Harrogate is the queerest place with the strangest people in it, leading the oddest lives of dancing, newspaper reading and dining.’
I was born at my parent’s home in Fulwith Mill Lane, Harrogate. A stone’s throw away from the viaduct and I am right proud of my Yorkshire heritage.
My parents decided to uproot me at three years old and re-plant my tender sapling roots down south. But, despite my roots being pulled out from under me at such an early age, I’ve never lost them, as the place of my birth will be forever be etched on my heart.
Charles Dickens created some of the world’s best known fictional characters. An enviable skill. If I manage to create just one character that people are drawn to and will remember, it would be cause for celebration. Mr Dickens considered Harrogate to be the queerest place with the strangest people in it. I take umbrage to that! There is nothing queer about Harrogate, it is a beautifully manicured spa town, with The Stray and it’s historic past. And I wonder if the Northern idiom there’s nowt so queer as folk was bandied about in Dickensian times? As a Yorkshire Lass, I believe that phrase can be applied to folk anywhere on the planet and Yorkshire folk, in general, are the salt of the blooming earth.
Returning to Harrogate, after too long, I passed the turning to Pannal, where my aunt once lived and Fulwith Mill Lane. Closely followed by Firs Avenue, where my grandparents lived in a house called Fir Tree Cottage, a loving home and somewhere I was guaranteed to be spoilt rotten. All those people who passed on their Yorkshire heritage to me through their genes may no longer be around but, returning last Saturday, I felt I slotted right in.
Harrogate has a reputation for being the stronghold of the Yorkshire posh. It’s true that there are some fine houses in town, as well as strewn around the green and picturesque countryside that surrounds it, but there is a very relaxed feel about it. Voted as the Happiest Place to Live on more than one occasion… might be a clue?
Best known for its water, Betty’s Tea Rooms and Turkish baths, not necessarily in that order as well as the Old Swan Hotel, where Agatha Christie mysteriously turned up after going missing for eleven days.
Famous sons and daughters of Harrogate, include the actor Jim Carter, AKA Downton Abbey’s one and only Carson, the romance author, Margaret Allan as well as several footballers of note. Perhaps there is something in the Harrogate water that promotes the growth of sturdy legs?
Harrogate is not short of restaurants. The Drum and Monkey is somewhere I always return to and I tried Graveley’s Seafood Restaurant this time, both provide excellent food. We stayed in the leafy and quiet Studley Road at the very comfortable and welcoming Acorn Guest House, just a short stroll from the city centre.
Before I was born, my grandparent’s ran the Shoulder of Mutton pub at Kirkby Overlow. My mother and aunt were raised there and were they both married from the village church, All Saints, where I was christened. My father met my mother outside the pub during a meet of the foxhounds and the rest, as they say, including me, is history.
I might have been inside the Shoulder of Mutton as a child, but I have no recollection of it. So to sit and eat Braised Shoulder of Lamb in a mint & redcurrant gravy with dauphinoise potatoes and seasonal vegetables under the same roof my family went about their daily business, where my parents met and fell in love in a bygone era was an uncanny experience.
I felt an emotional warmth inside the pub, which was not the after-effects of a fine Malbec, whilst wondering what events in a post-war Britain led my forebears to Kirkby Overblow. Why is it we never ask these questions whilst we have the chance?
I tried to visualise my grandfather singing to me… Daisy, Daisy give me your answer do, whilst willing my grandmother to walk out from behind the bar across the worn, shiny stone slab flooring that she would, no doubt, have scrubbed, once upon a time. Her olive skin gleaming, her dark eyes intensely caring and warm. How difficult it must have been for a young Greek woman in post-war Yorkshire, but that is another story.
Comparing the beer garden, as it is now, at the back of the pub to the photos taken in that same garden after my aunt’s wedding, with my mother, still a child, sitting cross-legged at my aunt’s feet.
I can only imagine… but I strongly felt their presence there and I will never forget them because, like the place of my birth, they are forever locked inside my heart.