By Rhonda Carrier
We were glad to stumble on Harrogate's Valley Gardens – as well as being the place where more mineral springs surface than anywhere else on Earth (36, of a total of 88 in Harrogate as a whole, housed in little stone spa wells dotted around the park), this unique English Heritage listed spot also has an amazing play area with all kinds of equipment you won’t find elsewhere, from a wooden aeroplane and large wooden fort to an outsize xylophone and a paddling pool in the summer months. There’s also a stream, a boating pond, sport facilities galore, and a café, plus pathways leading you into adjoining pinewoods. It's true that Harrogate is more famously home to the RHS Harlow Carr Gardens with their trails, log maze, woodland dens and observation beehives, but unlike the RHS, Valley Gardens is free to visit.
'Betty's Café Tea Rooms totally hit the spot with my sons. We were very tempted to go elsewhere when we saw the notorious queues at this original branch of the famous institution, but once we were inside it was obvious why the place is so popular for its delectable cakes and coffees.'
We were staying in the chic spa town on the way down from the north, in a serviced luxury apartment that makes perfect sense for families in need of space and self-catering facilities, The Lawrance. The boys used our state-of-the-art kitchen to reheat the food they’d made earlier in the day at the children’s cookery school at Swinton Park, although there’s a child-friendly Italian restaurant on the ground floor of the city-centre building, and it will deliver to your room too. With PS3s to hand and free Wifi, the apartments are a great place to flop in a town that doesn’t have too many family-friendly options (Harrogate a famous conference centre, so hotels tend to be very corporate).
Rated one of the UK’s most desirable towns in which to live, Harrogate is one of those places that are great to just wander around, with little specifically for kids to do beyond take a history lesson and taste Europe's strongest sulphur wells in the Royal Pump Room. The town’s famous Turkish Baths, restored to their Victorian glory, are off limits to children, while the many swanky interiors shops won’t hold youthful attention.
Betty's Café Tea Rooms, however, totally hit the spot with my sons. We were very tempted to go elsewhere when we saw the notorious queues at this original branch of the famous institution, but once we were inside it was obvious why the place is so popular, and how it can get away with commanding such high prices for its delectable cakes and coffees. It also serves main meals, and younger diners get Little Rascals puzzle books to keep them amused.
Otherwise, Ripley Castle with its excellent children’s tours is also just a few minutes’ north of Harrogate, child-friendly Harewood House is just 12km away, and you might also choose to base yourself in Harrogate to explore historic but hectic York just 35km away.
Read more about Yorkshire family breaks.