12 celebrations of rural life.
There’s no better way to learn about the character of a locality than by visiting its country show, where the produce and entertainment will be a sure indicator of its history and allegiances. Cider and dairy cattle loom large at Somerset’s Royal Bath & West show, but expect cream and pasties at the Royal Cornwall and Welsh cobs shown by high-step- ping handlers at the Royal Welsh.
I have been stewarding at the Bath & West in Somerset for more than 30 years. Although I live in West Sussex, I feel privileged to have this annual window into West Country life. One of my favourite moments is walking down the cattle lines in the early morning, after receiving Holy Communion from the Bishop of Bath and Wells in the tented, temporarily consecrated church. The Lord sends soft refreshing rain, indeed —the green swards that feed the cattle are evidence of his munificence—but don’t mention the floods around here.
I admire the richness of the Red Ruby Devons and the stout, familiar patchwork hides of the Holstein Friesians, but it’s also a chance to spend time with people who regard the raising of these animals as their life’s purpose, along with its triumphs and disasters. Their affection for their charges is obvious and catastrophes such as foot-and-mouth disease or bovine TB can be unbearable.
You can interact directly by tasting cheeses, sipping cider and browsing shops selling everything from honey to tweed. Add to that the entertainment of showjumping, military bands and terrier racing. There are many smaller shows based on the same principle of celebrating rural life and having good, clean fun. They survive in these cyber-centred times partly because they provide a delightful antidote to the virtual world. (The Royal Bath & West is on May 27–30, 01749 822200; www.bathandwest.com)
Royal Cornwall, June 4–6
Held on the showground at Wadebridge in the heart of Cornish farming country, there’s a showing class for everything from guinea pigs and canaries to pygmy goats, plus a rare- breeds tent, equestrian classes, steam fair and motor fair. (www.royalcornwallshow.org; 01208 812183)
Great Yorkshire, July 14–16
The best of God’s own county, where they love their horses, hunting and farming. The county show at Harrogate, North Yorkshire, features top- level showjumping and hunter showing, plus
a hound show, agricul- tural show, game-cookery theatre and cheese show. (01423 541000; http://greatyorkshireshow.co.uk)
Royal Highland, June 18–21
With some 5,000 entries in its showing classes, the Royal Highland, which takes place just minutes away from Edinburgh airport, attracts huge crowds for its magnificent livestock parades and displays, from mighty Aberdeen Angus bulls to giant Clydesdales in full harness. (0131–335 6200; www.royalhighlandshow.org)
New Forest, July 28–30
Horses are centre stage at this show near Brockenhurst in Hampshire, with international showjumping and dozens of important showing qualifiers for the Horse of the Year Show. The flower show is big news, too, with sweet-pea and vegetable-growing competitions, landscape gardens and expert advice. (01590 622400; www.newforestshow.co.uk)
Festival of Hunting, July 22
See the greatest gathering of hounds and hunt servants in the country at the Festival of Hunting, which includes Peterborough Royal Foxhound Show, inter-hunt relays and specialist trade stands at the East of England showground in Cambridgeshire. Terriers and long dogs also feature. (01733 234451; www.eastofengland.org.uk)
Royal Welsh, July 20–23
Prince Charles is a regular visitor to Powys’s Royal Welsh, the biggest agri- cultural show in Europe and the showcase for the region’s livestock and food. Welsh ponies, sheep and sheepdog trials are among the highlights. (0844 545 0517; www.rwas.co.uk)
CLA Game Fair, July 31–August 2
This is a big day out for the countryside, which rotates around England’s great country houses— this year’s is at Harewood in West Yorkshire. Expect heated political debate, men carrying ferrets and the crackle of clay shooting, plus row upon row of gun, fishing-tackle and tweed shops, exquisite art and amazing food. (0845 612 2052; www.gamefair.co.uk)
Honiton, August 6
Farming is very much the focus of this traditional Devon show, with vintage tractors, livestock, a poultry sale, dog show, ferret racing and hurdle making. Honiton incorporates the West of England Hound Show—packs travel from Wales with their pure-bred, hairy Welsh foxhounds—and hunter-breeding and showjumping classes. (01404 41794; www.honitonshow.co.uk)
Dunster, August 14
Held on the old polo lawn beneath Dunster Castle in Somerset, with views across the Bristol Channel to Wales, this is arguably the loveliest setting for a country show. Spectators can sit on straw bales to watch the parade of champions: Devon bulls, Exmoor Horn rams, prancing hunter foals and cuddly Exmoor ponies. For a truly vintage approach, arrive by train on the West Somerset Railway. The country fair held on the same field in July (www.dunstercountryfair.co.uk) is also fun. (01984 656990; www.thedunstershow.co.uk)
Moreton-in-Marsh, September 5
A charming Gloucestershire horse and agricultural show—it’s the national show for Hereford cattle and Cotswold sheep. The showground is a short walk from Moreton railway station; train travellers are given discounted admission on production of their train ticket. (0870 877 7409; www.moretonshow.co.uk)
Egremont Crab Fair and Sports, September 18–19
Running since 1267, it’s the oldest and most unusual of the many Lakeland shows; alongside the sheep show, fell races, hound trailing and Cumberland wrestling, it hosts a pipe-smoking competition and the World Gurning Championships. The ‘crab’ refers to the crab apples that were handed out by the Lord of the Manor. (01946 821220/824352; www.egremontcrabfair.com)
The COUNTRY LIFE Fair, September 18–20
Following on from this year’s inaugural show, a bigger, better fair will take place in Battersea Park. Luxury stands, country crafts, food demonstrations, music and rural displays. Dogs welcome! (020–7583 8635; www.countrylifefair.co.uk)
There are some big anniversaries this year, from the consecration of Westminster Abbey to the Battle of Waterloo.