When I was younger, I couldn’t be doing with formal displays in civic parks: the unwieldy floral clock, or the town’s name picked out in vividly orange French marigolds, or the little red begonias marching stiffly round a perfectly rectangular flowerbed. I felt sorry for the poor over-disciplined flowers and longed to release them to grow more freely under the trees.
These days, however, I quite enjoy the burst of colour that these formal displays offer as they welcome you into the park. I sense they aren’t quite the rigidly organised affairs of a few years back, and certainly they attract attention.
Yesterday, for instance, whilst in Ripon to do some jobs, Malcolm and I made a detour to idle away a little time in Ripon Spa Gardens, a really rather small park that’s a real oasis of relaxation very near the town centre.
There are those colourful beds to meander through. There’s some trunks of thinned out cypress trees which have been transformed into a celebration of Alice ‘s Adventures in Wonderland. This is where grandparents stop to reminisce about this classic of childhood, whilst their grandchildren make it into an impromptu climbing frame. The Ripon connection with ‘Alice’ is that Dodgson was at one time Canon-in-Residence at the Cathedral here.
There are trees fringing the edges of the park, making it seem larger and more extensive than it really is. There’s crazy golf, and a bowling green. There’s a bandstand. And best of all, there is a café.
I was resistant to calling in for a cup of tea. Cafés in parks are often dismal affairs, lowest-common-factor places offering indifferent tea, cheap fizzy drinks and industrial biscuits. But Malcolm was correct in insisting we try it out. He rightly pointed out that a café with this wonderfully quirky bicycle parked outside, sporting knitted versions of everything on the café‘s menu couldn’t be all bad.
In fact it’s all good. The Sun Parlour Café is cheerily decorated in yellow, and already anticipating le Tour de France’s visit to Yorkshire by having lines of tiny knitted jerseys strung at every window.
There’s a choice of a dozen or more home-made cakes or biscuits (coffee and walnut for Malcolm please, orange-and-lemon for me), and freshly baked scones all at unbeatable prices.
Every day they offer a roast dinner and hot pudding with a drink for an excellent value £9.00. It’s run by a lively and welcoming woman who answers to the name of ‘Lefty’ (‘My surname was Wright before I married’, she explained). She clearly has regular customers. She’s just acquired two more.
Ripon’s living up to expectations. We’ve now added the Spa Gardens to its list of attractions.