Harrogate Stray (the Stray or Two Hundred Acre) is 200 acres of grassland and verges that wraps around the south west and south east of Harrogate town centre.
The Stray is popular with local people for walking, running, picnicking, flying kites, and playing football and other games.
Harrogate Stray: history
In the 1760s, there was widespread enclosure of Crown lands, for financial returns to the Crown, and to allow private development.
Harrogate's wells and springs were on land that was part of the Royal Forest of Knaresborough, and the town depended on public access to them for its visitors and thus its prosperity. It would have been damaging if the land had been divided up and sold off.
The people of Harrogate made representations to Parliament, and commissioners were appointed to survey the area. They designated 200 acres of land covering the springs, which would:
'...for ever hereafter remain open and unenclosed, and all persons whomsoever shall and may have free access at all times to the said springs, and be at liberty to use and drink the Waters there arising, and take the benefit thereof, and shall and may have use, and enjoy full and free ingress and regress in, upon, and over the said two hundred acres of land...'
The right to the common land was contained in the commissioners' award of 1778. Use of the Stray is now governed by the Stray Act 1985 and bye-laws under it.
Harrogate Stray: the seasons
Daffodils flower on the Stray in April. They come a month after the crocuses - of which there are 6 to 7 million on the Stray, according to Harrogate Borough Council. As the daffodils begin to wither, there's an explosion of pink cherry blossom.
The Stray is appreciated and used by local people more in summer than in any other season. Rabbits emerge from the brambles by the railway line in the early morning and evening, to assist the Borough Council Parks and Gardens team in keeping the grass short.
In the autumn, the leaves of the trees turn to red, orange and brown.
Even as the climate warms, winter occasionally grips Harrogate Stray.
Harrogate Stray: events and activities
There are two fairs on Oatlands Drive Stray every year, one over Spring Bank Holiday and the other on August Bank Holiday. There's a bonfire on the Saturday nearest 5th November, again on Oatlands Drive Stray, organised by Harrogate & District Round Table.
Harrogate Stray: wildlife
There are plenty of birds on the Stray, including mistle thrushes. Redwings are winter visitors; they seek invertebrates on the Stray grassland, and gorge on berries in holly trees in the neighbouring parks and gardens.
Rabbits live by the railway line.