The worst pizza in the world, Settle, Ilkley and Harrogate

It is Saturday afternoon and I am performing a clumsy forward roll under a turnstile in a public toilet in Ilkley.  I am sorry Ilkley for coming to your lovely prosperous town simply to cheat you of a municipal 20p but I was utterly desperate for the loo, left my purse in the car and simply could not wait. I bided my time, performing exaggerated horrified patting looking for 20p motions on my dress in the hope someone would realise my plight but the well heeled neat women in camel coloured clothes and smart hair merely swept neatly past me so I waited until they were all having some impeccably neat silent wee then made my move like a post natal Indiana Jones in platform boots.

Sorry, Ilkley- you looked a lovely place, all modern Italians and café bars, stately terraces and small trees in ornate pots. You would be twee if you weren’t ensnared by Ilkley Moor and thus look like Toytown encircled by untamed nature although like a pox the executive detached homes have started to climb up untamed nature and claim it their own.

I would have been more impressed with Ilkley had I not lost my fickle heart already to Settle. We are on an overcomplicated drive through Yorkshire on the way to Harrogate-there are all sorts of road alterations and diversions hence accidental Ilkley, a place I would like to return to should I be allowed after my brief anti-social sojourn here.

Settle, despite being without the thrill of latent criminality is a delightful place without being self-consciously so. A small grey stone market town huddled cosily amidst gentle hills and bountiful with tearooms, old fashioned ironmongers and people with white hair and sensible catalogue footwear stopping to natter on the street.  There are two charity shops for local charities, tearooms and a pub, which has the excellent notion of exchanging drinks vouchers in return for fruit and vegetables from local gardens and allotments. A hitherto undiscovered green finger begins to twitch and I decide I like Settle very much.

We pick around a small rubbish car boot sale, buy some pleasingly cheap cheese from a pleasingly cheap deli and are filled with that glorious sense of well being that only pottering around nice places spending money you don’t really have on things you don’t really need can bring. I wonder how many homes have been repossessed and lives destroyed due to the allure of blackcurrant and almond cake and vanilla scented candles.

It is a place that is wonderful to visit but would probably be sheer hell to reside in-I suspect there are not many dub or techno nights at The Golden Lion and that should you need a halogen heater, Wilkinson’s is half the price of the traditional iron mongers, you would soon tire of being nattered to by people with white hair and sensible catalogue footwear and yearn for the bright lights and fleshpots of Giggleswick. But it is a nice summery day and today we like Settle very much and shall put our fingers in our ears and go ‘tra la la’ if someone mentions the recession or rural poverty.

Then Ilkley pops up out of the moor to make Settle look like Mossside and to tell me to stop going ‘tra la la’ because how can a recession exist in such a pretty place with no parking spaces for miles and miles and independent shops selling designer children’s clothing and teddies?

But then like a Cath Kidson bedecked goliath, looming up from the horizon here comes Harrogate, where there is no car parking anywhere ever and where it has not just endured a recession and survived but  there never was or is or will be a recession and it grows richer and fatter by the day, by the second and poverty is having a car without a personalised number plate. And dear reader, I am from Bath.

There is certainly an element of surprise-I know my spa towns and was expecting something like genteel polite Buxton. Instead reared up an enormous over busy over rich gilded corniced strutting beauty. After a terrifying yet boring parking fiasco, we emerge on level ten of a shopping centre dripping in sweat and nerves and smelling of the reduced blue cheese from Settle.

Harrogate is big. Think of Kensington picked up and dropped near Bradford. It has all the posh high street chains I remember from Bath: The White Company, Joe Browns etc, it has small independent shops casually advertising five hundred pound lamps in the window, chocolatiers, designer retro boutiques and a man walks by, so hilariously pastichely posh with his blonde quiff, camel upturned trousers and jacket with a face elegantly impassively smooth and handsome as he strolls with a bland beautiful blonde in short dress hanging off his arm, I look for the TV cameras.  Seconds later we pass a caricature of a rich banker, lolling fatly against a lamppost.

We are hungry, skint, smell faintly of blue cheese and holding an angry baby. I had looked up places to eat in Harrogate but they seemed so plentiful, positively tumbling out of the internet search engine that it seemed ludicrous to write them down-on the internet Harrogate only consisted of streets lined with delicious cheap vegetarian fare but now we are small, smelly and humble dwarfed by Georgian and Victorian splendour housing posh chain shops featuring clothing of the white linen variety. I would kill for a pint of cider and some cheesy chips. I suspect I might have to.

An incredibly posh looking hotel with a small sweep of drive in front of it has a sign saying ‘two meals for ten pounds in ‘The Place’. I decide it can’t mean the hotel as it looks too posh to advertise meals by the price rather than the chef and also ‘The Place’ makes it sound like it will be housed in a municipal gym. But my friend bravely sallies forth through the revolving doors (told you it were posh, like) and then after a couple of acres of Farrow and Ball, embossed carpet and conference rooms, we come to ‘The Place,’ where the clientele of ‘The Place’ look like an advert for ‘The Place’ as they stand elegantly by their glasses of wine (women) and frosted tall glasses of lager (men) I suspect there are better places to attempt to feed an angry baby in but also delighted at our luck in finding such a glamorous yet reasonably priced place in which to eat.

I am so excited by the fact there is linen tablecloths, I do not mind the only veggie options being cold beetroot and cucumber soup or margarita pizza. My boyfriend and I order both. My ‘soup’ arrives and despite being initially excited by the unadvertised pieces of hard boiled egg floating on top, realise the only evidence of it containing beetroot is the faint pinkish hue and it is in fact a large bowl of tzaiki with a small dinner roll and despite by liking of said dip, I do not wish to eat it by the litre. I decide to eat my boyfriend’s pizza instead. When it arrives I mutter ‘Aah McCain’s, you’ve done it again’ but after biting into it, despite the rarefied surroundings, I shriek ‘that is fucking awful’. Not McCain’s, not even Iceland but one of those freezer outlets which only sell things battered, bread crumbed and by metric tonne. I am not a food snob-I cannot afford to be but this made Dominos look like haute cuisine. There was not a trace of real tomato, just a mass of bready base covered with a minimum swish of red paste, like a used sanitary towel and a slidey utterly separate topping of chewing gum cheese. And two lime and sodas cost three quid. It did however sell Thatchers cider so I drank that instead of eating.

I decide that Harrogate is rubbish but then a few strolls around looking bitterly at more enticing eating options, we see an excellent art exhibition of that man who did the glittery fairy (teenage me) pre Raphaelite Harrison Grimshaw at the Mercer Gallery and then discover a huge spectacular park in which there is a 1940s fun day in order to refurbish a magnesium well of importance within the park. We hear a lot about the well on a fuzzy speaker.  Fairy cakes are purchased as tanks are admired, chairpersons speak on the microphone to smattered handclaps and as the day slowly ebbs to a close, tired old men in ww2 regalia troop back home again and as if to show you cannot escape from modern life, teenagers emerge from the exotic shrubbery to reclaim the glorious park as their own again.

And then as if to mock us, on the way back through Ilkley, we see an organic vegetarian café, filled with happy people clearly not eating a sanitary towel. The bastards.

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