There are a lot of Liz’s in my life. Back in March my friend, Liz K, turned a significant age; one of those ‘Big 0’ birthdays. Liz K isn’t ‘funny’ about her age; she doesn’t want to go ‘over the top’ in terms of celebrations, nor does she want to pretend that it hasn’t happened. But there does come a time in our lives, when you don’t want presents just because it is your birthday. There comes a time when you probably have all the ornaments, kitchen equipment, music, books……. that you need. There is a point at which you appreciate time spent with friends, doing what you want, not what you think other people want you to want. I didn’t want to let a significant birthday pass by, after all, I have known Liz K for more than 20 years.
Liz K is a lover of good quality, loose leaf tea; she enjoys a visit to a really nice tea room. I’d go as far to say that she has probably visited more tea rooms than most people have had hot dinners. At work, she interviewed Lesley Wild (of Betty’s Cookery School) and uses her cook book on a regular basis. Late last year, in a passing conversation, she admitted she had never had Afternoon Tea at a Bettys, in fact, she had never been to a Betty’s Tea Room. Shock, horror, if you love a good tea room! So Liz M and I decided a nice present might be to treat Liz K to a visit to Bettys. We asked her about this and she was very enthusiastic. There was only one problem, agreeing on a date. What with the duties of impending ‘grandparenthood’, holidays and other commitments, the first date we could agree on was in May. I think we all agreed that spreading out birthday celebrations was always a good idea.
After a short discussion, we agreed that we would set off for Betty’s in Harrogate at about 9am on a Sunday, arriving in time for an early Brunch. We would then go to the RHS garden at Harlow Carr (also in Harrogate) followed by tea and a cake at the Betty’s at Harlow Carr (there are two Betty’s in Harrogate). Planning so far ahead meant that we had to ‘gamble’ on the weather. It wasn’t much of a gamble because it was beautiful weather, a bit cloudy, no rain, quite warm, the right weather for a walk round the garden.
We arrived on time. Brunch was lovely: Kedgeree for Liz K, Swiss Rosti for Liz M and scramble eggs and bacon on a muffin for me. We took our time, watching what other people were having, in case it looked better than ours (and it never did), catching up on the gossip, sharing news of grandchildren, talking about summer holiday plans and, inevitably, a brief discussion about tea towels. I had just finished cataloging my tea towels; having identified a few duplicates, I decided I would give them to various friends. One of my duplicates was ‘Betty’s Fancy Tray’, so who better to give it to than Liz K, as a souvenir from Bettys (without her having to buy it!).
After Brunch, we went on to RHS Harlow Carr. The last time I’d been there was about 8 years ago, in the pouring rain. Our visit on this day was so different; there had been so many changes. The Kitchen Garden and the chickens were great but what none of us expected was just how beautiful the tulips would be. There were huge tubs of tulips, all over the garden, with colours you would expect to clash but just looked stunning. There were some imaginative uses of old garden equipment: wheelbarrows painted in rainbow colours holding bulbs, old shopping bags hanging on benches full of bedding plants, the BFG made of willow, a wire heron with its head in the stream….. Harlow Carr is one of those places where you can wander around and suddenly come across the unexpected. The tiny ducklings on the pond was a delight, following their mother around.
Near the ice cream hut (which we didn’t go into) was a large wooden exhibition space. The space was being used by artists from Yorkshire; paintings, embroidery, cards, pottery and, lo and behold, a few tea towels. This Jenny Wren was on sale and I thought that it would be a beautiful reminder of a great day out. I love the simplicity of the style, the wren in the centre and the tiny birds surrounding it, forming a frame. Liz K fell in love with a painting of a post box which I am sure she would have bought if only she could think of a spare piece of wall at home to hang it on. Instead, she bought a card for her friend John, a picture of the landscape they had recently walked.
After a long walk, we returned to Betty’s for a cup of tea and a cake. We were absolute rubbish at choosing cakes, they all looked so beautiful. Mine was a Rose Macaron, Liz M had Yorkshire Curd Tart and Liz K a Pecan slice. Fabulous.
If there was a down-side to the day, it was the fact that we got lost on the way back home but Google Maps soon put us right. Liz M made a photographic record of the day which is now on a memory-stick, as a slide show with music, bringing back some amazing memories. When I look at this tea towel, two things spring to mind: firstly, there is an age, when spending time with friends is as good as expensive gifts, and secondly, that was a great way to celebrate a birthday and, perhaps even better, because it wasn’t on her birthday but planned to be convenient and under no pressure, a definite lesson to be learnt.