Thursday, 14 June 2012

Appleby Horse Fair . A gathering of Gypsies and Travellers .

I am a frequent visitor to Cumbria and have wanted to go to this fair for a good number of year s now . I always seen to arrive in Cumbria too late or am up there the week before it is due to take place .

This last visit however was my lucky time to go up there . The Appleby fair was on during the last few days of my time away .   Anyone who has watched the Channel 4 show My big fat Gypsy Wedding will be familiar with the Fair as it has featured on the show.

For those of you who have not heard about this fair . It has been held in this lovely part of England for hundreds of years . It is an event held yearly and is attended by Romany and Irish families travelling to meet up with old friends, celebrate their music, history and folklore and conduct business - particularly buying and selling horses.  It is also visited by many visitors each year wanting to witness this unique event.

Traditionally the Gypsies and Travellers set up and stay on Fair Hill where they trade horses.  They run them on the surrounding public roads so they can display their skills to prospective buyers.  The younger members of the family wash the horses in the River Eden to get them ready to show to prospective buyers. In the evenings Fair Hill is alight with campfires. Sadly on my first visit , the river was far to high to safely take horses into the river for their wash and scrub . So it was down to the young members of the community to hang over the side of the river and collect buckets of water to shampoo the horses . They really do like to make these horses look at their best . I saw all sorts of posh shampoos and could smell Strawberry and other fruity shampoos being used .

I watched many of the horses being run along the streets and i was surprised at how fast they go along the roads , with people milling around at the same time . It really is a case of look over your shoulder , as they will not stop or even be able to stop if you step out in front of the horse . You can hear calls from the drivers of the carts that they use , shouting to mind your backs !!! But you need to watch your feet as well . As one poor soul found out when  a horse and cart went over his foot !!! ouch !!

The weather was really great for this day out . The week prior had been awful weather , rain and storms . But the sun was shining down on Appleby on this day . And as i was driving home at the end of my visit , it was apparent that it did shine just on Appleby . The surrounding area and all my journey back to Cumbria was dull and cloudy !!

While eating my lunch , i was watching a group of Gypsies doing a deal on a lovely horse . It is obviously a real tradition in the way they do these deals , as i couldn't make head nor tail of what was going on . But there was lots of hand slapping and money being passed from one man to another . I was really impressed that they have kept this tradition up for so many years .

Walking up to Fair Hill was interesting as there were some of the younger travellers in their new cars . Bentley Continental convertible and Porsche convertibles !!! I might think about doing a course on tarmac laying and block paving as it seems to pay well .

Their caravans are amazing.  All spotlessly clean and the ones with chrome parts were glistening in the sunshine .

There were fires lit nearby most of the caravans . Again this seems to be part of their tradition that they have a fire near by their homes .

I have heard from people that Travellers and Gypsies are nasty ignorant people . All i can say is that the ones i spoke to and bumped into were really polite and friendly . They seem to get a bad press . Which happens in all walks of life !!

To find out more about the Gypsy and Traveller tradition visit

Here are some links you might find interesting .

 This is where the horses normally get taken to be washed , to show them off at their shiny best .
 Lovely Irish music being played . Was the first thing you heard as you came into the main street .
 Horses tethered up for prospective buyers to view .
 Fowl sticking close to mum . Was also still suckling from her as well .
 Some of the carts are really well painted . This one had gilded gold on and really stood out .
 They can get up some speed , as i said in the blog . You would not want to get hit by one at speed .
 Bringing them in to go on sale up at Fair Hill . Think these were fairly wild as they were a bit on the jumpy side !!
 After they have been shampooed , their feathers are rubbed with sawdust to make them all fluffy for the prospective buyers .
Traditional Caravans , highly painted and look so cosy . They all had little wood stoves in them and comfy looking beds . Whole families would have lived in these . I believe that some still carry on the tradition of living inside this style of Caravan .

Many thanks for popping by and hope you enjoyed the blog and photos that go with it . View more of my images on my website

All the best , Mark .


The Herald said...

Interesting post Mark and great images. The atmosphere around there must have been electric?...[;o)

jean maurice said...

brilliant history lesson, you are in the wrong profession! Education missing out. Photos really evoke the atmosphere.

holdingmoments said...

Interesting post Mark.
That horse pulling the cart is a beauty.

Mark said...

Thanks everyone for the kind comments . It was a great atmosphere . And Jean , i couldn't deal with kids in a classroom :-)