Harrogate - Head to Valley Gardens for a summer of fun
- Credit: Richard Corfield / Nicola Dixon
Harrogate’s Valley Gardens is the place to be for a vintage adventure
Harrogate is usually a pretty forward-thinking town but this month it's time travelling back to an era when khaki was bang on-trend and bananas left people agog.
Forty thousand people enjoyed the market stalls, vintage cars and live music of last year's 1940s Day and even more are expected to gather in Valley Gardens on June 23rd when the town is once again imbued with Blitz spirit.
There will be even more stalls selling vintage clothes, hats and uniforms, more wartime and vintage vehicles on display, military re-enactors representing the RAF and Army, a vintage children's game area and fairground, a bespoke Pimm's bar, a bouncy castle (don't hit the Pimm's bar and then bounce - speaking from experience) and, if the weather plays ball, a thrilling low level flypast.
'We can't wait to bring the wartime experience to life,' said Kate Robey, event organiser at Harrogate International Festivals. 'The era was really about people pulling together, and we're proud to champion this valued community celebration.'
Whether you swing, sway or simply sink back in a deckchair to enjoy the sounds, the main bandstand line-up includes 40s harmony group The Seatones, Major Swing and Kitty, and Paul Casper as George Formby (he'll be the one casually leaning on a lamp post, possibly at the corner of the street).
'It will be bigger and better than ever, if that's possible,' said Kate. 'We know some people will dress to impress, digging out their hair pins and stockings to get into the spirit of the era, and others will come as they are, bringing the whole family to soak up the atmosphere.'
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The 1940s Day celebrations were previously organised by the Friends of Valley Gardens, a group that ensures the grade two listed Low Harrogate gardens are always beautiful and busy.
Interestingly, the gardens contain more mineral springs that anywhere else - 36 different wells have been discovered in the Bogs Field alone.
Mineral water may well be on the menu at an amazing 'Dine under the Stars' experience in Valley Gardens on June 13th, imbibed alongside wonderful wines and food created by one of Yorkshire's most popular chefs, Stephanie Moon.
A long table will be set for up to 160 diners to enjoy summer cocktails and canapes followed by a feast-style tapas starter, a main of Dales lamb three ways (cutlet, shepherd's pie and minted kofta) and a pud of roast peach Melba and strawberry mille-feuille.
Stephanie comes from a farming family and, as a result, is passionate about local produce: 'We'll make the most of seasonal Yorkshire produce, from local peas and fresh herb hummus to Bleikers' smoked fish pate and heritage tomato herb salad with Harrogate blue cheese.'
Even if you book a place at the long table with friends, it's likely that you'll be surrounded by people you don't know - a chance to make new mates under the stars.
'It's an invitation to come along and try a really unusual experience, to interact, meet new people and have a bit of fun,' says Stephanie. 'Food brings people together; we relax when we eat and really let our hair down.
'We had a cracking time last year and are going to try to beat it this time. We're involving local chefs and making the very best of Yorkshire produce.
'Everyone sits on this one long table, which makes it a really joyous event, so there's a real sense of excitement and fun.'
If you can't make it to the long table or the 1940s Day, you can still enjoy the delights of Valley Gardens - the tennis courts, pitch and putt course, crazy golf, paddling pool, play area, band concerts and accessible walks around its 17 acres - whenever you happen to be in town. The gardens are open 24 hours a day, all year round, although you might get some funny looks if you're found picnicking in the Sun Pavilion at four in the morning.
Harrogate is blessed with other gloriously green and perfectly pleasant outdoor areas for relaxing, exploring and generally having a jolly nice time.
The 200 acres of open grassland that make up its famous Stray encompass the southern half of the town centre, providing a public space for games, walks and, as the young people say, chilling.
The Stray dates back to 1778, when it was created from the forest of Knaresborough to link Harrogate's springs, and has been used over the years for grazing livestock, as allotment space, wheat fields, an airfield for light aircraft and, occasionally, as an add-on area for the Great Yorkshire Show.
Now, it's popular for kite flying, ball games, dog walking, people walking and picnicking, and also hosts two annual funfairs and the town's Bonfire Night celebrations.
Harlow Carr is also well worth a visit - and not just because it has it's own Bettys so you're never more than a five-minute trot from a Fat Rascal. The 58-acre RHS garden is a showcase of horticultural excellence all year round with its wildflower meadows, streamside blue Meconopsis poppies, woodland floral carpets and scented garden filled with heady roses, wisteria and jasmine.
But all that pales into insignificance when you realise that you can also clamber to the pinnacle of Craggle Top Treehouse and - wait for it - slide down the tongue of the Loch Ness Monster. Fun times!