Early summer sunshine and a huge crowd has helped to make this year’s Bilton Gala one of the biggest and busiest in recent history.
Thousands of people lined the streets for the annual parade to mark the start of the May Day Gala on Monday, led by the North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service Pipe Band.
Dozens of schoolchildren and local groups, along with mascot Billowby Bear, were cheered on by an enthusiastic audience as the parade wound its way through the streets of Bilton.
And, say organisers, with crowds of up to 6,000 joining the main gala in the fields of Richard Taylor School, the event may be one of the biggest and busiest of recent years.
“There’s even more stalls and stands this year, and the weather is bringing out the crowds,” said Stuart Frost of the gala committee.
“There is something for everybody. The farm animals, the birds of prey. The air ambulance was fantastic. It’s all for a good cause, everybody looks happy. And that’s what makes the day.”
Julie Frost added: “The committy deserves a round of applause for all the work they do. It’s phenomenal. All of this is the work of seven people.
“People don’t always realise how much work goes into the gala, but it all goes back into the community, supporting local charities.”
Highlights in the main ring included creative dance displays from local groups and performances from Ben Potter and his birds of prey.
There was a flurry of excitement as one of his prized birds, white-tailed sea eagle Roxie, took flight and disappeared from the arena. But, he said afterwards, she soon returned.
“These birds are like you and me, and enjoy a bit of an adventure,” said Mr Potter. “She had a bit of a fly around the neighbourhood, but came back as soon as she saw me calling.”
Eight-year-old Freya Proctor, from Bilton Grange School, was crowned this year’s Gala Queen, thanking her family and friends for their support in a speech to the crowds.
Her attendant Kaitlyn Morrell, also eight, from Coppice Valley School, said she was feeling “crinkly”, a cross between happy and excited, as they had their pictures taken in the main ring.
There were dozens of stalls and stands supporting local groups and charities including the Brownies, Air Cadets, and Scouts.
A farm area proved a hit with younger guests, while tombolas, raffles, and hook-a-duck competitions also proved hugely popular.
Among the visitors on the day were Diana Vallance, 37, from Knaresborough Road, and her three children Ethan, 12, Imogen, seven, and Evan, aged seven months.
“I like it all,” she said. “I’ve come every year for about six years, it’s a tradition now. There’s such a family atmosphere.”
Sarah Clarke, 36, from Bachelor Way, brought daughter Scarlett, eight, and son Ozzy, nearly two.
“It’s excellent,” she said. “All the activities for the kids make it special - it seems a lot busier this year, and there seems a lot more to do.”
Bilton’s Janet Beaumont, 53, said her family had always gone to the gala when her children were little.
“We haven’t been for years and can’t believe how big it’s grown,” she said. “The best bit was the Horticap stall - we’ve been buying!”
Debbie Gibson, 51, also from Bilton, added: “It’s great for the community, and it raises money for local charities as well.”
Harrogate and Knaresborough MP Andrew Jones, who joined the parade, said it had been a “thoroughly enjoyable” day.
“It’s events like these that bring communities togather and Bilton Gala does just that,” he said.
Harrogate District Mayor, Mike Newby, helping to judge the fancy dress competition, said he was particularly impressed with one young man sporting ‘full Bradley Wiggins sideburns’ for the parade.
“It’s a fantastic community event,” he said. “The weather has been wonderful and hundreds of people turned out to watch the parade and that’s nice to see. It’s always the most popular part.”
Consort Clive Kirkham said the highlights were the stalls, parades, and fairgound rides.
“What’s not to like?”, he said. “It’s wonderful to see so many people make such an effort and communities pulling events together for the benefit of everybody.”