Posted: 1/8/2010


      It's a wintry scene as I take the best bus service in Europe, the 36 from Leeds-Harrogate-Ripon, three times an hour. Its a double decker with leather seats upstairs for a comfy ride and great sights.

      We pass the huge estate and stately home at Harewood House with the woolly sheep scratching through the snow for munchies. There was one field with only one sheep, who has it all to himself. The estates' main man is Lord HarewoodPresident of Leeds United since 1961 and former President of The F.A. and a cousin of Queen Elizabeth II. They have lots of wildlife including a herd of  deer that graze near the road. Into Harrogate, that gentile town and the usually green 200 acres Stray is covered in snow, and kids are making snowmen and sculpures such as the Eiffel Tower and a submarine.

      I alight near Betty's Team Rooms, legendary amongst the gentile set and walk down Parliament Street to The Winter Gardens. It has been a pub in the J.D Wetherspoons group for many years and I have the special January breakfast for only 1.99, and prop up the bar. It is like a scene out of an Agatha Christie novel, a fantastic place, and the busiest in the 700 plus strong Wetherspoons empire.

.    Next to me is Dave Howitt, a regular who is an airports and airlines enthusiast, a man after my own heart, and used to watch Manchester United when it was cheaper.  He introduces me to his old mate Billy Baines with a walking cane, who also supports The Reds and tells me his tale. In the mid 60's he and some mates walked into the Nimblenook Working Men's Club in Chadderton, Manchester. There on a Friday evening they encountered a smart young man who, when he turned round, looked like Georgie Best. In fact it WAS Georgie Best and they played darts and snooker with him and tried to keep up with his drinking until 2.00 am.  They next day George played a 'blinder' and scored twice against Leicester City.

     Harrogate is a spa town, modelled on Spa in Belgium, after iron, sulphur and salt in the water was discovered at the Teacket Well in 1571.  Visitors flocked here in the 17th Century and later. Those who ate very well found that the smelly water helped their constitution. A Pump Room was opened and is still there. The Winter Gardens attached to the Royal Baths was a place where visitors could walk and relax and listen to chamber music and that from a grand piano. in the 1920's and 30's with its potted palms it was the place to be seen.

    Now the town, in the Nidd Valley is a major conference and exhibition centre and hosts the outdoor Great Yorkshire Show. The Theakston's Old Peculiar(a VERY strong ale) Crime Writing Festival is an annual event.  On December 3rd 1926 Agatha Christie kissed her children and left home in her motor car. Her husband Archie was away with his mistress, and she disappeared for 11 days.   Even the Home Secretary was worried. The famous author of Inspector Poirot and Miss Marple spent the time in the Hydro Hotel in Harrogate under an asumed name, and later claimed she had amnesia.

     You may not know, but she has sold over 2 billion books in over 100 languages, more than Shakespeare.