5 great festivals in Harrogate

Equestrian dynamo Lorenzo back for the 160th Great Yorkshire Show with a daredevil bare-back displa

Equestrian dynamo Lorenzo back for the 160th Great Yorkshire Show with a daredevil bare-back display - Credit: Archant

It’s all going on in Harrogate – as Jo Haywood discovers on a whistle-stop tour of upcoming festivals, arts events and celebrations of booze (cheers!)

It’s a bit quiet, isn’t it? If only there was something to do,’ is a phrase that no one ever has said in Harrogate. Frankly, the good people of this rather snazzy North Yorkshire town would probably be quite grateful for a quiet weekend once in a while, so they could plant a few begonias, read the Sunday supplements and catch up with the latest series of Peaky Blinders.

But that is never going to happen – there is simply too much to see, do, experience and enjoy.

Women on Tap

Harrogate’s celebration of women and beer – a heady combination if ever there was one – is back on May 2nd-6th, following in the ever so slightly wonky footsteps of the wildly successful first female-friendly pub sesh in 2017.

Women on Tap started at The Little Ale House, one of Harrogate’s leading independent micro-pubs, with guest beers brewed by women and guest speakers of a distinctly female flavour. Next month’s event looks set to be even bigger and better, with a wider range of events happening across town and in neighbouring Knaresborough.

The beer-fuelled festival aims to raise the profile of women in a traditionally male-dominated industry, bringing sparky conversation, debate and fun to the table (along with a round of beer and a bag of Nobby’s Nuts to share).

Co-founder Rachel Auty said: ‘I’m a keen beer drinker and I wanted to create something in a town I believe punches above its weight in terms of great beer and bars, and that highlights the valuable contribution women are making to beer today. ‘The reception of Harrogate’s first Women on Tap festival demonstrated how much local people are behind it. Now, we want to raise the profile in the wider beer industry, while flying the flag for Harrogate as a serious player in terms of brewing, beer expertise, quality independent craft beer and real ale establishments.’

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StrEat Food & Family Fun Festival

You’ll probably need some decent grub to soak up all that beer so, once you’ve had a good sleep and remembered where on earth you left the car, why not head to the StrEat Food & Family Fun Festival at the Great Yorkshire Showground on May 26th-28th.

Previously held in Valley Gardens, organiser Cathy McConaghy is hoping the new venue will help make it ‘the UK’s largest street food festival’.

As well as more street food than you can shake a wooden fork at, there will also be acrobats, a vintage carousel, a comedy fortune teller, stilt walkers, swing boats and a helter-skelter to enhance the already intensely family-friendly atmosphere (kids aged 13 and under get in for free, which also helps).

‘We’ve got lots of really exciting performers, so the festival will have the same kind of chilled-out vibe as the Valley Gardens events,’ said Cathy. ‘We’ll also have more than 50 of the UK’s most eclectic, creative and passionate street food traders all working hard to make it an amazing weekend for the young, the old and the hungry.’

International Gilbert & Sullivan Festival

If your taste is less heavily spiced and more lightly operatic, then you’re in for a treat this summer when the International Gilbert & Sullivan Festival comes to Harrogate Royal Hall and Harrogate Theatre from August 8th-27th.

The event, celebrating its milestone 25th anniversary this year, is already proving a major draw with G&S fans, selling six times as many tickets as usual when the box office opened for business.

‘We are absolutely delighted at the fantastic and unprecedented response to our silver jubilee year,’ said chairman and founder Ian Smith. ‘The phone hasn’t stopped ringing with calls coming from all corners of the UK, Australia and the USA – literally from around the world.’

Thirty-three performing societies will present an astonishing 48 full-scale shows this year, while the professional National Gilbert & Sullivan Opera will stage six new productions: Ruddigore, The Pirates of Penzance, Iolanthe, Trial by Jury, Haddon Hall and The Sorcerer.

The annual ‘Bus Pass Opera’ for performers over 60 is likely, as ever, to prove a particularly popular choice. The senior singers have a combined age of 2,500, helped by performers like 92-year-old Gordon Ford, who’s flying in from New Zealand to take part in The Yeoman of the Guard. He broke his pelvis earlier in the year but, trooper that he is, promises to be 100 per cent fighting fit by August.

‘The festival is an absolute gem,’ said Ian, ‘and quite simply one of the friendliest you’ll find anywhere in the world.’

Harrogate International Festivals

Talking of world-beaters, Harrogate International Festivals is once again bringing its three big-hitters to town in 2018.

Harrogate Music Festival is back in July, bringing the best in chamber, classical, jazz and contemporary music to a host of venues. Following almost menacingly close is Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival (on July 19th-22nd), now in its 15th edition and helmed this year by Lee Child, author of the hugely popular Jack Reacher series. ‘The Theakston Old Peculier Crime Festival is the best in the world,’ he said, with his customary economy with words. ‘I know because I’ve done all of them.’

The last of HIF’s terrific trio – Raworths Harrogate Literature Festival – is heading to town on October 18th-21st with a stellar guest list (as yet unconfirmed) to match the impressive 2017 roster, which included Joan Bakewell, Victoria Hislop, Dame Jenni Murray and Peter Snow.

Great Yorkshire Show

And we haven’t even touched on the Great Yorkshire Show, back at the Showground on July 10th-12th for its 160th outing. Get ready to welcome equestrian dynamo Lorenzo back to the Main Ring with his daredevil bare-back display as one of the 2018 show highlights. Rosemary Shrager will whip up a storm in the cookery theatre and the President’s Lawn is set to showcase some very special additions for the first time ever.

In the judging rings, thousands of animals will compete from cattle to sheep, pigs to pigeons and the show finishes with one of the most prestigious show jumping classes in the country, the Cock O’The North competition.

From cutting edge farming equipment and machinery to displays from big name brands, this is the place where deals are done and the latest ranges are showcased. While the show has agriculture at its heart, there’s also entertainment, shopping, live music, cookery demos and a professional catwalk fashion show – including a one-off celebrity special.

When an event that spans the decades from 1838 and now attracts in excess of 138,000 visitors (130,000 of them human) every year almost disappears in a bevy of other must-see highlights, you know it can only be a matter of time before Harrogate is finally crowned Yorkshire’s capital of festival fun.