You’re in a very small minority if you’ve never come across the enthusiastic Harry Satloka from Free Walking Tour Harrogate, clutching a long stick with blue placard attached, wearing a backpack and sensible shoes guiding a group of equally enthusiastic visitors around Harrogate.
26-year-old Harry, once a butler to “public figures” in a posh hotel in London’s West End, has been out there since April 2018 conducting four free walking tours a day, Wednesdays to Sundays, showing the sights of the town to people from as far afield as Australia, Canada, Japan, the US and even Chile.
The tours are a long way from the glitter of the capital and his previous career but he wouldn’t have it any other way. “I wanted to escape,” he exclaims. “We came to Harrogate because of my fiancée’s work and I fell in love with it.”
He continues: “There’s a blend of city and country with all the amenities of Leeds or York; theatre, museums, galleries and then just down the road you have the beautiful Dales.”
Although borne out of the desire to “escape”, the walking tour plan didn’t happen right away after the move north in 2017. Ironically, Harry found himself in the same predicament as before, which was working 80-90 hours a week.
He says wryly: “It was time to rethink again. This was why we escaped London, for the quality of life, and it wasn’t happening. I’d always had the idea of walking tours, so this time I went to the library and studied.”
Harry is hugely grateful to the community and bodies such as the Tourist Office for their support as he got the idea off the ground. The tour lasts an hour and twenty minutes although it could be much longer, according to Harry because the town has so much to offer. Nevertheless, he still packs a lot in.
Starting from the Cenotaph, he and his guests (all those joining the walk are his “guests”), take in Montpellier, The Royal Pump Room Museum, Valley Gardens, Mercer Art Gallery, the Old Swan Hotel and the Turkish Baths and Health Spa.
His own favourite spot is Valley Gardens. He explains: “They haven’t really changed. I can tell my guests all about the place, how the gardens were a place for promenading and they can see it now. The gardens were the Monaco of their day, a place for the rich and famous to be seen.”
While his tour is about the town of Harrogate, in many ways it’s about Harry too. He puts a lot of himself into engaging with his guests and telling them about the town, its history and its buildings. His mother was on the stage and it’s noticeable that Harry describes what he does in theatrical terms. He explains that he has a routine to introduce himself to the guests before they set off and he carries what he calls his “props” in the backpack. These include old photographs and theatre playbills to illustrate the talk.
He acknowledges the dramatic influence: “I like to perform and tell stories. There’s a lot of myself invested in the tours therefore I’m constantly doing my very best,” adding, with tongue firmly in cheek: “Of course it helps to have a huge ego.”
Joking aside, as he talks enthusiastically about the tours and the town, there’s a strong sense that personal ethics are also at work. Harry’s tours are free. Of course, guests can tip him at the end if they wish and they do, but he makes clear he has no expectations that they will. He also organises tours for local primary schools and says that these too are free because he feels strongly about the affordability of education and that this is his way of “giving back to the community”.
He doesn’t take commissions from businesses and he doesn’t make a point of doing recommendations because, he says, he would “lose his integrity”. Any recommendations he does make are because they’re the most appropriate for the guest who has asked. Harry can’t recall the number of guests to whom he has shown the sights of Harrogate but he knows they number among them a driver who delivers tanks, an astrobiologist and a group of Greek historians.
He has come a long way literally – around 1,250 miles he calculates – since his first tour which was really a test run, taking a group of friends around the route. Next day, there were three people and after that it just got busier.
As with so many people who come to Harrogate, Harry now reckons he has the change of lifestyle that he sought. That said, he still uses those skills of care and attention to detail that he developed as a butler to the famous – only now it’s a whole town he’s looking after.
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