Harrogate and York have so much to offer groups who, like Agatha Christie, might be looking to escape for a traditional English break.
HARROGATE – ECHOES OF THE ROARING TWENTIES Ninety years ago, crime writer and best-selling novelist of all time Agatha Christie, famously went missing. Having disappeared from her Berkshire home, her car was found abandoned and the press went wild, speculating that she had committed suicide, been murdered by her husband, or even that the whole ‘whodunnit’ was nothing more than a publicity stunt. Eleven days later, Agatha was discovered in a hotel in Harrogate. However, she never spoke about what happened during that time, and it was thought that she may have crashed her car and suffered from temporary amnesia. Despite the various theories put forward, she left a mystery behind that we shall never solve. Harrogate still boasts much of the 1920s elegance that attracted the world’s most famous crime writer, and a trip to the Yorkshire spa town can take in many spots that Agatha may well have enjoyed, along with all the bright young things who visited the town during that decade. To begin with, you can follow in her footsteps and stay at the Old Swan Hotel, which was previously called the Swan Hydropathic Hotel, where she stayed and was finally discovered by her husband. The 1979 film, Agatha, which speculated on what happened during the time she was missing, and which starred Vanessa Redgrave and Dustin Hoffman, was filmed in the Old Swan. www.classiclodges.co.uk Fittingly, the hotel hosts a number of murder mystery events and is also the home for the Theakstons Old Peculiar Crime Writing Festival – the biggest festival of its kind in the world and a ‘must’ for crime writers from every part of the globe.
RELAX AND UNWIND Why not book some time at the Turkish Baths and Health Spa, where high society liked to unwind in the 1920s? The decade saw a considerable increase in visitors to the spa and 1926 saw a record number of people visiting the Royal Pump Room, with an astounding 1,500 drinkers admitted on one morning. Restored to its former glory in 2004, it is the most historically complete Victorian Turkish Baths in the country. You can still book a Turkish Bath session or a spa treatment such as reflexology, Hot Stone therapy or Reiki session. Guided tours take place on Wednesdays at 9am and cost £3.75 per person. It’s also possible to hire the Turkish Baths and Health Spa for £750 for exclusive use for corporate hospitality events. Facilities include three Hot Rooms, Steam Room, Rest Area, Plunge Pool and Winter Garden Lounge. Call 01423 556 746 for bookings and enquiries www.turkishbathsharrogate.co.uk
MAKE TIME FOR TEA Once you’ve treated your body like a temple, pop in to Bettys and treat it to a Fat Rascal (a type of current bun) or other sweet treat! The first Bettys Café Tea Room was opened here in 1919, just in time for Agatha to enjoy its alluring combination of mouth-watering Swiss confectionery and Yorkshire warmth and hospitality in an elegant setting. Choose a table upstairs overlooking The Stray and the colourful Montpellier Gardens or head downstairs to the Spindler Gallery where you can enjoy the exquisite Art Nouveau marquetry scenes of Yorkshire. www.bettys.co.uk/tea-rooms/locations/ harrogate
A ROYAL EXPERIENCE The Royal Hall opened in 1903 as the Kursaal. This Edwardian splendour was refurbished to the tune of £1 million in 2008 and it now offers a full programme of entertainment, from Gilbert and Sullivan to comedy. In the 1920s the Royal Hall attracted national and international stars to its stage such as the ballerina Anna Pavlova, singers Dame Nellie Melba, Clara Butt, Paul Robeson and Gracie Fields, Music Hall stars George Robey and Harry Lauder, and composer/conductor Sir Edward Elgar. The Hall has an open day on October 26, when it costs £3 to take a guided tour and see the ‘glittering palace of gold’. Group tours can also be arranged by emailing email@example.com. More entertainment can be found at the Harrogate Theatre, which opened in 1900. This glamorous Grade II listed building offers music, theatre and more. Famous names to have ‘trod the boards’ here include Charlie Chaplin, Sarah Bernhardt, Trevor Howard and Sir Ben Kingsley. It is now home to an increasingly successful Comedy Festival in October. www.harrogatetheatre.co.uk/ourvenues/royal-hall
VALLEY GARDENS If you want to get outside, head to Valley Gardens and the 6.9 hectares of park, woodlands, and floral displays. During the 1920s visitors would have enjoyed an elegant cup of tea in the tearoom, enjoyed promenading across the beautiful gardens and socialised around the lively bandstand. The 1920s saw a major programme of improvements, including the paddling pool and tennis courts, along
with new shafts and covers for the wells. The park is said to have more mineral springs than any other known place on earth – with 26 of Harrogate’s 88 mineral wells found here. During the summer, there’s a wide variety of outdoor games, a café, and for the children, a paddling pool and play area. SHOP AROUND Finally, the town was well known for its high-class shops and boutiques at the time of Agatha’s visit – and today there is still a wide variety of independent shops well worth browsing, including gift shops, fashion, fine linen, art dealers and more. Ogden of Harrogate Ltd, the distinguished jewellers, has served the families of Yorkshire for generations and includes both royalty and public figures among its clientele; the James Street shop was extensively refurbished in 2014. Antonio Fattorini opened a jeweller’s shop in 1831, a business that is still owned and run by descendants of the founders. Fattorinis made both the FA Cup and the Rugby League Challenge Cup. Further information about Harrogate at www.visitharrogate.co.uk
YORK – CULTURE, HISTORY & BEAUTY If you have time for a longer trip – or want to make a few days of it in Yorkshire – less than an hour’s drive or a 40-minute train journey will take you from Harrogate to the county city of York. There are lots of well-known attractions, from the stunning York Minster to the National Railway Museum, but for something a little more quirky, how about discovering the York Cat Trail? Offering free fun all ages, this trail takes you around the city spotting the cat sculptures that appear on the side of buildings, so is a great way to explore York if you’ve never been before. Take the trail, which lasts around an hour, and you’ll discover the Museum Gardens, Clifford’s Tower and York Minster, as well as a walk down the famous Shambles and onto the City Walls. You can download the trail from www. thecatgallery.co.uk or pick up a leaflet at The Cat Gallery shop in Petergate, which sponsors it. Children (or adults!) who complete the trail will receive a reward – and pop in to the cat gallery for catthemed gifts too.
GETTING FESTIVE This beautiful city is a suitably atmospheric place to spend time leading up to the Christmas holidays, and with 35 days of the St Nicholas Christmas Festival to enjoy, happily there’s plenty of opportunity. The festival starts in mid November and runs until just before Christmas, and includes traditional carol concerts and advent at York Minster, along with festive markets at Barley Hall and the Made in Yorkshire Festive Fayre at the medieval Guildhall. Expect wooden chalets with pretty lights lining Parliament Street and St Sampson’s Square, with stallholders selling jewellery, ceramics, homewares, crafts and Yorkshire produce. An exciting addition to the celebrations
is the Ice Trail, which last year saw 30 ice sculptures including a steam train, a giant teapot and a Cheshire cat dotted around the city centre. Coach parking must be booked in advance at www.visityork.org/groups/ ChristmasCoachParking.aspx
UNMISSABLE MUSEUMS There’s around 200 years of fascinating railway history to discover at York’s National Railway Museum, the collection having been built up over the past 80 years. In the Great Hall, you can marvel at Sir Nigel Gresley’s famous Mallard and ride behind the Replica of Stephenson’s Rocket; see Class 31 diesels, Japan’s ‘Bullet’ train and the Art Deco Duchess of Hamilton; listen to recollections from 20th century railway workers. Entry is free but donations are very welcome. Call 01904 621 261 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for group discounts (for parties of 10 or more) and offers. www.nrm.org.ukww York’s Castle Museum is always fascinating, and taking a stroll around its olde-worlde streets and shops is fun for all ages. New this year, though, is an exhibition, Shaping the Body – 400 Years of Fashion, Food and Life, which takes a look at how fashion has changed the way we look at our bodies, and how we accentuate them. Expect to see an iron corset, crotchless pantaloons from the time of Jane Austen, bum rolls and a killer dress! (The exhibition is in galleries not accessible to wheelchairs.) Also new this year are booked adult group offers, which include A Lesson in the Victorian Classroom, where a schoolteacher will take you through the three Rs – make sure you behave! There’s also a Tour of Kirkgate – England’s oldest recreated street, and Prison Life – a tour that takes you round the recreated prison, discovering the sorry life of prisoners. These 45-minute experiences each cost £45. Email email@example.com or call 01904 687 633. The museum offers group discounts for groups of 10 or more (Adults £8/child £4.50) www.yorkcastlemuseum.org.uk For further information on group friendly itineraries and accommodation in York, visit www.groupvisityork.com