town than just the spas. Its just as popular for its shopping, its gardens, and its architecture. In fact, in various nationwide polls and lists, Harrogate has often been ranked as one of the best places to live in the country.

Beautiful buildings in the centre of Harrogate
Photo Tim Green aka atoach
The town centre is an especially attractive place, with dozens of elegant buildings on wide, spacious streets. The stores range from well-known chains, to Harrogate exclusives.

Cambridge Street
Photo Kilnburn
The most famous shop in town is certainly Bettys Cafe Tea Rooms, which has become a famous Yorkshire business. The Harrogate branch is the very first one; it was opened by a Swiss man called Frederick Belmont, in 1919. The shop served traditional English tea and food, with a continental influence. Belmont's aim was for everything to be "fresh and dainty", and so all of the cakes and biscuits were hand-made, using local ingredients. In the intervening 90 years between then and now, very little has changed. The food is still made in Harrogate, in the same way as it always was. Actually, Bettys doesn't really feel like it has entered the 21st century at all. To celebrate the shop's recent 90th birthday, the staff even dressed up in period costume.

Bettys Tea Rooms
Photo in the public domain
Harrogate's other well-known building is its conference and exhibition venue, the Harrogate International Centre. It's the third-biggest venue of its type in Britain, losing out only to buildings in London and Glasgow. Throughout the year, it puts on a wide range of concerts, shows, conferences, and more, drawing in hundreds of people to the town. In 1982, it even hosted the Eurovision song contest. The competition that year was won by Germany, with the United Kingdom coming a respectable 7th.

Majestic Hotel and Conference Centre
Photo DS Pugh
As you walk through Harrogate's streets, you can't help but notice the amount of trees, plants, and flowers on display. The town is a keen contestant in the "Britain in Bloom" competition, and regularly achieves its highest prize. Valley Gardens, the town's main public park, won a special award for its enduring high standards. It has outstandingly well-sculpted displays of grass and flowers, as well as a beautiful pavilion that hosts weddings, dinners, and other events. After a refurbishment in the late 90s, it was reopened by the Queen herself.

Valley Gardens and Pavillion
Photo Tim Green aka atoach
Harrogate might be rated as one of the best places to live, but it's also a great town to visit. One of its most famous visitors was Agatha Christie, the crime writer, who, in 1926, came here secretly, and checked into a hotel under a false name. The ensuing search lasted for 11 days, and involved over 1000 police officers. The reason for her disappearance is still unknown, but of all the places in the world she could have run to, Agatha chose Harrogate.

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