At 6pm I left work to meet Samantha at Kings Cross station for our train to Harrogate, via Leeds. Sam has a conference all week, so we chose to go up early and make a weekend of it, staying at the Ascot House Hotel and renting an underpowered Chevy for the weekend.
We arrived at 10ish, and after a short wait because we’d been pressing the wrong bell, were shown to our room. Number 10, it was smart, quaint and comfortable, with a skylight over the bed.
Up promptly at 8:30am, we went down for breakfast and dutifully had our full English with coffee, toast and orange juice. At 10:30 we picked up the car and headed north west towards Ripon, specifically to Fountains Abbey, a national trust day out.
With the last of our national trust wedding vouchers from Sam’s aunt, we bought a yearlong membership and set about exploring the grounds. The bright sun made the grass glow green, the odd fluffy cloud dallying above us.
Fountains abbey is a huge, ruined 12th century monument, and a UNESCO world heritage site. It is enormous! The spire still survives, along with the main walls of the church. Gaping holes show where beautiful stained glass would have been. A stone altar partly stands, looking down the length of the ruin, it’s a roofless cathedral with a grass carpet. Above us a murder of crows shouts and squabbles, fighting over sitting space on the spire. Their nests are buried into the alcoves of the ruin. A group of school kids on a guided tour pass by, dressed head to toe as traditional monks, it’s a strange sight. We listen as their guide explains the lavatorium and how monks would bathe four times a year. Between all the walls we stopped and shifted to get interesting photos, waiting and hoping for the birds to swoop at the right time, but never quite getting the shot we wanted.
Beyond the ruin lies a water garden, where the natural river valley is sculpted into beautiful greens with statues and ducks, and fearless frogs that leap in front of you. Pheasants (not grouse), flicked up dead leaves searching for a tasty grub. We climbed the hillside to get the best viewpoints, from Anne Boleyn’s shed and the more ornate temple. And we stopped for a picnic, I’d purchased some hobnobs, chocolate ones too.
Further along, past all the pretty lakes and ponds, we came to the end of the grounds and a small tea room. A perfect excuse for tea and carrot cake, while watching the crows dance about the outdoor tables.
Beyond the tended grounds the grass grew long and scattered with mole hills. We climbed up towards a nearby church before heading back round to the car. A full four hours of walking complete.
In the car we drove through the beautiful Yorkshire countryside to Ripon, stopping to peruse the local shops, grab a tasty homemade pork pie and explore the cathedral, complete with ancient crypt. We learnt the history of Ripon through knitted cushions adorning the church edge.
Back in Harrogate we set out for an evening meal. We discovered the Michelin recommended Orchid restaurant, serving a variety of Asian foods from Thailand, Korea, Hong Kong and Indonesia. Their cocktail menu was none too shabby. We sipped our alcoholic concoctions in smart leather seats, chop sticks poised and awaiting food.
Food is served in the middle of the table and everything is shared. It was all exquisite, and tasted authentic. It had that special something extra, that extra spice or freshness, something that made each dish standout from other Asian restaurants we’d been too. That difference that’s so hard to find because Asian menus are so exotic.
We walked home, sated and exhausted. An amazing day all round.