FROM time to time, as I have previously mentioned in this column, there are attempts to revive some of Britain's 220 spa resorts.

Currently, this is exemplified in a major renovation of the ancient Roman spa in Bath.

More than £23.6m has been spent on a restoration project in that city alone, and it is hoped that our present desire to improve physical fitness and promote good health will combine to regenerate the thriving industry which was once based on our many spas.

The word spa, once spelt as spaw, refers to a place where health-giving waters laced with minerals emerge from beneath the ground.

The word comes from the Belgian town of Spa, which is about 20km south-east of Liege. It became famous for the quality of its mineral waters, which were discovered in 1326.

The name was applied to other places, both in Britain and overseas, where health-giving mineral waters emerged from the ground, sometimes with the word "spa" being added to the name of a town or village, for example Boston Spa.

When people journeyed to these places "to take the waters" as a means of improving their health, a whole new tourist industry was born.

Some people merely drank the waters, while others bathed in them. This was not a new idea, however. The Romans were enjoying this kind of health-giving facility in Bath as long ago as AD 43.

There, they developed Aqua Sulis as a place of refreshment and enjoyment, with hot baths, massage parlours and relaxation rooms.

In this they were centuries ahead of their time, although it is believed that offerings were thrown into the waters at Bath as long ago as 3,000 BC.

Evidently, these waters must have meant something to the local people during that very early stage of our history.

Most of us think of Victorian times as the period when the massive interest in taking spa waters reached its peak, but in fact the trend began much earlier.

Although spas are a world-wide phenomenon, this region has its share of major resorts, with Harrogate being among the earliest in England.

Its famous spa waters were discovered in 1596 by Captain William Slingsby. When he discovered a chalybeate spring, it attracted a great deal of interest and for about 100 years afterwards, people were still travelling to Harrogate to drink the water.

The water could be taken free of charge and the people believed it possessed curative qualities.

That area of the town soon became known as the spaw, with visitors finding accommodation in cottages and farms.

In this way, a popular focus for tourists was created and the first resort hotel - the Queen's Head - was built in 1687.

With more springs being discovered in Harrogate, buildings were constructed around them, the famous baths and pump room following in Low Harrogate when sulphur wells were found.

And then, with the arrival of the railways, more tourists flocked to take the waters. During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Harrogate flourished as an internationally-known spa resort.

It was not the only major spa resort in this region, however. In 1620, a Mrs Farrow was walking along the sea front in Scarborough when she noticed some stones which had become discoloured by fresh water. She tasted it and realised it was rich with minerals.

Before long, Scarborough's spa waters were attracting people from a wide area - it was said the water had "great reputation with the citizens of York and the gentry of the county", with people of quality preferring Scarborough's waters to those of Italy, France and Germany.

With the coming of the railway, Scarborough blossomed as a tourist resort and quickly earned its name of Queen of Watering Places.

If Harrogate and Scarborough were the major spas of this region, there were many lesser ones.

In 1744, John Shires discovered a mineral spring in what is now known as Boston Spa, a charming village to the south of Wetherby.

Very soon, it attracted tourists, which resulted in pump rooms and baths being constructed to the extent that Boston Spa became known as a miniature Harrogate, but even by 1821 it was considered unfashionable.

Sadly, not every spa was a success. Three mineral springs were discovered at Hovingham, near Malton, and this led to the construction of the Worsley Arms Hotel, which was intended to cope with masses of visitors. But they never came, even when the village was called Hovingham Spa.

Levisham Spa failed to be a commercial success, as did Ripon Spa, opened by Princess Henry of Batternburg in 1905.

Knaresborough Spa, Croft Spa, Whitby Spa, New Malton Spa, Thirsk Spa, Slapewath Spa, Salton Spa, Sleightholmedale Spa and Guisborough Spa are among many which did not survive.

Among my correspondence this week is a letter from a Knaresborough reader who was attacked by an aggressive red grouse.

About noon on a day in late December, he was walking on Barden Moor in Wharfedale. He became aware of a red grouse calling among the heather and then it suddenly appeared in the open some ten metres away.

Its neck and head were held upright, with its red wattle distended, and it began to make low-pitched crowing calls which appeared to be directed towards my correspondent.

Gradually, it made its way towards him and, when it was some two metres away, it made several lunges at him with its wings dropped. Each time, it stopped just short of his legs.

When my correspondent turned to walk away, he felt a blow to the back of his neck. The grouse had flown at him.

He turned to face it and it did not fly away, remaining on the ground close enough for him to touch it. Again, when he turned to walk away, it flew up and struck the back of his neck.

He continued to walk away, thinking he was leaving the bird's territory, but after some 30 metres, the bird again struck the back of his neck, very lightly this time.

At that stage, the bird disappeared, no doubt thinking it had won some kind of battle.

The entire episode had lasted about 15 minutes and my correspondent found himself scarcely able to believe what was happening. Despite the bird's aggression, however, he felt privileged to be part of such a curious incident.

He tells me he was wearing a red scarf and maroon hood at the time, and he wonders if the colour of his scarf had in some way prompted the grouse to attack him or perhaps, in its mind, to drive him from its territory.

As my correspondent reminds us, among our varied game birds, capercaillies are known to be the most aggressive towards humans, but he did not think this tendency was present in red grouse. I thank him for sharing this remarkable experience with us.

It seems the Romans were once very active in Upper Teesdale, not only building their famous roads across the region, but also mining for lead, and I have come across a note concerning the discovery of some of their coins which were either lost or hidden near High Force.

The discovery was made on the third Tuesday of April, 1844 - by my reckoning that would be Tuesday, April 16.

They were discovered in a fissure in a small quarry on the Durham bank of the Tees (known as Teisa or Teisis to the Romans), half a mile or so below High Force.

I do not have details of the actual number found, except that it was described as "considerable", and all were made of brass.

They dated from the time of the Emperors Constantine the Great and Licinius and were thought to have been money used for the payment of the Roman troops.

With such a large hoard being found, there is speculation that they must have been hidden due to some threat or danger, or perhaps they were concealed by their bearer, who found himself walking into a hazardous situation.

We may never know the real reason for their presence in such a secure place, although a spear head and an article rather like a horseshoe were also found among the coins.

This is a nice puzzle as we speculate on the real story behind their dramatic concealment.