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Harrogate - Britain’s Most Bookish Town

1st March 2018

Categories: News

Cosmopolitan and classy, while still retaining an old fashioned Yorkshire charm, Harrogate is best for books. With a host of literature festivals and events it was no surprise when the Independent crowned Harrogate the ‘bookiest UK town’ in February 2018.

The Home of Whodunit

When the great crime author PD James visited Harrogate, she quipped – ‘this would be a wonderful setting for a murder’. The Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival, the world’s biggest celebration of crime writing, takes place every July at Agatha Christie’s old haunt, The Old Swan Hotel.

This runaway success of a festival was co-founded by arts charity Harrogate International Festivals, author Val McDermid and literary agent Jane Gregory in 2003.  Today, the festival sells over 16,000 tickets and attracts global audiences and world-class authors.

Launching new literature

Several literary megastars such as Dan Brown, Jo Nesbo and JK Rowling have recently launched new books in Harrogate at the Crimewriters Festival thanks to its reputation for shaping the crime genre, Rowling even setting one of her Robert Galbratih novels, The Silkworm in the area.

“The Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival is the best in the world, and I should know, I've been to them all!”– Lee Child, author

Where’s Agatha?

When bestselling author Agathe Christie disappeared without a trace in 1926, it was Harrogate where she was found.  For at least some of her dissapearence Christie was here, staying in what is now the Old Swan Hotel.  The bestselling mystery writer, outsold only by the Bible and Shakespeare, clearly knew of Harrogate’s not so mysterious charms.

Two of Britain’s most famous crime writers, Sherlock creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Dorothy L. Sayers were drawn into the search, as their detective skills were appropriated in the hunt. It was a banjo player who recognised Christie on the dancefloor of the hotel.

Boutique and Bookish

The Raworths Harrogate Literature Festival is an October treat that similarly attracts top-drawer authors.

“One of the UK’s best Literary Festivals.” – Harper’s Bazaar

Hosted every autumn, it’s a hot ticket on the national festival circuit. The stellar line-up includes bestselling authors and household names from the worlds of politics, history, stage and screen. Designed to spark hearts and minds, its eclectic, inspiring programme can touch on psychology, cookery, science, and sport. Past authors include Joan Bakewell, Chris Bonington, Gail Honeyman, Jonathan Aitken, Victoria Hislop, Louis de Bernieres, John Suchet and Vince Cable, to name a few.


Beyond this Bookish Town

Sinkholes and Alice

It is not just Harrogate town that’s a beacon for book-lovers, across the District there are literary links. Ripon is said to be the inspiration for Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. Lewis Carroll’s father was canon at Ripon Cathedral, a carving there depicts a griffin catching a rabbit who subsequently escapes down a hole. A large part of the city is built on gypsum deposits.

Nidderdale, Naturally

NiddFest brings people who love books closer to nature, and people who love nature closer to books, set in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The first NiddFest in 2014 attracted the Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, as its Patron.

“NiddFest is going to become an important festival, allowing writers and readers to celebrate nature and literature in a particularly beautiful part of England.” – Carol Ann Duffy

Set in the glorious landscape of Upper Nidderdale in the heart of the Yorkshire Dales each June, it is a unique, family-friendly festival. Alongside world-class authors it offers a weekend of inspiring talks and fun-packed outside events for nature lovers of all ages.

Doing it for the Kids

Most years, Harrogate International Festivals also host a bespoke Children’s Festival in a pop-up magical Spiegeltent during its month-long summer Festival in July. Under the exquisitely exotic canvas of the mirrored tent, history, science, books and art burst into life with some of the UK’s finest authors and a series of captivating shows from the most sought after museum experiences and attractions.

Further afield, a new children’s literary festival launched in September 2018, the Broughton Hall Children’s Festival, near Skipton.


Literary Event Checklist around Harrogate for 2018

Follycon, Majestic Hotel, Harrogate - March 30- April 2, 2018

NiddFest, Pateley Bridge June 16 & 17, 2018

Lauren Child Exhibition, Newby Hall & Gardens, Ripon- July 7-Sept 7, 2018

Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival, The Old Swan Hotel, Harrogate - July 19-22, 2018

Caroline Norton Exhibition, Markenfield Hall, near Ripon – Spring and Summer 2018

Broughton Hall Children's Literature Festival, 27-30 September

Raworths Harrogate Literature Festival, Crown Hotel Harrogate - October 18-21, 2018

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