Visit Harrogate column with Mike Newby: A wealth of festivals across our region

An occasion for feasting or celebration. A regularly recurring programme of cultural performances, exhibitions, or competitions. Revelry. Conviviality. What links all these? They could all be answers to the question, 'What is a festival?'

Saturday, 14th May 2016, 8:00 am
Internationally renowned French company Carabosse will be putting on a spectacular display within the Valley Garden. Picture by Vincent Mutea.

There are many reasons why Harrogate has been voted the happiest place to live in the country (and for the purposes of this column that is the Harrogate District!) but one important factor must be its cultural offering.

Just look at the wealth of festivals that take place during the year to see that we really do have a lot to offer.

Festivals bring local communities together, entertain local residents and bring visitors into the district. There is also an economic benefit. A report by the national Business Visits and Events Partnership valued festivals and cultural events at £1.1 billion in terms of direct spend.

Several festivals have already taken place this year so anyone wanting to enjoy the 27th Harrogate Charity Beer and Music Festival, the Harrogate Competitive Festival for Music, Speech and Drama, the Nidderdale and District Drama Festival, the Boroughbridge Walking Festival or the 44th Harrogate International Youth Festival (Performing Arts) will have to wait until spring 2017. That list itself shows how wide the festival net is spread in our area.


Later this month, on the 14th to be precise, is the Harrogate Festival of Dance in the Royal Hall. There are then a couple of weeks to catch your breath before festivals begin to flow thick and fast. Leading the pack, in this its 50th anniversary year, is the Harrogate International Festivals’ Music Festival starting on June 1 with the Manchester Camerata and Nicola Benedetti in a programme of music by Mozart. The Harrogate Music Festival then continues throughout June and July with an extensive programme of chamber, classical, jazz and contemporary music.

Mention must also be made of the centrepiece of the Harrogate International Festivals’ 50th anniversary celebrations. This is the Fire Garden, a magical and sensory experience, set within the Valley Gardens from June 23-25. A co-commission with the Yorkshire Festival and with help from Harrogate Borough Council, this will be a spectacular display created by internationally renowned French company, Carabosse.

Also in June, and in complete contrast, is the Newby Hall Tractor Fest on the 11th and 12th showcasing vintage tractors, engines, commercial vehicles, cars and motorcycles from around the UK and Europe. Completing June’s offering is the Northern Aldborough Festival which opens with a new production of Bizet’s ‘Carmen’ from Perfect Pitch Opera on June 23 and runs until July 2.

The Harrogate International Festivals bring us two more major events in July with the Raworths’ Harrogate Literary Festival from the 7th to 10th and the Theakston’s Old Peculiar Crime Writing Festival from July 21-24, the biggest of its kind in the world! Making for a busy weekend the Stray hosts the Harrogate Fake Festival on the 23rd and for the first time the HappyGate free festival community event will take place in the Valley Gardens on the 24th.

Now in its third year in Harrogate the International Gilbert & Sullivan Festival starts on August 3 and continues until the 21st. Lovers of nature in writing should head to Nidderdale from August 5-7 where NiddFest is marking its third birthday. August also sees Knaresborough go pink for FEVA (Knaresborough Festival of Entertainment and Visual Arts) from the August 12-21. Once your appetite for culture is satiated you can satisfy another kind of hunger at the Harrogate Foodies Festival at Ripley from August 19-21.

Focus on Ripon

The cultural focus in September is on Ripon when the city’s International Festival offers great orchestras and ensembles, classical, folk and jazz music, drama and puppet shows. The festival runs from the 2nd to 17th. Then it’s time to head to Nidderdale for the Pateley Bridge Walking Festival from September 22-25. If you have a taste for beer then this is the time of year for you. Look out for further information about the Harlow Carr Real Ale & Cider Weekend, the St Roberts Beer Festival in Pannal, the Harrogate Beer Festival supporting Saint Michael’s Hospice and the Great Ouseburn Beer Festival.

Justifying Harrogate’s ‘Happy’ tag the Harrogate Comedy Festival is now an important part of the comedy calendar. It runs from October 5-18.

And one of the last festivals before we start to look forward to Christmas is the Harrogate History Festival, which takes place between the October 20 and 23.

So there we are – a veritable feast of festivals. Further information can be found on the Visit Harrogate website which also has links to many of the festivals’ own websites.