We Brits often forget we used to have a spa tradition every bit as strong as Germany’s or Italy’s. So, think not Baden, but Bath. Not to mention Buxton, Cheltenham, Leamington Spa (the clue is in the name) and the town that, in the Georgian era, became known as “The English Spa” – Harrogate.
Harrogate’s waters are rich in sulphur, iron and salt so not dissimilar to those found in the Belgian town of Spa (which gave its name to all the others). Edmund Deane proclaimed the medicinal properties of Harrogate’s waters in his book, Spadacrene Anglica, or the English Spa Fountain, published in 1626. Wealthy visitors flocked there and the town flourished. It is still pretty much the epitome of posh Yorkshire today, with elegant streets and gardens and you can still take a tour to the Royal Pump Room (now a museum) to see – and smell – the original wells.
Just outside the town itself, Rudding Park is recapturing Harrogate’s spa heritage having just opened a massive spa that covers three spacious floors and spills out into the lovely surrounding parkland. The park is 300 acres of perfect rolling Yorkshire countryside with a magnificent Grade I listed house at its heart, complete with its own Gothic Revival chapel.
The new spa itself is full of light and consists mostly of glass and stone with extensive views over the park and some stunning artworks dotted around. There’s a big coolish pool for serious early morning swimmers (it opens at 6.30) with a juniper log sauna attached. So this is excellent for that immune-boosting alternating of heat and cold – just the thing before breakfast.
If you prefer more of a relaxing experience, upstairs there’s a heated infinity pool that stretches outside above the park and has a range of underwater massages – swan neck massage, leg and back massages and the foot volcano (my favourite, you can try to balance on top of the water jets). The waters in this pool are thermal and have therapeutic qualities to relax the muscles and increase blood circulation. There’s a row of underwater loungers and it’s open at night, too, with underwater lighting.
In this upper part of the spa there’s another sauna with great views and it’s also the only place in Britain where you can experience the art of the Aufguss. Now this is a popular pastime in Alpine resorts but it’s new to us to think of towel waving as a kind of performance. So, there you are in this very hot sauna with a pair of stoves on which are placed oils caught in giant balls of ice that look a little like some kind of fish spawn. Each has not just a different scent – one rose petal and the other eucalyptus – but equally different qualities: feminine (yin) and masculine (yang). The “Saunameister” then flourishes the towel to waft these different scents at you with a great surge of heat or more gently and slightly cooling. It’s all over in 15 minutes – not surprisingly, as you are in a very hot sauna.
My friend, Diana, and I staggered out and downed some water before the next heat experience, the Mud Rasul. Now, this is actually a far gentler temperature and, of course, it involves steam rather than the dry heat of the sauna. But first we had to cover ourselves in mud. There were actually three types of mud – white for the face, light brown for the upper body, darker brown for the rest. We sat there looking like David Gulpilil in his initiation dance in Walkabout and steamed slowly until the lighting changed and showers drenched us from above.
The spa has lots of other experiences – steam, foots spas, ice fountains, an ice water bucket shower (gasp) and tropical rain showers, as well as a rooftop garden spa with its own sauna and spa bath. Then there is the treatment section which features the Mind and Sense Zones – and we’re talking super-relaxation here. Instead of just having a cup of herb tea in darkish room after your treatment, you can choose to relax in your own particular way. There is a visual room with a video mood wall featuring land and seascapes. Or an audio room where you can choose your own meditation and sound healing tracks on a headset. Or (my favourite) a very dark room with a starry sky and the most relaxing of loungers.
So that was where I headed after my Kundalini massage, so called because it draws on Ayurvedic traditions and works on the chakras. It was a combination of massage with oils (some very pleasant-smelling Ila products) and warm poultices that my therapist, Paige, first massaged me with and then placed on the seven chakras. The aim is that the chakras are brought into balance and you are overcome with a sense of calm.
And I did indeed feel very relaxed by the time I got to Horto – the hotel’s spa restaurant that turns into a fine dining restaurant in the evening. It comes with a wine pairing for each course of its tasting menu (there is also an a la carte) and features the herbs and vegetables from its extensive kitchen garden. The chef, Murray Wilson, models each dish around the veg rather than the protein and this is modern, healthy food, beautifully presented. I was particularly impressed with the Whitby crab (with peas, yuzu and wasabi) and the Garden Sorbet of sorrel and tarragon.
I had a night afterwards of the most vivid dreams. Had my chakras been unblocked so imagination flowed – or was it that knock-out dinner?
Recently voted ‘Best Newcomer’ in the 2017 Good Spa Guide Awards, Rudding Park offers a spa break from £177 per person per night, including dinner, Yorkshire breakfast, access to the spa, one 50-minute treatment, reduced golf green fees and complimentary entry to the Royal Pump Room Museum in Harrogate. Prices start from £189 per room per night on a bed and breakfast basis.
For more information, reservations and enquiries, please visit www.ruddingpark.co.uk or call 01423 871350.
For more on Anna’s travels, visit her blog on www.annaselby.co.uk.