Visiting Seaside Resorts in Yorkshire; Whitby (where Dracula was written) and nearly Scarborough

Whitby is a coastal town in the North York Moors National Park of Yorkshire. I happened through Whitby on my way from Newcastle-upon-Tyne to a country hotel near Scarborough. A very scenic town of less than 14 thousand residents, I had not known it’s reasons for having become famous, it’s reputation as being a pretty seaside resort had precluded them.

We’ve all heard of Captain Hook. His adventures of exploring the globe during a more adventurous and less predictable time are the stories that fascinate children all over the world I expect. Captain Cook first went to sea from Whitby as an apprentice. The home of the shipowner with whom James Cook started his sea career is now the Captain Cook Memorial Museum.

One would also likely familiar with Dracula. The original story was written by Bram Stoker while holidaying in Whitby in 1897. A large part of the original book was actually set in Whitby, although Hollywood spinoffs have featured Transylvania much more. I did not have time to visit Whitby Abbey, the setting for Dracula’s arrival on land.

Another asset Whitby is famous for is it’s deposits of jet, a coal-like substance mined from it’s seaside cliffs that was made famous by Queen Victoria when she wore jewellery made from jet during mourning. The term “Jet Black” comes from this jet, I had only learned that recently from one of my favourite podcasts in which two very clever linguists answer questions about word use, linguistics, and etymology. It’s a fantastic and entertaining show, the two hosts are playful and light heated. You can look them up on iTunes, I have them to automatically update on my Blackberry through whatever system that is. Podcasts are free.

I came into Whitby around lunchtime on a Sunday with the idea to have some lunch and to wander about for a few hours. However, the best I could find for parking was restricted to 40 minutes. If I could have found another spot to double my time I would have, but the town was completely over-run with daytrippers. In retrospect I should have perhaps ignored the time restriction and paid any possible fine that came my way, it would have been well worth it to explore the town further. As it was, my responsible citizenship won-out so I had a very brief run about the main waterside areas before accepting defeat that I could not find better parking. I’m happy to pay any premium for parking where there is little available but I could find none.
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The approach to Whitby on England’s East Coast.

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Whitby was really crowded on a Sunday afternoon.

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I think I found THE LAST parking space behind a small caravan. Sadly, it only gave me 40 minutes to see the sights but all the more reason to return for a proper visit. On weekdays.

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I’ve never been one to enjoy the excitement of crowds. What a popular spot!

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I’m growing my hair the longest it’s been since high school! I guess I’m a proper hippy now with the beard and long hair!

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I did not have time to cross the bridge to the other side where several very interesting historical places wait to be explored.

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Several people had the idea to visit Whitby on this lovely weekend.

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Looks like a remote scene from some far off fishing village. That side of the river does have fishing trade, but one could not consider this remote I don’t think.

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Today is Father’s Day so I took a photo to post on his Facebook.

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Whitby seems a lovely place and I look forward to visiting it in more depth in the future.

Even if I did only visit for 40 minutes, I am glad that I visited Whitby. It has now entered my list of places to visit for a few days, WEEKDAYS. At “The Greedy Pig” where I stopped to get a sandwich on my way back to the car I asked him if the crowds were so large because of Father’s Day. “No, it’s like this every weekend when the weather’s nice.” So may I also recommend to you, Whitby has enough visitors on the weekends throughout the summer so perhaps aim for weekdays like I will myself in the future.

Robin Hood Bay

Next I had set my GPS to visit Robin Hood Bay. This town has a reputation as another lovely place but the incredibly slow bumper-to-bumper traffic from 2 miles away had me change my mind midway. I had programmed the GPS coordinates of a car park, this town is somewhere that I researched to park at the top and then walk into the town. “Don’t even think about driving to the centre,” I had read in a guidebook. But with this endless stream of cars from 2 miles away, I could not imagine that on my arrival there would be any parking spots left nor anywhere to even pull-over to pause. So I gave Robin Hood Bay a miss.

There is a 6-mile cliff-top trek from Robin Hood Bay to Whitby, and a 20-mile cycling route to Scarborough. I’d like to stay a week in Whitby sometime and to be sure to have my bicycle with me again to enjoy these activities.

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Scarborough

From a private driveway near Robin Hood Bay I now programmed the Sat Nav to take me to a car park in the centre of Scarborough. With a population shy of 60 thousand, this is the original seaside holiday town of England. This happened due to it’s inclusion in a 1660s book promoting medical benefits of “taking the waters” in which a spring in Scarborough was included.

I have heard that today Scarborough has become a typical British seaside resort town of slot-machines, donkey rides, fish and chips, and tack souvenir shops. But I don’t know myself because I was unable to stop here. The two car parks I encountered were both full and the streets had many free spaces but the signs indicated “disc parking only”. I didn’t know what this meant, I just knew that I did not have a disc.

I pulled over on a high road above the ocean that was lined with independent hotels. I took some photos of the lovely views I could see from where I was, but I did not want to leave my car illegally parked to go exploring. So in Scarborough I only visited for about 2 minutes.

I may visit Scarborough in the future if spending considerable time nearby, but from what I saw I would not stay here. Certainly I would not venture over on a weekend, at least by car. If I had come specifically to Scarborough and then could not park I would have been very disappointed.
Really, I cannot offer much opinion as to this town as a destination having only driven through it. I know someone from York who really likes Scarborough but I also know a tour guide who pleaded with me not to stay there because there are such better places to spend one’s time.

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There was lots of parking available but not for visitors so I pulled-over for just a moment to take a few pics before giving-up and continuing on to my final destination of the day. I think it’s important for the locals to be able to park on their own streets, I don’t mean to suggest otherwise.

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A lovely view high above the North Sea.

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Many of these pretty buildings contain small independent hotels with lovely views.

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I was unable to decide whether this is a place I should return to during my 2 minutes or so while I was illegally parked. There are other lovely towns I would definitely give preference to first though.

From Scarborough my journey continues to “near Scarborough” where I now stay in a country hotel. Ducks look up at me longingly as I sit under an umbrella, keying away at a patio table overlooking the gorgeous countryside. I’m not decided what I think of this hotel yet, it is very picturesque and the public areas are very well appointed visually. I say visually because in the one area of the hotel that has wifi, there are no chairs with tables. There are lovely red leather sofas and armchairs and low coffee tables, but two of us balance our electronics on our laps to awkwardly use the only signal. I had planned to spend a day working on my blog postings here, so I am not delighted with the set-up. I have a SIM card in my iPad so I had expected to be able to use my own internet throughout the grounds, but I have no cellular reception here. I am off the grid.

This travel story will continue in the next posting.

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Cheers!
Darren

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Walking around the lovely city of York, Part One

Walking Tours of York

I joined my first walking tour of York the morning after I arrived. A very relieved Doris, originally from Scarborough she moved here in 1982, was happy to see me. A woman of about 70 years, it wasn’t me in particular she was happy to see. It was just if I had not arrived she would have made the effort to come into the centre of York for no purpose. The walking tours have a minimum 2-person policy. This is not for the financial aspect primarily but because situations have the potential to become awkward when it’s one-on-one. “I wouldn’t trust Doris alone either!” I laugh as she turns red and gives me a gentle elbow with a big smile.

I have enjoyed the few walking tours I have encountered over the past 7 weeks travelling in England so when I saw the elaborate collection of tours available here in York I was quite excited. Some tours are run more than others so I have strategically chosen one or two walks for each day I am here. It could be that I end-up with other plans, but I am happy to have these starting out.

Our tour, “Mansion, Cellar, and Priest Hole,” starts with a location that is only appropriate for a handful of walkers at best, probably four would be the most that could attend this one as a group. Our guide unlocks a gate, followed by a door, followed a small stair and then by another door at the back of The Parish Church of All Saints North Street. This is not something I could have stumbled upon on my own, I don’t have keys to this section of the church.

Up the stairs we stand in a small storage room with boxes, spare candelabras, a monitor, and active WIFI hub. It has lovely windows matching the church although this is a later addition. A small square trap door of perhaps just over a square foot opens into the church on it’s rear wall high above the floor.

Until the 1960’s, this church had resident hermits living here. The hermit could enjoy the services and comings and goings of the church without having to actually move amongst the people. Imagine, until so recently. Our guide, Warwick, describes Hermits as being religious recluses. Some hermits had a tendency to prophetic words so in some cases it was beneficial to have the services of a resident hermit to predict the death of kings or the overthrow of churches and such. He tells us that there are 6 such dwellings attached to churches within the city of York. But it is a bit rare to see inside one, he has not taken guests here in some months. Our group size dictated this inclusion on our tour.

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We don’t just visit this church, our guide has the keys to allow us entrance to the private areas attached.
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This odd little attachment to the church does not block any window while creating a living space for a hermit who can view church activities through a spy hole. (Called “Priest Hole”)
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Today, the hermit quarters is used for storage and such. However, this was a living quarter into the 1960’s!
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Also interesting in this photo is the pulley system to lift the elaborate font cover for when the font is needed for baptisms. Notice the dark square towards the top left of the window where the rope also meets the wall; that is the shuttered door into the hermits quarter from which the hermit could spy on the activity below.
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Main areas of the church.
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Here is another pulley system. This one lowers these ropes to within reach to ring the system of bells.
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A placard informs us that spectacles are very rare to be seen in medieval glass.
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Our tour continues in to a tudor building with the name place “Jacob’s Well”. This building had a varied history that Warwick explains to us and shows us by drawing diagrams as we sit inside sipping a coffee. In the Bible there is a story where Jacob went to a well where he met his future wife Rachel. In one of this building’s carnations it was a pub. The name of Jacob’s Well suggested that it was a place for gentleman to come for drinks and to find wives. Except not wives, in this case they also added some bedrooms upstairs to facilitate those meetings.

At some periods this building was used as church rooms, it has experienced various renovations throughout the years to become what it is today.

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“Jacob’s Well”
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This lovely front door was constructed in 1905, perhaps from reclaimed materials. A kitchen now stands on the other side of the original entry door.
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Here you can see the original exterior wall and exterior door which now leads to the kitchen at the side.
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This emblem and number place was originally on the exterior of the house. This was to show that the owners had paid for fire insurance. In case of a fire, a private brigade of that company would come to the rescue. If they couldn’t find the emblem they would pass on by.
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The original certificate that ties to the fire insurance remains.
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We have time for one more sight on this 90-minute walk. We now happen to the Mansion. Over the main entrance is the sign “ace York”. Warwick points out features from the street that could be easily overlooked. Slight non-symmetry of the windows. Holes where a second gas lamp would have been suspended. A cut-out in the iron work where coal could be poured down a chute.

Today this is a boutique hostel. He is known to reception and they are happy to let us take a look about. One could never happen off the street, be allowed to poke around and know all the odd little corners and hallways and doors he takes us through. Our guide shows us evidence here and there of this having been two homes combined to make one larger one. This was the city home of a family who had their estate in the country. They would have stayed here for a month or two at a time during their city stays.

We wander up the staircases to see the attic rooms where house-staff would have housed and wander through the now-finished basement that originally contained a kitchen of the smaller of the two joined homes, as well as storage rooms, wine cellar, and such.
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The front of this gentry pied a terre that was originally two smaller homes.
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Originally the dining room, now this is the dining hall.
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Who’s that? Oh, it’s me!
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The gorgeous main staircase with three variations of palisades.
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Wonderful ceiling details at the top of the main staircase.
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This view from one of the upper floors showcases the lovely York Train Station. *CORRECTION: I was misinformed, Dorris had told me and our guide agreed but they were mistaken. It is so easy to have these mistakes happen because how do you know someone is wrong with their information. Anyway, it is a nearby hotel, Cedar Court Grand Hotel and Spa. I walked past it the next day. When you see any such mistakes in my postings, please do point them out in the comments so I can fix them. It’s impossible not to have some mistakes when presenting information about different places all the time, it’s not like I am an expert on one specific place that I talk about over and over so that a mistake would be shocking. ((Sorry, I had several really rude correction notes from Indian residents who said I was lying about some facts (I was accused of lying about place names and some names of buildings. Not sure why I’d do that.) rather than accepting that I made a few mix-ups.))
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At the conclusion of our walk Doris walks me to the centre near to where we started and helpfully points me towards the information centre. I stop for lunch at Browns, sitting in an open central square where I key in this account before attending my next walking tour at 2:15. I hope I meet Doris again this week, she is keen to explore her city of 31 years. She too had not been to the three locations we visited today.
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This gentleman played the violin near my table where I had lunch in the square. Sadly, I had no coin left and my smallest bill was a £10 ($15) which was a bit too much to show my appreciation.
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After dining, I took this photo of the area as I left.
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Afternoon Tour

I joined a tour called “Snickelways” in the afternoon of my first day in York. The word Snickelways was coined in 1982 as a combination of three words that refer to the tiny little pedestrian alleys that exist here and there throughout the city of York. In Edinburgh they were called Closes.

We had a very dramatic tour guide who was passionate about history and historic details. In fact, he was so dedicated to showing us the wonderful attributes of this city that our tour went over by nearly an hour.
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This tour was far too long and too details to possibly remember all the things we saw. 90 minutes would have been a better stopping point.
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A bit of York University. This coat of arms currently being refurbished.
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An entrance into what was the walled city.
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Here is our first Snickelway!
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One comes upon the very imposing York Minister when wandering the narrow streets.
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According to our guide, this is one of two cathedrals in the world with it’s own police force. The other is the Vatican.
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What! Who’s that!
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I am sure he said something interesting here, but then there was fully two more hours of him presenting us facts and figures and my brain dumped much of what he said.
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That’s my excuse and I am sticking to it.
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Some shots around York as we wandered about.
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Most interesting to me about this medieval room is the fire area in the middle of the floor, fire places with chimneys were only invented in the 1500’s!
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Another snickelway.
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This lane was originally called “Groppe Cunte”. Yes, they did mean what it sounded like, it was a street of brothels and they highlighted that in the street name. Don’t blame me for being crass, I am just the middleman. (Later, another guide said that Grape was more simply changed from Grope and that there are Grape Streets all over Great Britain that have been changed from their initial spelling which was to help travellers find the local lanes of “women of negotiable affections”.)
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The reason he included this church wasn’t for the church but for what was in it’s front garden.
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No, not this, silly. This is just the back garden where they put the dead people. Who, according to our guide, number more than 1.5 million in York. That’s a lot of fertilizer.
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Oh my goodness, birds of prey on leashes. That little guy to the right behind the sign is a real owl!
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I was really surprised how calm these owls were to be approached and held.
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We are told that when walls sit on top of the floor boards overhanging the wall below, it creates a stress on the boards that keeps the floors within straighter and in need of less floor joists.
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At one point the many priests of York Minster lived separately. It became known that some of them were leading secular lives of playing cards and visiting ladies and such. At some point it was ordered for them all to live together here so they could keep an eye on each other. We are told that 50 or so priests had quarters here.
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The inner courtyard.
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Dutch House is entirely build with bricks from the Netherlands. Dutch traders used bricks as ballast in their ships coming from Holland to return home with quarried rock. Do you see the cute window detail, here because of the name of the street?
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Here it is, a little owl! Seems to be a theme today!
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York is no longer completely walled due to some removal to improve roadways a century ago or so. But most of the walls remain.
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Thank you for visiting http://www.Personal Travel Stories.com.

I hope you will visit some more of my postings, as of August, 2013, mostly of India, Great Britain, Manhattan, and a little Los Angeles.

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Cheers!
Darren

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Visiting the Lovely City of Bridges, Newcastle-upon-Tyne

Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Northumberland

I approached the lovely city of Newcastle from the North after having visited my former home of 18 months, Edinburgh. Situated near the East Coast of England in Northumberland, the first thing I noticed about Newcastle was how it lies in the valley along the river Tyne. All roads lead downwards towards the Tyne, this kind of feature creates an extra visual interest as well as very strong orientation cues when wandering about.

After checking-in to my quayside hotel and depositing my car behind the old fish market, I set out for some initial explorations. The second thing I noticed about Newcastle was how friendly the locals are. Known as Geordies and Tyne-siders, I found that everyone I interacted with from the hotel reception to strangers on the street were warm and helpful. After determining my plan for tomorrow, I return to my hotel. On the way, the third notable aspect to me are the handsome bridges that span the Tyne. They really add to the character of this town.

I start the next day having the Full English Breakfast that came with my room. This happens all too often, I find it hard to turn down the fry-up to have the cereal and yoghurt alternative. Staying in mid-range places, many of them do include a full breakfast, but most of them do not include having a fitness centre to work it off. I will need to start balancing this better, traveling more than not as I am. But, there will be other countries to have daily fruit and coffee for my morning meal, I tell myself. Oh, the excuses.

I walk up lovely Grey Street, the Victorian corridor that curves up the valley climb that was named after Earl Grey. I’m going to the information centre to join a walking tour that starts at 10:30. I have so often missed these tours by minutes or hours by having not known about them until it was too late so now this is something I look into straight away. These are a fantastic chance to be led around an unfamiliar place by a local who has studied lots of interesting details. It’s also nice to meet some other travellers, especially when travelling alone, dining alone, wandering alone, driving alone; you get the idea. Originally I was not interested in meeting non-locals, but this has changed over time from coming to understand that it can be harder to meet people than I had anticipated.

I join a retired couple from Phoenix, Arizona (but originally from and sounding as from New Orleans), and a young man from Blackburn as we are led around the centre by a volunteer guide from Gateshead. (Gateshead is basically the continuation of Newcastle on the other side of the Tyne.)

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This lovely Victorian Shopping Arcade is just around the corner from the Tourist Information Centre in Newcastle.

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The lovely Grey Street with a wonderful variety of Victorian Architecture.

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This unique building also on Grey Street.

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This Monument to Earl Grey was in honour of his good social and civil works. The tea “Earl Grey” was named in his honour, it was not a concoction of his making and he was not in the tea business.

Following the 90 minute tour, Amir, the 21 year-old from Blackburn, and I decide to continue for lunch. This turns in to quite a tour itself as we look for halal alternatives. There are lots around for dinner, not so many for lunchtime. “There are only two mosques here and they are both in the university.” Amir tells me by way of explanation. We happen by one person who notices Amir and greets him traditionally. There are not a lot of Muslims in Newcastle, at least not in this area.

Amir wants to visit every possible art gallery and we go in to two different shops when we happen upon them. He does not see the difference between a store that sells paintings and a public art gallery. Having been a store owner, I do. We are lucky at one of the galleries, the artist, from Harrowgate, is actually present today. He has some very interesting paintings on 3-dimensional canvases. He paints in reverse perspective, basically painting the exact opposite of the perspective that our brain would expect and interpret. Smaller things look like they are further away, views diminish with distance. In his work, the opposite is true which makes for fun brain confusion.

Af first when I look at them I see the dimensions of the canvas, but after a few moments they appear flat to me and my eyes strain to interpret what is in front of me. Quite fascinating, I’ve never seen them done quite like this before. Amir is excited to meet the artist but has nothing to say or ask. In fact, he led us into the gallery and then toured around as if navigating a maze rather than looking at the artwork beyond periphery glance. This he does in all three of the galleries we view today.

Outside the galleries we continue our search for food Amir can eat. He had originally only wanted take-away to keep his budget, but I am happy to treat to have a sit down meal. I need this kind of break when touring around. “There is something that I have been wanting to talk to you about,” Amir says, “but I’ll wait until we’re sitting down.”

“What!?” I am thinking. I only met him a couple of hours ago and he has already been pining to tell me something for which I should be seated? I’m not sure I want to hear whatever this could be. He’s already told me how he left his abusive father with his mother and two sisters seven years ago, and has not keep in contact. (He would have been quite little, only fourteen and the oldest of the children.) I know he has had issues that had him delay his schooling and that for the past two years he has worked at charity shops in Blackburn. I know that he wants to have four masters degrees, an odd detail of ambition I didn’t think about when he said it. Four separate masters degrees. I don’t think he’s started uni yet. I know he has a fixation on libraries, he joins the local library everywhere he goes. He has twelve library cards and today he hopes to make his favourite number, thirteen.

I’m sure he’s harmless though. Very possibly a lunatic, but safe. He’s just little too.

We finally set on Italian where he can have a vegetarian pizza. I didn’t know what a Muslim could eat but if he had shared this before we could have easily eaten an hour ago. Anyway, I order a cappuccino before we look at the menues and continue to wonder about what he could possibly want to talk to me about. He’s a traditional looking Muslim guy, a 21-year old with olive skin and a long beard stands-out. Maybe he’s struggling with being gay and wants to confide to someone outside his circle? Or maybe he’s going to ask me for money, I hope he doesn’t ask me to sponsor him to university or something. Finally the time is right, he is going to talk about whatever it is he has been waiting to share.

“So I’ve had this pen pal for 2 years and we finally met and I really like her,” he starts,”but there’s this other girl too who I think I like.”

Ha,ha,ha on me. He just wants to talk to me about his girl troubles. An older guy who is not Muslim so will not have the bias of that particular religious perspective to be the sounding board for what he should do. Of course I am instantly relieved and have to force myself not to laugh as he concludes, “so I’m kind of in a girl sandwich.”

It does sound very complicated in that to date either girl he needs to nearly concede to eventual marriage, neither girl would date without that aim in mind. As of this moment he has barely spoken to either of them, one works in the library and giggles when he speaks barely able to fuse any sort of response. The other shared buckets when there were pen pals (a type of Muslim online dating site), but became typically shy once they met in person and has barely spoken since. Anyway, it’s interesting for me but I encourage him to perhaps forget about both girls if he is being true that he does not want to marry until he’s about 30 since he knows both girls are looking for a springboard to marriage. If he doesn’t want to offer them that and he knows that is what they are both looking for then I don’t quite understand the conundrum. He’ll probably be married within the year.

After lunch we cross the incredible Gateshead Millennium Bridge. A really interesting engineering project, the pedestrian bridge is a partial loop when flat over the water, with a counter-balance hovering above. When turned on it’s axis, the horizontal walkway made vertical creates a large opening over the water. It’s very cool and adds an extra dimension to Newcastle’s lovely collection of 7 bridges.

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St Nicholas Cathedral, with one of 3 Scottish Gothic Crowns. (Other two in Edinburgh and Aberdeen.)

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Close-up you can see how it looks like a crown.

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For perspective, our guide told us that these figures are life-sized. (The golden statues at the corners.)

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I thought this was a rather optimistic clock. I’m not sure how often this clock using sun shadows would be effective. Not today anyway!

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The most famous Tyne Bridge designed after Sydney’s Harbour Bridge by the same company.

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Because Newcastle is in a valley, the higher bridges span partly over city streets which I thought made for really interesting cityscapes. This is a very handsome city.

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Another bridge, this one green, crossing over buildings until it reaches land level beyond.

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The World’s First combined road and railway bridge, called High Level Bridge, was built in 1849.

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Another view of Tyne Bridge.

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Any lover of bridges must visit Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

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Walking across the Swing Bridge (pivots in the middle) with a view of the Tyne Bridge.

On the opposite side of the bridge we enter the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art. Here we enjoy wonderful views from two viewing platforms, as well as see a few art pieces such as a square soccer ball and a large plain make-up mirror with lipstick writing on it. It said something like, “I love you” in French. It wasn’t exactly that, but it was forgettable. Clotheslines of bedsheets hanging as if to dry. That kind of thing.

Amir notices a boat tour as we approach the very impressive Sage Gateshead, a triple concert hall that reminds me of an Aubergine. It is an amazing space. Amir runs up to the concert ticket desk and asks, “How much are boat tours?” I have not yet entirely clued in yet that he is perhaps a bit off, so I find it funny that he has approached this question like a 6-year old. “Those adults at the big desk look official, they’ll know.” I imagine him thinking.

“Well, we sell concert tickets,” a kindly man replies, “but I could look that up for you on the internet.”

“I’ve been to all the cities in Yorkshire!” Amir informs and starts listing all the cities he as visited over the past two years on day trips.

“There’s an open bus tour you can take to see all of Newcastle,” a friendly adjacent ticket agent offers.

“Oh, no. I don’t want to do that. I already went on a bus tour in York so I don’t need to do that again.”

“But this is a different city, I’m sure it would be an entirely different tour?” She looks to me now with eyes a little bit widened as if looking for some glimmer of comprehension. I’m rather taken by surprise myself by his response. He has such a high function in some ways but is a very young child in others. His memory is exceptional, but memory is not intelligence. It can look like it though. I had been surprised that he includes specific dates when he talks about things he has done and when he told me of his girl troubles. “So on March 2nd I saw her a the library with my friend and she only listened from far away but on March 9th she actually talked to me.” “I went to York on April 23 and to Leeds on May 12th and I went to Liverpool on February 7th.” I am one easily impressed by details of memory because if I don’t write it down I may forget where I was three days ago. Or what I had for dinner last night.

So I have found the boat tour information using my phone before the gentleman at the counter has, distracted as he is by Amir sharing all the details of his day trips. “We missed the last one at 3PM, that’s the one we saw going.”

Next door this is a Heritage Information building where Amir inquires as to whether he can get a library card and what the library hours are. Again, the people here are very friendly and do their best to answer his random questions, but I have the answer using my phone before any of them are able to conjure it. “It closes at 5:30,” I tell him.

We cross the River Tyne over the swing bridge this time. This bridge is manned in a little office 24/7 because it needs to be operated locally. Any happening vessel, even a private yaught, can request it’s opening so hands need to be ready. All this information according to our guide, who has toured it’s interior during a specialty tour. He thinks the bridge only opens about a dozen times a year, certainly less than 20 times. That’s a lot of man-hours in waiting. Perhaps vessels should be required to phone ahead to have it opened rather than it be constantly staffed. Or, a signal could come from a bridge up-river to indicate the need to open is approaching.

We make our way to the Central Library where another kind and warm local does his best to turn off his auto-script when signing someone up to get a library card. “So when you use our online services. . . .” “I don’t have the internet.” “Right, so when you take out a book . . .” “I don’t take out books. I just want the library card. This is number 13.” “Yes, yes, you said you live in Blackburn.” The librarian seemed quite entertained and amused by this young man collecting library memberships everywhere he goes.

Amir was really excited to have his 13th card. It made the entire day with it. Three hours coming and three hours back by train to be here just the day. The ticket cost him £72 ($100 ish) which is a huge expense for him. It would be cheaper for him to stay in a hostel and visit a different nearby city before returning home, but he does each trip as a completely separate day trip. Some of the cities are very near to each other and quite far from Blackburn, but it is his way and I am not sure he could alter that. Stay overnight? No, no, I go home at night.

We stop for a milkshake at what makes Amir’s 12th different shake place, but this is only if he counts having a shake at Costa Coffee and that’s not a shake place so he’s not sure if it really counts. Not strictly, I think, but really he should make his own rules for what he has created as accomplishments so I don’t offer my opinion.

I leave Amir at the train station and wander in the direction of my hotel by the water. He insists on giving me a bag of crisps that he bought 2 for £1. I’ve not bought chips once during my trip but these don’t last the night. Oops.

What an interesting day, I’ll never know just how quirky or possibly certifiable that little guy is.

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What a fantastic building, the Sage Gateshead is a triple concert hall.

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A view from inside the Sage Gateshead.

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Here you can see the counterbalance of the Gateshead Millennium Bridge.

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Now you can see how it curves when it sits flat over the water.

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Watching the bridge rotate on it’s axis to give way for sea traffic, you can see where it got it’s nickname, “Blinking Eye”. Mostly it opens as a tourist attraction, no boats passed underneath when we viewed it’s scheduled opening.

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Looking up the Tyne from the viewpoint of the BALTIC. See Gateshead to the left and Newcastle to the right. Magnificent.

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View from my window at the Waterside Hotel. I enjoyed staying here but the hotel is for sale, in case you are looking for one.

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You can see the Waterside Hotel in this photo, around the middle, a creamy-coloured building.

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Walking under a bridge near the castle.

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This is a medieval castle but it replaced the new castle from which Newcastle got it’s name. So this is the new, new castle.

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A busy pedestrianised shopping zone. I will miss these pedestrian zones when I leave England.

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It was my cousin Kate’s birthday so I took this photo for her Facebook.

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Tomorrow is Father’s Day so I took this for my Dad back in New Brunswick, Canada.

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Just some random last photos around Newcastle. My car is parked behind this lovely fish market building along the Tyne, in the hotel’s car park.

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This sculpture reminds me of the larger white baby sculpture in Monaco.

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Coming from Canada, I had no notions as to what to expect in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Only after did I read that it has a hold-over reputation as being industrial and dirty. I can say with complete confidence that this reputation should be washed away. Today, NewcastleGateshead is a very handsome, thriving, clean and interesting city and I am very happy that I included it on my itinerary. Definitely worth a visit, I will probably be back.

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(This is the sculpture in Monaco I mentioned above, on a trip with my niece in August, 2012.)

Wandering about one of England’s Finest Homes, Castle Howard

Castle Howard is a continued residence of the Howard family who have opened their home to the public for 300 years. Located about 20 minutes north-east of York, it was the perfect stop for my short journey to York coming from near Scarborough.

From the Castle’s Website:

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You can visit the website for more information. Click here:
www.castlehoward.co.uk

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According to my Sat Nav (GPS) the distance from the initial property gate to the next property gate was about a mile. “Follow the road for one mile,” she told me. “It’s not a road,” I explained to her, “it’s a driveway.” Easy to confuse, long as it was.
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After entering the second gate, there was still a large area of ground within.
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This large oblesque stands in the centre of the Howard’s traffic circle. For the main home, take the third exit. (Turn right.) I expect the other directions lead to further property access, but I did not travel them.
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I started my visit to Castle Howard with a delicious lunch at their Courtyard Cafe which you can see in this photo ahead to the right. Of course the cafe has an interior dining area for in-climate days. There is also another dining option in the Castle itself with both indoor and outdoor seating.
Do plan to lunch here if you visit.
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The front of this sizable home faces a lovely sculptured garden.

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Perhaps just as deep as it is wide.
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This would be considered the front yard. (Front garden if you’re British.)
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This fountain in the middle of the front garden.
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The back door entry where visitors are welcomed. Seems nicer than a servant’s entry though.
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Some of the hallways open to visitors.
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I like the fun variety of different types of 4-poster beds.
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View into the central area between the front and two side wings. This “courtyard” is open to the lovely country view with lake.
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View from the back of house.
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Perhaps because I come from a family of engineers who operate in heating and cooling industries, I always seem to find different radiators to be interesting.
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This and the next few images are of the main central hall.
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The Howards became friends with William Morris when they hired his firm to do much of their wallpapering and window glasses. Here is a display of various Morris wallpapers used throughout the house.
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Here you can better see some Morris designs. I have always liked these myself.
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The front garden hedging used to be more elaborate than today.
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But the fountain is still lovely.
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The Largest Medieval Cathedral of Northern Europe, York Minster

This posting is out of sync with my travels. I have placed it earlier than it should have been to increase the variety of my later postings. Roslyn Chapel, near Edinburgh, has been moved from this date to August 16th.

I sit in seat PP1 in the incredible structure of York Minster waiting for a performance of Verdi’s Messa da Requiem to be performed by York University Choir and Symphony Orchestra. I feel very lucky to have gotten a ticket only last night. They had been sold out online when first I checked yesterday, then they weren’t later. I didn’t notice it had been two different suppliers, the box office for York Minster was sold out but York University had a few left.

I am a sucker for overly-dramatic classical works sung in languages I can’t understand. Last week I was entranced by Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater and this week it’s Verdi’s Requiem. I do prefer Pergolesi, but they both have incredible pangs of desperation in their music. Music cannot be written to be any more dramatic than these. If I understood the words it would take away from my experience entirely. Performed well, the passion and anguish and fever of the music itself conveys more emotion than words could ever do. I have never been one for words anyway. Even sung in English, my mother tongue, I usually miss them. This lent well to my own singing when I was easily passionate singing in German or Italian by just learning pronunciations. I had no idea what the words meant, but I felt their meaning from the composition. A “lyric Baritone” my classical voice coach called me when I was 16 years of age. I hum as I go about my day probably everyday, but I’ve not sang since I lived in Edinburgh 1997/1998.

According to my tour guide yesterday, York Minster is one of two Cathedrals in the world to have it’s own official police force. The other is the Vatican. This is also the largest medieval Cathedral in all of Northern Europe. This is one of the most impressive Gothic buildings in the world having been built between 1220 and 1440. This long span of construction meant that the structure has captured the various stages of Gothic architecture as it changed and developed over the years. There were other churches on this site from much earlier times as well.

I am so pleased to be visiting this venue for a dramatic musical performance, I can’t tell you how much so. I stop my writing when I am joined by a lovely Cheshire woman who arrives with her load of shopping. Looks like she has enjoyed some of the nearby boutiques, none of her bags have the large advertisements of chain shops. Turns out Ann spent 12 years living in my city of Toronto and the two of us catch like a house on fire. She sung a season with this choir but, “They were too good for me. Most of them are music students at the university and I couldn’t keep-up with the progress they made. They could learn the music so quickly.” She did enjoy singing in a village choir at some point, but here she is much happier to enjoy the performance from this side.

The concert is impressive, perhaps 300 voices and a large orchestra. With the reverberation some of the music is obscured into great mountains of thunder, but that’s not far off from Verdi’s intention anyway. There is a bit when the strings fight with the timpani drums that is somewhat lost because of how the sound blends in together. The dramatic stops and starts don’t stop and start because the echoes completely fill the spaces. It was a wonderful concert though and it was the kind of night when I couldn’t help but think, “I can’t believe this is my life.” In a good way, of course.

Click below to see the thunderous part I was referring to above:

http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=1woIv05rl1s

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I had to stand quite far away to capture most of the front of York Minster in my viewfinder.
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Excited to be attending a performance of Verdi in the York Minster!
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Inside the main area of this massive Cathedral keying in this entry as I wait until my amicable seatmate arrived to share some conversation.
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I couldn’t see the symphony but I could certainly hear them! The choir, on tiers, was fun to watch.

Earlier today I walked along parts of York’s city walls and wandered around the city.

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A little cutaway at a gate of the city’s walls.
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Clever sign, how did you know? (But what it didn’t know was that I needed it from Betty’s. Sorry sign.)

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I climbed up this gate, on Micklegate, to walk along the walls. But there are numerous entry points.

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Visitors have been walking along these walls since trains first introduced mass tourism to York in the 1830s. Locals, of course, have been walking along them throughout the ages.

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Notice the addition of railings so that visitors don’t fall to their death. Very clever.

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There are lovely views from the city walls too, and lots of nice garden areas.

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This large ferris wheel is only here temporarily. It stands very near to the train station.
The main tracks at the station stand on mass graves from a cholera outbreak. That was a while back though.

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This is when I passed this hotel and was able to correct a detail in my previous York posting.

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Lovely metalwork on this bridge I’m about to cross, it stands linking the city walls.

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Here it is closer where you can see the details of the city walls and tower-like structures on both sides.

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Looking up the Ouse river from the bridge. If people along the River Tyne are Tynesiders, I would suggest these people could be called Ousies. What do you think, people of York? Good idea?

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Interior view of Lendal Bridge.

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I just thought this was fun, a 500-year lease for one peppercorn per year!

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Most of the city walls we walk on are Victorian rebuilds. I will show in another posting a bit of original Roman remains.

There’s lots more to come about the wonderful city of York, a city stepped in rich heritage, history, and medieval architecture. My next posting will come along in 4 days. Don’t miss it, follow me today!

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The Original Spa Town of Harrogate in Yorkshire.

This posting is not in time sync with my travels. I traded this with Lincoln, which will now be posted on August 24th, 2013.

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Harrogate

I sip a cappuccino in a little cafe in the Valley Gardens in Harrogate as I key this in. I didn’t need a coffee, nor did I need a sitting break. I just wanted to sit here and take in this beautiful setting before continuing on. I take a photo directly using the iPad and post it on Facebook. It was drizzling as I drove here from York only an hour ago and it threatens to restart at any time.

I found the perfect parking spot, pay & display, in front of the City Council on central Crescent Road. I had researched and programmed this into the Sat Nav, the luck bit was having spaces available. A quick visit to the very friendly tourist information office across and the helpful staff have set me with a plan to enjoy Harrogate within a few moments. Also picked-up some funny postcards there that makes fun of Yorkshire sheep herders. In one sheep crowd a small pub as the bartender asks, “Does tha have to drop in for a pint on the way home Ted?”

I’d best continue on my wander before the rain does start again.

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I found great central parking in front of this City Council Office. I’m right behind the cream Mini.
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The people staffing this handsome information centre were helpful and friendly and set me up to best enjoy my visit to Harrogate.
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Agatha Christie, the mystery writer, disappeared for 10 days in 1926. She was found here, where she had apparently fled her failing marriage. Her husband came for her but it was not too long before she left for good and eventually got a divorce.
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An entry to the glorious Valley Gardens.
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I chatted briefly with the lady in red, ahead, about the interesting plant we were looking at and she kind-of ran away! I guess I scared her. I didn’t mean to.
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This rhubarb-looking plant was taller than me!

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These award-winning gardens are incredibly lush.

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I didn’t need a coffee and I didn’t need a break, but I could not walk past this little cafe without stopping to enjoy the moment with a pause.

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The view from my table as I wrote the beginning of this Harrogate posting.

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Garden photos would not be complete without including an interior shot of the public toilets. Just kidding. Except that I thought these were really neat contraptions, in the public toilets. Inset in the wall and taking the space of those built-in towel dispensers common in airports, this little inset unit had two buttons. Press one for soap and it dispenses. Twice, because the first time you don’t know where to catch it. Then press the other button and it provides water (for the duration that is probably most hygienic, which seemed a bit long) and in the very same place a hot air blower starts itself for the drying process.

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A closer view of the labels. Very clean washroom for a park!

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The optimistic, “Sun Pavilion”. Would not a rain pavilion get much more use? “What is that brightness above me? NO!!! The sun, the sun, it burns! Hurry, get us to the Sun Pavilion to seek shelter!” Just kidding. Except that it does seem to rain at some point most every day so not really.

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There is a really long corridor where one can walk from the entrance to the Sun Pavilion under the cover of vines.

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Just outside the gardens I take in the history of Harrogate with a visit to The Royal Pump Room Museum. Here I learned that people not only bathed in the waters, they also drank it. Harrogate enjoyed it’s greatest prosperity as a spa town between 1897 and WWII. During WWII many civil servants were relocated from London to Harrogate where many hotels were taken-over for their housing. The town never fully recovered it’s spa business after the second war, but it’s homeopathic treatments continued to attract medical tourism and later Harrogate redeveloped as a city that hosts many conferences which it continues to do today.

During it’s hey day apart from people coming here for various forms of hydro therapies, mostly it seemed to be a leisure ground for the ultra wealthy who enjoyed the past time of taking the waters. It was mentioned that ladies would be seen riding about it their carriages going “nowhere in particular”.

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Now the Royal Pump Room Museum where I am about to go inside.

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This amazing shower contraption from over a century ago has recently been replicated using modern technology and is available in bath stores. I noticed them when I was doing bathroom renos. I wasn’t tempted, I prefer bathing myself.

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I would say that a quick visit to this museum is a must to learn some of the history when visiting Harrogate. The staff were really helpful when I returned to the desk several times with questions.
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I make my way to the original Betty’s Cafe Tea Room. I had enjoyed one in York and today I get to visit the original. Established in 1919 by a Swiss Confectioner who happened here by accident. He got on to the wrong train. Fortunately, he liked what he found at his unexpected destination and now the third generation of his family continues to run the Tea Room business he created.

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The Original Betty’s Tea Cafe in Harrogate. The one I previously visited in York was nicer, but this one is nice too. I believe there is a nicer location in Harrogate, but by this time I have less than an hour left on my un-lengthenable parking.

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I continue writing about Harrogate while having their famous fruit scone, the fat rascal. Something about this place reminds me of my Aunt in Moncton, New Brunswick – she comes to mind every time I visit one. Could be the name. I sent Aunt Betty a postcard from Betty’s in York, perhaps I’ll send another from here.

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Such a happy time. The dessert cart has come for a visit!

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Some random photos taken around Harrogate. This one of the Crown Hotel, I think it would be an ideal location for a visit here although I know nothing of it.

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A traffic circle in front of the Crown Hotel.

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Bob and Margaret enjoy sitting in the park. I don’t actually know who they are, I just like calling couples I don’t know Bob and Margaret. Except not same-sex couples, that would be silly. I guess I could say Bob and Bob or Margaret and Margaret for those couples but for some reason I don’t.
I’d like to have a dog named Margaret someday.
I had a staff member named Margaret once, she was from Manchester. I will be visiting Manchester in some weeks and you can read about that visit in September over two separate postings.

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This is the only bath house that remains in use today. The others are mostly restaurants now.

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This bath house has become a Chinese restaurant.

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Another dose of beautiful countryside on my way to Leeds.

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