Teamwork saves Dales festival

THE organisers of a Christmas festival which brings thousands of tourists to the Yorkshire Dales were last night celebrating a remarkable community effort which saved the event at the 11th hour.

Disaster was looming when heavy snowfall meant Grassington's Dickensian festival – held over three weekends and which brings tens of thousands of pounds to traders each year – was in danger of being cancelled on Friday night.

But with just hours to spare, a farmer and his team, local traders and residents shovelled and gritted away to make sure it went off almost without a hitch.

Now the organisers are praying there is no repeat of the snow before this weekend's third and final Dickensian market, which takes place on Saturday.

Members of the committee which organises the three festivals in the run up to Christmas had to consider calling off the event which attracts more than 5,000 tourists from all over the country on a single day.

Angela Jackson, whose first year it was as festival co-ordinator, had to pull out all the stops to make sure the show – the 27th such festival – went ahead on Saturday.

Falls of snow earlier in the week caused problems at the village square and two parking sites – Swinden Quarry and Threshfield Quarry. With more than 80 coaches due to arrive on Saturday – the busiest of the three weekends – as well as up to 1,000 cars the pressure was on after quarry bosses said the sites would be unusable without snow clearance and heavy gritting.

In addition the village square needed to be cleared to allow revellers to enjoy the entertainment put on by musicians, dancers and entertainers.

Mrs Jackson said: "The chairman of the committee, Martyn Fretwell, came to see me on Friday to see whether we should be cancelling it and I had the Swinden Quarry manager telling me that if we didn't get a snow plough out it would be unusable so the pressure was on.

"We have a turnover of 35,000 so it was quite a big deal and for the shops it is a time when we do very good business.

"For example, I make more on one day when the Dickensian event is on at my own gift shop, Harlequin, than I do for January.

"Fortunately a local farmer and his team managed to clear all the snow at the quarries and grit them while about 12 of us set to clearing the snow from the square – I still have a blister on my hand.

"There was a great atmosphere with people from the pubs and cafes bringing us out cups of tea and cheering us on.

"We got there in the end and the lingering snow on the rooftops gave the event a very Christmassy, picture postcard feel. We are just waiting for the bill now which I expect will be for over 2,000 or more."

Craven councillor Richard Foster, (Con., Grassington), said: "The police gave them (festival organisers) four hours to clear the snow from the square – it was just flat ice. I'm very proud of them, it was a big effort. People pulled together and got to work. I think most people were happy, it went off fine."

Andrew Bunney, who owns the menswear shop, Robert Bunney, in the square, said: "Everyone owes Angela and those who helped a huge vote of thanks. I know Angela and she wouldn't be beaten by something as trivial as that. It would have been absolute mayhem if the event had been cancelled with people turning up from all over the place."

This Saturday – the final Dickensian weekend – visitors will enjoy a torch-lit nativity procession, Punch and Judy show, Santa's Grotto and Craven Harmony Choir.

Village shops open late and revellers are encouraged to don period costume. Entry is free with a parking charge of 5 at Swinden Quarry for a park and ride scheme.