Thursday, August 10, 2006
Scottish fair season
August is the month for what you Americans would call county fair season.
Here in the Borders of Scotland, our summer is marked by a series of common ridings, festivals and agricultural shows. It is the latter that will equate best to your county fairs.
Not every town has an agricultural show, but there are still about nine or 10 scattered across the Borders from about mid-July onwards to mid-September.
The biggest of these, the Border Union Show, is always held on the last Friday and Saturday of July at Springwood Park showground in the town of Kelso. This regularly attracts 20,000 visitors over the two days and, as such, is the biggest annual public event staged in the region.
The programme consists of hundreds of classes for horses and ponies, cattle, sheep, goats and poultry, as well as a vast display of farming machinery such as combines and tractors. There are also countryside displays of sports like fly fishing and shooting, as well as motorcycle stunt and parachute displays, falconry, horse-shoeing demonstrations, etc.
On show Friday, the livestock classes centre on horses and ponies, with a myriad of competitions for best hunter both ridden and in-hand, best mountain and moorland ponies and so on. Then on Saturday, it is the turn of the cattle and sheep to be judged.
Incidentally, Springwood Park also hosts the world’s biggest one-day ram sales, when in September up to around 7,000 rams will go under the auctioneer’s hammer, often with world record prices being set.
As always, the weather plays a big part in the success of these events, but in July, we saw some of the hottest days on record in Scotland, with temperatures regularly touching 30 degrees centigrade - very hot for Scotland. (That’s 86 degrees F. here!)
The Friday of the show saw bumper crowds and sweltering weather. Saturday was still warm, but not as hot. The show went off without a hitch, with the worst incidents centering around wasp stings - mainly due to all the food and fizzy drinks being consumed outdoors!
While I was covering the show on Saturday for my paper, my wife, Ally, was also in attendance, eager to see how she had fared in the floral art competition.
The floral art classes are part of what is termed the ‘industrial’ section and held in a massive marquee. Orginially these classes were mainly for local women’s rural insitutes, where farmers’ wives got to show off the jams, preserves and handicrafts like quilts (that’ll make Linda happy!) they had produced to while away the long dark winters in the countryside.
Competition is still fierce. Ally managed to take two first places much to her delight and then went one better the following week at a neighbouring show where she lifted the trophy for most points overall.
As well as agricultural shows like these we also have a lot of horticultural societies, each of which will have its own show for flowers and vegetables. Needless to say the next two months will see the dining room of our home transformed into a makeshift florist’s shop as Ally will be competing in as many of these as possible.
These are the ‘dog days’ of summer here in Scotland. Many people are away abroad on holiday and things seem to slow down even more than normal.
Harvest is just about to get underway and at the moment much of our countryside is shimmering gold from the wheat and barley fields that stretch for miles.
It’s not quite on the scale of Kansas, but still a great sight to see. When you see the troubles around the world in countries like Lebanon, it makes you grateful that we live in the places we do where it is not artillery and tanks making the most noise, but combine harvesters and tractors towing trailers loaded down with straw.
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