The Visit Harrogate column with Richard Spencer

A dark skies event takes place in February and March.
A dark skies event takes place in February and March.

Last week I met representatives from our district’s leading visitor attractions at our regular forum. As ever, I’m completely inspired by their passion and hard work. There are exciting plans afoot for 2019!

Ripon Museums are launching a new Soundscape exhibition next month with Liverpool artist, the winner of the Northern Art Prize, Paul Rooney. Something of a hidden gem (and that’s kind of what makes it extra special), but just half an hour from Harrogate town, is the Himalayan Garden and Sculpture Park.

The team of horticulturists have over 70 sculptures in the 45 acre garden, and this year they’ll be bringing some exotic new sculptures from India, alongside nature-inspired sculptures from Harrogate artist, Anna Whitehouse.

The gardens are of course in Nidderdale’s Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and the AONB is looking to the skies this February. Astro-tourism is a hot 2019 trend. Nidderdale AONB has announced four new Dark Sky Discovery Sites have now officially been declared. The four official spots for star seekers are Thruscross reservoir, Scar House Reservoir, Fewston Reservoir and Toft Gate.

Celebrating its status as home to some of the darkest skies in the country, Nidderdale AONB has partnered with Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors National Parks to host the fourth annual Dark Skies Festival this February 15 to March 3.

Activities include star gazing by canoe with How Stean Gorge adventures at Scar House Reservoir, night photography workshops to capture star-filled skies, a Super Moon and Stars party with astronomer Richard Darn, and a Dark Skies Planetarium at Ripon Cathedral offering a 360 degrees immersive cinematic experience. They’ll be a Dark Skies Forest School by Moonlight inviting you to toast marshmallows on top of the world at Toft Gate Lime Kiln, and children’s Night Time Cycle Rides around Scar House Reservoir, and an off road cycling night for experienced cyclists. Go to nidderdaleaonb.org.uk to book your spot!

Building on the beauty of the great outdoors, RHS Harlow Carr celebrates its 70th anniversary this year, and promises a very special surprise guest at its flower show in June to help the celebrations. Themes this year include the national RHS campaign on gardening and well-being – expect Yoga in the rhododendrons!

For those who prefer adrenalin, Ripon Cathedral is inviting everyone to an epic challenge, to abseil down the tower in May. Stockeld Park is building on its successful illuminations this year, and their exhilarating skiing offer (yes, you read that right!).

I was really inspired to meet the small team behind Mother Shipton’s Cave. They are putting heart and soul into the restoration and renovation work that England’s oldest tourist attraction deserves.

In the past, the team petrified a bicycle for the Tour de France, which they said was picked up and broadcast around the world, attracting new visitors. It’s a great example of how businesses and attractions can generate bicycle themed campaigns to capitalise on the UCI World Road Championships this September. 

Don’t underestimate pedal power – our own website stats are already spiking around our UCI pages and we are working hard to cross sell and connect that interest with other tourism businesses in the area.

In May, Harrogate will host ExploreGB. Visit Britain’s flagship event for promoting Britain to hundreds of international visitors and travel buyers will come to Harrogate for three days, beginning Wednesday 8 May. 

It’s going to be a busy few days of meetings, seminars and visits. We are working closely with Visit Britain, Welcome to Yorkshire and our very own tourism businesses to put on an unforgettable show, and to get Harrogate and District businesses in front of these buyers.

Every year we print over 200,000 destination guides for the towns of Boroughbridge, Harrogate, Knaresborough, Masham, Pateley Bridge and the city of Ripon. We are finalising the guides that will provide visitors with dedicated information for these destinations and the Harrogate district throughout 2019.

If you would like your business or event to be included the deadline is close!