It was Brian’s idea to visit Appleby Fair. I’ve never been before and so, we went.
For those who don’t know about this, its primarily a horse-dealing event. Its also a major social event for gypsies and travellers with thousands of people turning up.
And its a place where there is great spectacle and excitement and a bit of danger. If you are a bit short on male hormones and you long for the whiff horse, combined with frying bacon and fish and chips, then this is the place to go.
We parked in a field out of town for a fiver (proceeds to the Air Ambulance – they must be making a good income from this) – and, as we shuffled through the crowds into Appleby, it seemed that we were on a horse and trap racing circuit. Every few seconds, a horse pulling a small cart would hurtle through the pedestrian traffic to shouts from all concerned. There were many very close misses. Luckily, horses do make quite a noise on a hard road, and they don’t specially like knocking people down.
having disappeared into the crowds ahead, they hurtled back again for more shouting and close misses.
In the town, Brian chatted to various members of the Cumbrian constabulary whilst several youths and a couple of girls swam their ponies in the River Eden. This drew enormous crowds. The water was quite deep at one spot and the horses swam for a few yards before clambering onto the stony beach.
Later, in another place (I was getting a bit confused by this time) there were caravans and camper vans and Dublin number plates and three or more Gypsy Petrelongos in their caravans reading palms – and burger vans, sausage and mash vans, fish and chip shops, toy stalls for the kiddies, ceramics stalls, soft furnishing and clothing stalls and stalls selling iron kettles and pans and horse equipment. And girls – some very young, in skimpy and gaudy clothes teetering on skyscraper heels and men in vests and hats sweating testosterone, some talking in that over-fast Irish/English that nobody can understand (many of you will have seen the Father Ted Eurovision Compere)
Its a very macho thing. You’re not supposed to smile too much, but to look a bit hard. You can smile whilst dealing, or you can smile whilst scamming people out of twenty quid notes chasing a playing card but the rest of the time you have to display a manly unconcern about the fact that a tonne of horse has just hurtled by your left ear at 35 mph, sucking all the dandruff out of your hair and removing paper cash from any unzipped pockets.
All around there were displays of extraordinary horsemanship and a particular leaning-back style of riding. Saddles were not used. There was often great speed and hooves sliding on the road. There was kicking and protesting, but I didn’t see any cruel treatment and most of the horses looked fit and groomed, with, maybe just a couple of exceptions.. There was a heavy RSPCA presence.
And there’s lots and lots of ready cash around.
The only things missing were the knurr and spell competition and the bare knuckle fighting. This caused a certain amount of disappointment. Maybe they do the fighting later on…? (I don’t want to join in by the way….)