(*to schmooch – describes the activity that comes of combining shopping with mooching, source: GY dictionary)
I love Harrogate in winter, when the trees edging The Stray are garlanded in coloured lights and teams of exhibition delegates mill about the lower town centre, ID badges and lanyards flapping in the wind.
On Parliament Street, outside the sugar-and-spice windows of Betty’s Tea Rooms, extra-long queues of well-wrapped visitors chat happily, determined they will sit down to a rosti and a Fat Rascal before the day is out (for this is the original and, for many, the best Betty’s of the bunch).
Yet, as charming as the centre of Harrogate is, there’s much, much more to the town. If you are in the mood for a little lazy shopping and mooching (*schmooching, we could call it), make for its bohemian quarter, commonly known as Cold Bath Road, just a short walk away. Head past Betty’s, down Montpellier Hill to the roundabout which marks the bottom end of this fascinating thoroughfare, named after a spring, or cold bath, that was, quite literally, a sight for sore eyes (as a historical plaque will tell you, the well was famed for healing eyes).
There’s something wonderfully authentic about Cold Bath Road, with an eclectic mix of independent shops and eateries that combine traditional friendliness with contemporary cool, offering value for money and occasional quirkiness. The action begins at the bottom of the road, with the impressive splendour of The White Hart hotel and restaurant, all recently refurbished and gorgeously decorated, while the hotel’s stylish Fat Badger bar is large but atmospheric and rightly popular, spilling outside in summer and well into the winter.
A little further on is William and Victoria’s Restaurant and Wine Bar, adored by locals with a top quality, romantically lit restaurant upstairs at night and a reasonably priced bistro in the basement for lunch, with an extensive menu board. Signature dish – Slow Roast Lamb Henry with Mint & Rosemary and there are great value special offers early evening and lunchtimes.
Sticking with eateries, further on, and at the heart of Cold Bath Road, you’ll find The Italian Connection, a busy and lively meeting place and medium-sized cafe by day and bistro-restaurant by night. Don’t miss the coffee and chocolate almond pastries.
Mama Doreen’s Cupcake Company is a real treat, with delicious, gorgeously decorated cupcakes, plus American-style candy and gifts, and the cutest ever cafe/function room for parties, baby showers etc. Special mentions also to the Tartufo deli-cafe and Oliver’s Fish & Chip shop (takeaway and restaurant), which serves simply amazing fish and chips, so much so that people travel from miles around and there’s a steady queue from 5pm.
For fruit, veg (plus plants and Christmas trees), go to Lengs, further up on the right, and for traditional sandwiches, bakes and pastries, go to Lancasters.
On now to the shopping – Catherine Smith is another real find, a truly wonderful vintage fashion store, with one-off pieces from the ‘20s to the ‘70s, all hand-picked by Cathy, who has a fantastic eye, and very reasonable, with prices comparable with the High Street, but the quality and unique-ness like nothing you could find there for the price. This is the place to go for a one-off special outfit that no-one else will be wearing.
Next door, Chris Holmes Decorative Interiors is a fascinating emporium of antique finds, including furniture, paintings, mirrors and curios – all unique one-offs, superb quality, many found in France by Chris and brought back to provide characterful opulence to homes for many, many miles around.
The 4 Seasons floristry has fabulous flower, tree and plant designs and creations, plus a range of reasonably prices painted furniture. Higher up on the right, Paraphernalia is more of a bric-a brac/antiques place, very interesting, with reasonable prices and lots of usable, different bits and pieces. Back across the road, Illingworths the ironmongers is another find, excellent for all those necessary widgets and gadgets, plus some lovely woven baskets, quirky curios and unusual Christmas decs, while the Cold Bath Toyshop is that most rare of stores – a proper, traditional shop selling toys.
Moving back down the road, the fabulously named Brown Trout is the place to go for country wear and tackle, with lots of currently on-trend togs to snap up, while White Stone is an outdoors clothing store that’s well worth popping into, even if you have no plans to exert yourself. It’s huge inside and the hats and footwear are especially cool.
Special mention too for the charity shops of Cold Bath Road – there’s the Oxfam furniture shop at the bottom (some good stuff in there) and, higher up, next door to the Post Office, the St Michael’s Hospice Emporium has quality pre-loved clothing, footwear, kitchenware, soft furnishings and some electricals.
So, there we have it – Cold Bath Road. Apologies to the other no doubt excellent shops and eateries on the road that I have missed, as I have so far just picked out the places I love and know best. It’s a vibrant and inspiring place, busy but not annoyingly so, although parking can be challenging (there is disc parking on both sides of the road and down the many side roads – you can always find somewhere and many shops will give you a parking disc).
My ideal afternoon begins with lunch at William and Vics, then a wander up the right hand until the shops peter out and a return schmooch down the other side of the road, finishing with a glass of something gorgeous at the Fat Badger, as darkness falls and the trees of Low Harrogate begin to twinkle.