My roots are so important to me. I am proud of my Yorkshire heritage.
I was born at my parent’s home in Fulwith Mill Lane, Harrogate. A stone’s throw away from the viaduct on the south side of town. I remember little about the house, as my parents decided to uproot my tender sapling self, aged three and replant me down south.
Despite my roots being pulled out from underneath me at such an early age, the draw of the place of my birth remains strong. It will forever be etched upon my heart.
Charles Dickens created some of the world’s best known fictional characters. An enviable skill. If I manage to create just one protagonist that people are drawn to and will remember, it would be cause for celebration. Yet, Mr Dickens considered Harrogate to be ‘the queerest place with the strangest people in it.’
I take umbrage to that! There is nothing queer about Harrogate, it is a beautifully manicured spa town. I wonder if the Northern idiom there’s nowt so queer as folk was bandied about in Dickensian times? Because I believe that phrase can be applied to folk anywhere on the planet and Yorkshire folk, in general, are the salt of the blooming earth.
Harrogate is the queerest place with the strangest people in it, leading the oddest lives of dancing, newspaper reading and dining.’
A couple of years ago, my cousin and I decided to take a trip down memory lane and returned to Harrogate. In my case, after much too long. Driving past the turning to Pannal, where my aunt once lived, Fulwith Mill Lane, and Firs Avenue, where my grandparents lived, sent involuntary shivers down my spine.
I remember my aunt and grandparents houses in Harrogate better because I often visited them when I was growing up. Fir Tree Cottage was the most loving, caring home I ever knew. Somewhere I was guaranteed to be spoilt rotten by my grandparents. The house is no longer there, but if I close my eyes, I can remember so much about it. The sitting room, the smell of the lilac my grandmother had cut from the garden, and the delicious taste of precision-sliced wholemeal bread, with butter and honey.
Even after such a long time time, I still felt I slotted right in. My birthright, I suppose. All those people who passed on their Yorkshire heritage to me through their genes are no longer around but I am still a part of them, as they are of me.
Harrogate has a reputation for being the stronghold of the Yorkshire posh. It’s true that there are some fine houses in town, and strewn around the surrounding countryside, but there is a very relaxed feel about it. Voted as the Happiest Place to Live on more than one occasion… might be a clue?
Best known for its water, Betty’s Tea Rooms and Turkish baths, not necessarily in that order as well as the Old Swan Hotel, where Agatha Christie mysteriously turned up after going missing for eleven days.
Famous sons and daughters of Harrogate, include the actor Jim Carter, AKA Downton Abbey’s one and only Carson, the romance author, Margaret Allan as well as several footballers of note. Perhaps there is something in the Harrogate water that promotes the growth of sturdy legs?
We stayed in the leafy and quiet Studley Road at the very comfortable and welcoming Acorn Guest House, just a short stroll from the town centre.
Before I was born, my grandparent’s ran the Shoulder of Mutton pub in Kirkby Overlow. My mother and aunt were raised there and were they both married from the village church, All Saints, where I was christened. My father met my mother outside the pub during a meet of the foxhounds and the rest, as they say, including me, is history.
If I had been inside the Shoulder of Mutton as a child, I had no recollection. So, to spend time having a meal under the same roof where my forbears went about their daily business, the place my parents met in a bygone era, was a surreal experience.
I felt flushed with an emotional warmth while inside the pub, which was not the after-effects of an excellent Malbec while enjoying our meal.
I wondered what events in a post-war Britain led my forebears to Kirkby Overblow. Why do we never ask these questions while we have the chance? Make sure you do.
I visualised my grandfather singing to me… Daisy, Daisy give me your answer do. I willed my grandmother to walk out from behind the bar across the worn, shiny stone slab flooring that she would, no doubt, have regularly scrubbed, once upon a time. Her unusually olive skin and intensely caring dark eyes. How difficult it must have been for a young Greek woman in post-war Yorkshire, but that is another story for another time.
Comparing the beer garden, as it is now, at the back of the pub to the black and white photo I have taken in the same garden after my aunt’s wedding. My mother, still a child, sitting cross-legged at my aunt’s feet.
I strongly felt their presence there, and I will never forget them because, like the place of my birth, they are forever locked inside my heart.