If you’re looking for somewhere to visit for a short break, a place to switch off and reconnect with the outdoors then look no further. This is my guide to feeling good in Harrogate.
For almost 500 years, since 1571, Harrogate has been a top destination for those seeking a truly unique wellness experience. The spa town prospered with its unique mineral water attracting royalty from all over the world.
The good news is that, even after all this time, a break in the Harrogate area is sure to make you feel good. From its bustling name-sake town with top restaurants to the rolling hills of Yorkshire, there is something for everyone meaning that whatever you need, you will find it here.
For me, I recently spent two days in the area which, to be honest, couldn’t have come at a better time. With such a stressful full-time job and my wife and I’s lives changing forever with the birth of our little girl, sometimes you just need to take a little break to switch off from the outside world and reconnect with not only the outdoors but also yourself. I know that probably sounds strange but trust me this was exactly what we needed at exactly the right time.
This visit was a press trip with Visit Harrogate but all opinions are my own.
HOW TO FEEL GOOD IN HARROGATE
After a speedy look round the Yorkshire market town of Masham and a beautiful chicken shawarma flatbread, we drove the few miles to Swinton Estate to officially start our trip away.
The first introduction we had to what’s on offer here was at the Swinton Country Club & Spa and what an introduction it was. Everyone was so friendly and welcomed us as though we were regular visitors. Whilst we would be staying overnight at the Swinton Bivouac, deep in the 20,000 acres of the estate, the afternoon began harnessing the healing power of the outdoors.
We started at the barefoot path in the Spa Garden where we walked the short lap repeatedly no less than ten times. The path features five repeating sensory sections; logs, bark, stones, grass and sand. The intention of the path is to abandon the shoe and to feel directly and intimately connected to the earth once more.
It took a few laps to settle in and not be as aware of the slight pain caused by being barefoot but I soon appreciated a strange sense of freedom. It wasn’t until I’d washed my feet under the freezing cold water and we moved on that I realised how relaxed I felt. My feet felt amazing and I honestly can’t describe how calm everything was. I’ve always been a bit of a mindfulness and wellbeing sceptic but taking the time to look after yourself is something that I should have thought about doing sooner. I couldn’t have thought of a better way to start feeling good in Harrogate.
From the barefoot path, we walked through the walled garden where all the produce grown supplies the kitchens across the estate. I can only imagine how good the garden looks during the Spring/Summer months but we did catch a few members of staff harvesting huge amounts of apples from the large trees. A little reminder of my plum picking days in Australia.
Heading deeper into the woods, we came by our next experience at the Woodland Wellbeing Space. The name is given for a simple yet relaxing activity; chilling in a hammock staring up at the canopy. Peace at last.
For a small refundable deposit, you can take advantage of a wellness pack when heading into the woods which contains a woolen blanket, a hot water bottle and thick socks. Be careful though you mind find yourself nodding off for a few hours.
Listening to nothing but the tranquil sounds of nature was no doubt relaxing but, to be fair, I didn’t realise that you could feel seasick from a hammock…
After all that, we went for a short walk past Coffin Lake where you can wild swim and past the deer park where around 120 wild fallow deer roam. We did stumble upon the gravestone of ‘Madame’ (who I believe was a treasured family dog) which spookily was dated September 21st 1887; the exact date we were there.
As I said above, you’ll find Swinton Bivouac nestled within the 20,000 acres of the Swinton Estate and the Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. You can stay at the one of the tree lodges within the woods or, during the warmer months, one of the eco-friendly meadow yurts. Both are intentionally designed with no electricity meaning you really get the chance to switch off.
We stayed in one of the yurts, Lavender, which had beautiful, uninterrupted views right across the fields below all the way to the North Yorkshire Moors. Each yurt can sleep up to four people with a double bed and two singles (that pull out from underneath!). There’s a wood burning stove, running water, comfy robes and access to a communal hot tub. Don’t worry about the toileting situation as just outside your yurt you have your own private toilet! If you’re feeling a little cold or need some home comforts, there’s the resident’s lounge with heating, electricity and a coffee machine.
We were very kindly provided with mountain bikes as soon as we arrived so, before it got too dark, we headed off in search of the famed Druid’s Temple. The temple itself is not actually a real temple but designed taking inspiration from Stonehenge. Whilst the folly is less than 200 years old, the location itself is beautiful and just a little creepy. Rumour has it that the owner of Swinton Estate at the time hired a hermit to live in the Druid’s Temple perhaps to provide authenticity. In any event, it’s a must-see on any visit to Swinton Bivouac.
As we were the only guests that night in the Yurts, we had full access to the shared kitchen and BBQ to cook up our BBQ pack which contained fresh meat from the Estate. We had burgers, sausages and marinated chicken; exactly what we needed after a long day exploring!
The plan for the rest of the evening was to admire the view and let the night roll in. We were treated to an extraordinary moment when a barn owl flew directly over our heads and off into the distance. With nothing left to do but sleep, we lit the log burner and cosied up for the night.
The morning came early. Unfortunately, it seems my body clock has well and truly been altered by little Evelyn. Across on the yoga deck, we lit a Haeckels incense cone and had a mug of green tea to wake ourselves up. We didn’t have chance to use our welcome gift the night before so we quickly made s’mores there and then and had a pre-breakfast breakfast of champions.
After a filling breakfast at the Bivouac Cafe (full English for me, pancakes for Emma), we headed across the moors to Nidderdale Llamas for one of the most unique experiences I’ve ever done; hiking with llamas.
I was a little nervous if I’m honest being around the llamas but we settled in immediately. There were only another two people there are the time joining us for the walk (who strangely were also from Durham and worked at the same place I do!). We spent the first portion of the morning being introduced to the llamas and alpacas before a llama was matched to our personality for the walk ahead.
Lloyd was our chosen llama (the first photo below) and what a cheeky chap he was! He was however very well behaved and off we went for our hike around the country roads and across the fields. There were two designated eating areas where we could let them have a good little graze before attempting to move them on.
At first, I did not think that hiking with llamas would be that relaxing but the combination of walking Lloyd plus being outdoors in general was perfect. Again, I was pleasantly surprised at just how much I enjoyed it! I was so impressed with Nidderdale Llamas; firstly in respect of how passionate the staff are and secondly how well looked after they all were. This is properly and professionally run so I can’t do anything but recommend everyone visits and has a little walk with a llama!
How Stean Gorge
Last but by no means least, we drove deeper into the hills, past Gouthwaite Reservoir through Lofthouse and on to How Stean Gorge. How Stean Gorge is one of Yorkshire’s star attractions for outdoor adventures; from clambering through pitch black natural caves and walking along the gorge itself to abseiling and even a high wire adventure, there is something here for everyone.
By the time we arrived, the Yorkshire weather had closed in and we were quickly getting drenched on the short walk to the visitor centre. We were met by the lovely Hayley who gave us a great introduction to How Stean Gorge before we had an excellent lunch (and I mean excellent – homemade smokey beans on toast for me and a steak pie for Emma) to recharge our batteries.
For those that cannot perhaps take part in all of the high adrenaline activities, the visitor centre offers a unique experience. The cantilevered building (architecturally amazing) juts out far above the gorge and the floor, in places, is glass. Yes, glass. Whilst I definitely do have a fear of heights, this was a great introduction to what was in store. Perhaps a little training exercise for me.
After donning our hard hats, we were taken around the gorge by Hayley which, whilst it’s not one of the Big 5, is an experience in itself. It gave us a great chance to take into the peaceful location and the gorgeous views. You wouldn’t believe this natural ravine was in England.
As I mentioned above, the Big 5 is a full-day experience (costing £130) where you can take part in the Via Ferrata (High Ropes – one of only 3 in the country), Abseiling, Gorge Walk (actually IN the gorge and the water), Caving and Canoeing.
We were introduced to the How Stean Caves with Tom Taylor’s Cave which was pitch black – torches definitely required. Bats call the cave home too but we didn’t manage to see any whilst we were there.
If you’re interested in visiting How Stean Gorge (and you really should be), one of the great things is that you can actually stay over either by camping or sleeping in one of the brand new lodges and chalets which come with their own wood-fired hot tubs!
Feeling Good in Harrogate
After a great few days in the Harrogate district, I can definitely conclude that everything we did made me feel so good. I felt relaxed, free of stress and very happy! We are so lucky really with what this country has to offer and, if you’re a regular reader of the blog, you’ll know that I’ve been looking to prove that it really isn’t grim up north. Hopefully from this post alone, you’ll be able to see just what you’re missing out on by not heading up to Yorkshire and beyond.
Whether you need a relaxing break in the outdoors like me, a trip to the spa or an afternoon sampling great food, there’s something for everyone and Harrogate is without doubt a place to feel good!
For more information, more inspiration or to get down to planning, head to the Visit Harrogate website below.