By Graham Chalmers
What does the future hold for The Stray, the tree-lined expanse of green which stirs up protective emotions in anyone who lives in and loves Harrogate?
With its integrity guaranteed by Royal Charter, not much seemed to happen on Harrogate’s 200-acre swathe of common land until recently - save for a bit of sport, the odd keep fit class and the annual Guy Fawkes’ night bonfire.
But change appears to be in the air. The last 12 months have seen a series of successful events on The Stray and more of the same is on the way over the next few months.
Harrogate Big Bike Bash promises a mix of cycling, family entertainment, food and drink and live music over the weekend of June 19-June 21.
And there’s more live music on the gorgeous grass of West Park on Saturday, July 25 when Harrogate Fake Festival boasts some of the UK’s top tribute acts including Oasish and Blondied.
One of the first local organisations to see the untapped potential of The Stray in the past decade has been Harrogate International Festivals.
Five years ago it launched its open air Big Screen as part of its Summer Festival on the Montpellier Hill section of Stray,
Thousands now flock there each summer to enjoy the great outdoors while watching Hollywood blockbusters or Wimbledon.
Harrogate International Festivals chief executive Sharon Canavar said: “The Stray is a wonderful space to host arts and cultural events for Harrogate International Festivals. But we’re always aware of The Stray Act that protects this great space for everyone.”
Such developments have been welcomed, in general, by Harrogate Civic Society who believe The Stray Act offers enough protection.
Chairman Henry Pankhurst said: “The act means there are rules even about how many times a year a helicoper is allowed to land on The Stray.
“The main worry would be if the same area of The Stray was to be used over and over again and the potential lasting damage to the grass.
If there’s one group in particular which has always played a key role in preserving The Stray just the way it is, it’s the Stray Defence Association.
This occasionally vociferous organisation was happy to support last year’s events surrounding the arrival in Harrogate of the Tour de France, including the entertainment village on West Park.
Chairman Judy D’Arcy Thompson said: “We like to call ourselves the ‘common conscience’ when it comes to The Stray but we don’t go about with pitchforks like something out of Dad’s Army.
“We encourage people to use The Stray but it should always be within the bounds of The Stray Act with its strict regulations.”
Although the SDA is confident public respect for the town’s precious expanse of common land is as high as ever, it would be worried it too many organised events were to take place, especially in the same part of The Stray.
Mrs Thompson said: “The Stray Acts restricts its use to a limited numer of times a year for a good reason.”
Ultimately, The Stray is in the hands of Harrogate Borough Council. Its leader Coun Richard Cooper said: “We are very lucky to have such a wonderful area of open space in the heart of Harrogate..
“We are always keen to hear from people wishing to hold an event or activity for residents and visitors on the Stray but are acutely aware that they must be right for Harrogate.”
Anyone who has ever taken part in Park Run, cycled across it or taken the dog for a walk, will know that The Stray is the jewel in Harrogate’s crown.
For those who care about it’s future, the question is simple - should we be using it more often and, if so, what for?
Let us know what you think at:
Or find us on Twitter: @HarrogateHound
and Facebook: www.facebook.com/harrogateadvertiser