Filey Kite Festival: Skies over Yorkshire coast to be riot of colour as kite festival takes place

Kites of every size and colour will be taking to the air on the Yorkshire Coast today (Sep 16). Sally Clifford talks to Jim Potts about his high-flying hobby. Pictures by Bruce Rollinson and Richard Ponter

Plotting out the year’s events, there are a few dates that are “up in the air” for Jim Potts. For 25 years, Jim organised kite festivals and events throughout the north and north-east of England.

Attracting crowds of thousands, the events in Bridlington in May and Filey today and tomorrow (Sep 16 and 17) are a must-see celebration of some of the largest kites in the world.

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Such is the calibre of the kite festivals, they have become a showcase for international flyers with kites of every colour, shape and size.

Filey Kite Festival at Filey Country ParkFiley Kite Festival at Filey Country Park
Filey Kite Festival at Filey Country Park

Exotic snakes, mythical dragons and super-sized teddy bears are among the inflatable characters taking to the skies for all to see.

Although now retired from his role as events officer with the Northern Kite Group (NKG) an organisation set up by kite-flying friends nearly 40 years ago and boasting hundreds of members from north of Doncaster to the Scottish Borders, and all areas east, west and abroad, Jim still keeps his hand in.

“A lot of our shows have been on TV and in newspapers all over the place and, of course, they draw numbers of people, Bridlington, for example, had 15,000 over the weekend and Filey, which is in its third year this year, has had a good few thousand. It is a jaw-dropping vista,” he says

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The biggest spectacular is the St Annes International Kite Festival. Around 200 flyers from the UK and across the globe attended the event in Lytham St Annes last weekend, which was organised by Jim’s friend Craig Harby, of SmileFactor10, a group of kite-flying friends based in the North-West, in partnership with Fylde Council.

Jim Potts and his amazing dragon kite.  Jim has been instrumental in running some of the county's major kite festivals.
Picture by Yorkshire Post Photographer Bruce RollinsonJim Potts and his amazing dragon kite.  Jim has been instrumental in running some of the county's major kite festivals.
Picture by Yorkshire Post Photographer Bruce Rollinson
Jim Potts and his amazing dragon kite. Jim has been instrumental in running some of the county's major kite festivals. Picture by Yorkshire Post Photographer Bruce Rollinson

For Jim, it all began with a trip to a kite shop in the Corn Exchange in his home city of Leeds at his son Tom’s request.

“My son, when he was about 12, wanted to fly a kite. My wife, who is a very clever seamstress, and I had made a few things, and he asked if we could make one. We did and it flew and he got interested in kites,” he recalls.

The simple construction of the two-line stunt kite from rip stop nylon and a carbon fibre tube subsequently led to the family attending kite festivals all over the North. “At These festivals we attended, there were international kite flyers,” says Jim.

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Inspired by the impressive kites they saw, Jim’s wife, Vanessa, began creating kites for their kite-loving friends before Jim aspired to build his own sizeable collection.

“I built up a large collection of giant kites – the Chinese dragon kite being one of them,” says Jim.

Over the years, age and health issues forced him to reduce his extensive collection of 100 or so kites, but the mainstay is the beautiful aforementioned Chinese dragon kite he acquired 25 years ago. Jim says it was brought over from China for a kite festival and remained here.

“It is an authentic Chinese dragon kite made out of hand-painted silk and bamboo. The tail of it, which is a series of discs, is 42 metres long,” says Jim, who believes it is the only one that flies at festivals in this country.

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Besides organising events, Jim was also part of the Sky Artists kite display team formed by a group of friends in the early part of the millennium.

“There were four of us and we built up a collection of giant inflatable kites and we were invited to events because of that,” he says, referring to the demand to see the impressive kites they had in their collections in the sky.

Measuring between 10 and 15 metres long, the kites were, according to Jim “every inflatable animal you can imagine”.

“Fish, dogs, crocodiles,” he says, naming but a few. “They fly off a 10-tonne braking strain line, which is attached to the back of a vehicle, so that gives you an indication as to the sort of power.”

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Traditional kites operated with lines are easier to handle, although as Jim explains, weather conditions have to be right.

“It’s very simple,” he says of the process of flying a kite which he learned from his kite-flying friends when he started all those years ago. “You have to have the right wind – it is a nice steady lateral wind with the wind behind you and the kite in front of you so it flies in a 45-degree wind window.

“You need an area that has got a clean wind, not obstructed by buildings, trees or power lines. In this country you are only allowed to fly to a height of 200ft unless you have CAA [Civil Aviation Authority] approval.

!For the kite festivals we organise, we seek an extension to 1,000ft and the CAA usually grant that application. The only time they won’t is when it is within five miles or an airport or airfield.”

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As well as showcasing members’ kites at festivals, the Northern Kite Group has also attended charity events and others by request.

“It is the most enjoyable activity. For a start, the wind is free, you are out and about and meeting up with nice people,” adds Jim.

“The Northern Kite Group’s ethos is to show and introduce the otherwise uninformed public what a lovely activity it is and that is why it has become so popular.

“Between April and September, there is a kite festival every weekend in the summer somewhere in the country.”

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For around six years Jim organised a kite festival at Harewood House, near Leeds. “Kite flyers came to that from all over the UK and Scotland and some international flyers came as well to that event,” says Jim, who was also instrumental in organising the kite festival in Newbiggin-by-the-sea, Northumberland, for many years.

He was also instrumental in starting the festival at Bridlington eight years ago and Filey.

This year the NKG is holding its first festival in Doncaster. The event will be held from 11am until 4pm on October 8 in Town Fields Park.

Being involved in kite flying for so long, Jim is aware of the growing popularity of this “beautiful outdoor activity”.

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“A lot of local authorities that I deal with recognise that it is an ethical use of land they own and the same applies to all the organisations that get in touch with us,” he says.

“They recognise the ethical spectacle of this outdoor activity and it is something we insist on that there is no charge to attend them – they can attend free and they get hooked.

“There are many aspects. Teams of two and four do line kite demonstrations where members fly in ballet formation to music.

Jim and his fellow members of the NKG, are keen to encourage others to get involved.

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“What we do in the NKG is we have a collection of identical kites called Rainbow Delta and we invite members of the public to come into the arena for about half an hour and borrow our kites to learn how to fly them,” he says.

“Children are fantastic at it because they just learn by experience and you get a lot of joy out of it – I am 75 and I still enjoy it.

“It is a beautiful outdoor activity. We all turn up at these events in our caravans and motorhomes and camp at two-day events and it is a thoroughly pleasant job.

“We get a lot of accolades from members of the public who walk around with a smile on their faces and that is what we want to do – to put a smile on people’s faces.”