Ripon to host Yorkshire Day in 2018

PUBLISHED: 09:29 07 March 2018 | UPDATED: 09:29 07 March 2018

Ripon Cathedral Towering Up by Janet Danks

Ripon Cathedral Towering Up by Janet Danks


Ripon hasn’t always been great at blowing its own trumpet but now it’s preparing to host Yorkshire Day on August 1st. Tony Greenway finds out what’s on the agenda and if the event might help raise its profile

Ripon welcomes visitorsRipon welcomes visitors

Is Ripon always the bridesmaid, never the bride? I only ask because Ripon is, officially, a city — and a beautiful one at that. But whatever way you slice it, it doesn’t enjoy the profile of, say, a York or a Leeds (to state the bloomin’ obvious). Of course it doesn’t: Ripon is a lot smaller, in fact, it’s the smallest city in Yorkshire and the third smallest city in England. Nearby Harrogate, meanwhile, which is officially designated a town, positively overflows with cultural venues and attractions and, as such, has a habit of overshadowing Ripon. ‘Harrogate is bigger,’ says Susan Goldsbrough, director of the Ripon International Festival. ‘And we don’t really shout about ourselves enough here. I think we should shout a bit more.’ So do I and luckily that’s about to happen because, on August 1st, Ripon is hosting Yorkshire Day, the annual celebration of — naturally enough — all things Yorkshire. If all goes as expected, it will find itself in the heat of the media and tourist spotlight as a week of events unfolds in and around the city.

‘We’re in the planning stages at the moment,’ says Paula Benson, clerk to Ripon City Council. ‘But we’ll be receiving 200 dignitaries from around the county; there’ll be a civic procession, a service in the cathedral, and a civic lunch — as there is whenever Yorkshire Day takes place.’ The council is also talking to various groups about holding a series of events in Ripon, leading up to and beyond Yorkshire Day itself, and hoping for the week to culminate with St Wilfred’s Day Parade. For those unfamiliar with the parade, this is a procession of floats, musicians and dancers, led by an actor on a horse dressed as St Wilfrid (also called Wilfrid of York) who is the city’s patron saint. Last year, for the first time in its history, the role was played by a woman, Laura Hodgson.

Another tradition — one that has been going on for, ooh, well over 1,100 years — is the setting of the watch by the Ripon hornblower, who sounds a horn at the four corners of the obelisk in the Market Place at 9pm every night and then three times outside the mayor’s house to let people know he is on patrol. It’s one of the oldest ceremonies performed in England and a night hasn’t been missed since it started in AD886.

So Yorkshire Day or no Yorkshire Day, Ripon is something of a must-visit. Famously it has an impressive 7th century cathedral and a small racecourse, known as ‘Yorkshire’s garden racecourse’. Fishing on the river is popular, and there are canal cruises, too. Ripon also has three museums, a thriving market (held every Thursday in the picturesque Market Place, which Daniel Defoe described as ‘the finest and most beautiful square that is to be seen of its kind in England’), one cinema but no theatre.

Ripon by Karol GajewskiRipon by Karol Gajewski

It does, however, have an annual international festival (September 6th–October 6th), which celebrates orchestra, chamber and folk music, drama and literature. Venues include the Royal Hall in Harrogate, Markenfield Hall (a 14th century moated manor house), historic village churches and, of course, Ripon Cathedral.

‘The cathedral is a magnificent place and we love it,’ says Susan Goldsbrough. ‘We also use the Royal Hall because it’s a larger venue that can facilitate a big orchestra. And we’re going to need it this year because we’re featuring the work of Sibelius.’ Indeed, the Royal Northern Sinfonia, under the baton of the festival’s artistic director and conductor, Janusz Piotrowicz, will be performing Sibelius’ The Swan of Tuonela and Symphony No 1. The acclaimed London Mozart Players will also be appearing in the cathedral to play Mozart’s symphony No 40 in G minor and Beethoven’s Symphony No 2. Other must-sees on the 2018 festival menu include folk musician Kathryn Tickell, the Carlton Main Frickley Colliery Band, literary celebrities, and the Villiers String Quartet.

The festival is celebrating its 21st anniversary this year and is always well-attended, drawing in audiences from around the country and abroad but maybe, like Ripon, it should shout about itself a bit more. ‘I think there are even people in Ripon who don’t know about the Ripon International Festival,’ admits Goldsbrough. ‘But presenting major, iconic orchestral works with professional orchestras in the city is really quite something.’

For Paula Benson, Ripon’s Yorkshire Dales-friendly location is another big tick in the box, which is why it’s a favourite with walkers and tourists alike. ‘We’re in a great part of the world,’ she says. ‘Not only is there plenty to do in the city, it’s a good place to use as a base because of all the attractions nearby. And it’s small enough to be really friendly.’

Ripon Town Hall by Alina ZabiyakaRipon Town Hall by Alina Zabiyaka

Susan Goldsbrough agrees with that sentiment. ‘Ripon is a warm place,’ she says. ‘It’s not austere. The city itself has great coffee shops and restaurants, so it’s well provided with high quality dining. It has the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Fountains Abbey just down the road and Newby Hall (built in the 1690s by Sir Christopher Wren), too.’ For now, though, the focus is on August 1st: Ripon’s big day. ‘Ripon has a lot going for it,’ says Paula Benson. ‘The city is really looking forward to hosting Yorkshire Day and everything that it brings.’

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