Life in the Golden Triangle

Just 15 miles from Leeds and situated in an idyllic slice of North Yorkshire, Harrogate has become the latest thing in commuter chic
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The Independent Online

There's sulphur in "them thar hills". Also iron ores. Medicinal qualities were discovered at Tewit Wells in Harrogate as early as 1571, and this North Yorkshire town hasn't looked back since. Dozens of other mineral wells were subsequently discovered, the Pump Room was built in 1842, and wealthy visitors soon started arriving. They stopped coming a hundred years later, but before serious symptoms of economic decline could appear, Harrogate blossomed under the soothing salve of tourism, exhibitions and light industry.

There's sulphur in "them thar hills". Also iron ores. Medicinal qualities were discovered at Tewit Wells in Harrogate as early as 1571, and this North Yorkshire town hasn't looked back since. Dozens of other mineral wells were subsequently discovered, the Pump Room was built in 1842, and wealthy visitors soon started arriving. They stopped coming a hundred years later, but before serious symptoms of economic decline could appear, Harrogate blossomed under the soothing salve of tourism, exhibitions and light industry.

Harrogate is among the UK's top conference and exhibition destinations. While along with Wetherby and the rural countryside to the north of Leeds, it is part of the so-called Golden Triangle.

"The thriving market town of Wetherby is located at the heart of the renowned Golden Triangle boasting the names of some of the most sought-after residential areas in Wharfdale," report property agents DTZ. "There is a tremendous choice of new homes available, from two-bedroom apartments to executive properties, and the price range - £75,000 to £500,000 - reflects this mixed stock."

Many Golden Triangle inhabitants work elsewhere. "A lot of people live in Harrogate and commute to Leeds because, although prices in Harrogate are ludicrous, they are completely ridiculous in comparison with Leeds," says Gillian Neild, regional public relations manager for housebuilder Wilcon. Ms Neild lives in Pannal, an old village that has been swallowed up by Harrogate.

Leeds is 15 miles from Harrogate, and Ms Neild, who works from home, says that "the train takes just over half an hour and the station is bang in the middle of the city centre. That is not a bad travelling time and the drive is no more than an hour, even in commuting traffic."

Housebuilders Barratt, Bryant, Crest and Wimpey are active in an area where, with limited green-field possibilities, attention is increasingly drawn to brown-field developments. Warehouses and redundant office buildings are rare to non-existent, but barns and mansions are ripe for picking. Ingmanthorpe Hall, for example, is a listed mansion currently being radically transformed by Country and Metropolitan Homes.

"We are a pocket, an island in Yorkshire," says Jeremy Hopkinson of Dacre, Son & Hartley estate agents. "Harrogate is a very desirable conference town with good schools, shops and communications, and we are on the doorstep of the Yorkshire Dales."

As Harrogate's economic foundations change, so too do its demographics alter: "The blue-rinse brigade has shifted, and developers are building trendy, high-spec minimalist-type flats to appeal to young professionals," says Mr Hopkinson. "Harrogate has also seen an explosion of new bars and restaurants."

The Low-Down

Transport

Harrogate is roughly equidistant between Edinburgh (185 miles) and London (200 miles). Leeds and York are 15 and 21 miles away, and - within the Golden Triangle - Knaresborough, on the River Nidd, is four miles and Ripon, with its pre-Norman cathedral, is 12 miles. The direct Harrogate-London train service is limited to one per day. Pressure is high for additional services, but the immediate prospect is a six-month halt beginning in December.

Prices

Flats start at £45,000 for one bedroom and jump to £150,000 for luxury two-beds. Small houses and cottages sell for less than £100,000. A typical 4-bed detached family house starts at £200,000.

Price averages

According to the official figures, detached and semi-detached houses are priced above the national average by £9,000 and £18,000 respectively, but terraced houses and flats are below it by about £15,000. However, according to Jeremy Hopkinson, terraces in the town sell nearer to £90,000 and flats at £85,000 - slightly above the national average.

Two for one

Dacre is selling a detached house on grounds which also contain a self-contained flat in a former coachhouse; £395,000. The area is rich in barn and farmhouse conversions, with the truly massive properties with land selling in the £500,000 region.

Pretty as a picture

The Grade II Ingmanthorpe Hall is being converted into 33 houses and apartments, some with ceilings high enough to allow mezzanines. The property, which had a supporting role in TV's The Darling Buds of May, overlooks Wetherby Racecourse. Prices from £110,000 to £450,000. Selling agents are DTZ.

Today and tomorrow

There's still time to visit Harrogate's celebrated Autumn Flower Show this weekend. A newcomer to the Harrogate exhibition circuit is the Homebuilding & Renovating Show, for three days beginning 29 September.

Every year

Harrogate hosts annual festivals in the arts, agriculture and gardening. Every summer, the Harrogate festival of classical music, jazz and blues, theatre, comedy and dance is closely followed by the Knaresborough Festival of folks, blues and country music and arts and crafts. Fountains Abbey, the famous Cistercian ruins, attracts 275,000 visitors annually, but it is topped by Lightwater Valley's 312,000.

Take the waters

The Royal Pump Room sits atop England's strongest sulphur spring and waters can be taken. Harrogate also has an elaborate Victorian Turkish Baths with

steam rooms set to three different hot temperature ranges which can be alternated, for those brave enough, with a "Frigidarium" pool.

Contacts

Dacre, Son & Hartley, 01423 877200; DTZ 01937 583987; Strutt and Parker 01423 561274.

RL

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