The first road trip this week takes us across the Pennines to Yorkshire for a visit to the old spa city of Harrogate. The mineral springs were discovered several centuries ago but it really thrived in the late Georgian and into the Victorian eras. The other road trip found us in North Wales in Anglesey and in the dramatic Snowdonia National Park.
The skies were dreary when we got up but Graham was optimistic that they'd be nicer over the other side of the Pennines in Yorkshire so we headed across the M62, turning off at Leeds and heading for the old spa city of Harrogate. A hot mineral spring was discovered there in the 16th century and over time, the city grew into a healing and wellness destination as popular as the European Spa towns of the day. The Victorians really built up the city and facilities and the architecture here is very elegant, with tall buildings and nice detailing. The Victorian shop fronts are still in evidence with wood and iron decorations, some stained glass accents and some that i saw have glass that curves at the corner of the display window instead of cornering at a window frame.
We parked and walked around the centre square area. There was a Turkish Bath there that you can still go to for spa treatments and I may have missed getting a photo of the Royal Baths building but the tourist information center is in it and we were in there for a town map. We did see the old Pump Rooms which is now a museum. Theatres and ballrooms were built as well as elegant tea rooms and places for the elite to socialize while taking the healing waters. The houses you see as you enter the city are large, detached ones with big gardens and look very posh. This would actually be a good base to explore the Yorkshire area with a number of attractions nearby like Ripon Castle, Fountains Abbey and Bolton Abbey. The city of York is not far either.
We walked around a bit and went into the Mercer Art Gallery which was supposed to have quite a good collection. The current exhibition featured Yorkshire artist Atkinson Grimshaw who was known for paintings featuring moonlight. I can't say as his work overly impressed either of us much. As they were night views, we found them dark and a bit grim. I thought there would be a permanent exhibit as well but there didn't seem to unless there was a different entrance for that. Apparently, though, it may just be changing temporary exhibits, either special ones, touring ones or exhibits from the permanent collections. The gallery is free and is a nice, small gallery so it doesn't take long to look at what's on.
It's practically across the street from the Pump Room museum which explains the history of the spa town, shows you some of the treatments that people might have taken, most of which look pretty brutal! There are artifacts from the past including Victorian life examples, and even an Egyptology exhibit, donated by two collectors. There's an entrance fee and you are not allowed to take photos though i did sneak in a few in one of the large rooms. I don't understand photo bans in museums. I realize the flash could damage some items over time, so why not just restrict people from using the flash. Many museums and other attractions do that and it seems to work just fine. In this case, it's not even as if they have a lot of books or postcards to sell where photos may take away from sales. Anyway, it's a nice little musuem.
Ready for a meal now, and across the street from the museum is Hales Bar, the oldest bar in Harrogate. it's a nice, cozy place with red leather seating and round wooden tables. There's two seating areas, we ate in the smaller one by the bar that still has gas lighting on it. The food was good and there was a good selection. After lunch, we thought we might look for the famed Bettys Tea Rooms. This was established about 100 years ago and is one of the places usually on lists of things to do in Yorkshire. There are two Bettys in the city of York but the one in Harrogate is the original one.
We did a bit of walking to find it, down and then up a hill and over by the war memorial. There's a cafe on the main level, a tea room a few steps below that and a larger room a few steps down again. I think they do cater to larger groups as well. They do tea and coffee with an extensive menu of each. Of course you can get a cream tea or high tea with sandwiches and they do light lunches as well. We had a hot drink and a selection from the cake trolly. Mine was a lemon curd tart and Graham had a chocolate cake, both exquisite. The coffee and tea are served in silver pots with a pot of hot water extra for the tea and the dishes of course were china. The staff is dressed in formal serving outfits. It wasn't cheap, though. It cost us about £15 for what we had, as much as our lunch was but if you are in the mood for a splurge, you must do it.
It was a bit showery on and off all day and it looked like it was starting up again. I really didn't fancy tramping around the grounds of another ruined abbey in the rain (we had thought to visit Fountains Abbey) and anyway, we always try to do too much in one outing so we decided to head back, via a more scenic route than the motorway. We set a course for the A59 across the south part of the North Yorkshire Dales under sometimes threatening skies. The scenery was indeed awesome but would have been nicer if the sun had been out. I did try taking photos out the window and did manage a few good shots. We arrive back home in the grim showers. I got my hair washed and a few things rinsed out.
Skipping the 18th because we mainly stayed in and recorded one of Graham's radio shows and entertained a friend for the evening. We now come to Thursday. It's our last day with the car and though the skies aren't clear, there *is* blue sky and sunshine some of the time. We're off to North Wales where we are determined that it will be nicer and it has been here in the Manchester area! We headed to the Isle of Anglesey to Beaumaris Castle, one of the last ones Edward I built to subjugate the Welsh who were a troublesome lot to his reign and objected to his taking over the place. As you do! The castle is right at the end of the town and was unfinished due to lack of funds and probably the death of the King. The cost to get in wasn't very high either.
The castle is large and has an outer wall and an inner one with towers and gates and gatehouses. You can climb up and walk around the top of some of the walls but we thought the stairs looked a bit uncertain for the most part. We did go up on one lower section that looked over the bay, actually the Menai Strait that separates the island from the rest of Wales. We poked around the castle for awhile then walked through the pretty town, admiring some of the very old buildings. One, the oldest, had a door that only came up to Graham's shoulder! The pub where we had lunch dated back to the early 15th century as well, the George and Dragon Inn. The food wasn't bad, decently priced.
There's a little beach there, and they also do cruises on the bay for fishing and bird watching. We had an ice cream and enjoyed the sunshine before getting back on the road again. Next up was a quick drive through the Welsh town with the very long name, Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch. It's usually called Llanfair PG or Llanfairpwll. I just wanted to take a photo of the full name on a sign somewhere and next to the gas station there was a car dealer with it so I photographed that! Next up, Caernarfon to get a quick look at the castle there, another of Edward I's ring of castles in Wales.
Caernarfon Castle is huge and must have been very intimidating back in the day. We weren't going to take the time to go in and through it but I had wanted to see it from the outside and take a few snaps. It sits on the River Seiont which empties into the Menai Strait. The castle walls and towers are still standing but apparently any of the buildings that were inside it are long gone. We found a spot to stop and I walked back to take a few photos. The castle is next to the town and was walled. We did see a spot where there were remnants of the old city wall nearby.
Our other destination was Llanberis, in the heart of the Snowdonia National Park. We thought if there was time, we might like to take the steam train up Mount Snowdon. They also have a steam train that goes along the lake there as well. The SatNav took us through more little, narrow country lanes and we arrived at the town and parked in the first lot we found. Turns out there was one down the road further and right where the steam railway stations were. Mind you, if we'd parked there, we likely wouldn't have seen any of the town which was quite pretty and, unusually, many of the businesses in the main shopping area were painted very bright colours.
Llanberis, being in the middle of the national Park and close to the mountains, is a popular base for walkers and hikers and has many outdoor and sporting gear shops. We walked down through the main street and finally found the steam train stations. The first one was the lake one and we didn't want that. The mountain one was across the road. The stink from the steam coming from the train was eye-watering! We never got far enough to find out how long the trip up and back takes because we backed off when we saw the cost, £25 per person! eek! It may be worth it to some, but it was too high for what I thought you would get, a ride up and back with just a visitor center at the top selling expensive coffee, no doubt. I'm sure the views would be worth it but still... It's funny what you'll be willing to pay for and what you won't. We went on the London Eye in London a few days later and paid probably about the same amount for a trip around on that yet we weren't willing to pay it for the train.
We gave that up as a lost cause and anyway, it was later in the afternoon and the light and sun were receding behind clouds so we told ourselves the view up the mountain probably wouldn't have been as good as it would have earlier in the day. We set the SatNav for a scenic drive back through the mountains and valleys of central Wales and the views were spectacular indeed. I did get a few photos but they really don't do it justice at all. The country roads seemed to go on and on. The scenery in North Wales wasn't as dramatic but just as nice but the drive seemed longer than we thought it would be. Maybe we're just tired of driving!
We finally got back home after 6:30. We stopped in to see his dad for a last visit. Packing tonight, returning the car tomorrow and off to London for a last few days together.