Mission to keep Dales show village’s beating heart

Paul Brown, chairman of Reeth Show, with his Texdale breed.
Paul Brown, chairman of Reeth Show, with his Texdale breed.
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“The only way you get out of these jobs is to die, move away or get promoted.” That’s how Paul Brown of Swale Hall Farm describes his change of role at Reeth Show. He’s not one for standing on ceremony when there’s something to be said.

“I’ll tell you now,” he says while showing me his paging device. “If this thing goes off then I’ll have to move quickly.” That’s because as well as being a farmer, campsite owner and chairman of Reeth Show he’s a retained fireman and has four minutes to get to his fire engine in Reeth should the occasion arise.

Paul tells of how his family connections with the show go back generations.

“My great grandfather was heavily involved. My aunts and uncles have been secretaries and past chairmen; and my mum Kathleen was president. I’ve been going since I was a baby but I’ve never shown sheep or cattle.

“I started stewarding when I was told they wanted a thick-skinned horse steward. Some of the horse owners are very enthusiastic and I’m quite direct and opinionated. Some of my neighbouring farmers will have a right laugh at me saying that but they’ll know what I mean.

“Like I said the only way out of a job is one of those three ways and I became vice-chairman three years ago, completed my term of office and have become chairman this year.”

Last year Reeth Show made its most radical change since switching showground venues when it moved from the last Wednesday in August to Bank Holiday Monday. Paul was right behind the move and felt totally vindicated by its success in attracting a record attendance.

“We were losing money year on year and even those who lived locally were telling us they could no longer come to a midweek show as they couldn’t afford to take a day off work. We deliberated for a couple of years but then became aware that other shows were thinking about doing the same thing so we made the decision to go for it.

“What happens in these little communities is that the pub closes, then the post office and other amenities, then the show eventually dies. It’s as though communities are dying. Our aim is to keep the show going and hand it on to the next generation. We are fortunate that we have a number of younger people who have come forward to help alongside those who have worked so hard over the years.

“Reeth Show has always been an event that has brought the rural community together but it now also has to cater for a different crowd. It brings urban dwellers to the countryside and that gives us the opportunity to show them where food comes from as well as educate them about what happens out here.

“The move to Bank Holiday Monday was so successful last year but I also know some visitors were stuck in traffic for quite a while. I can assure everyone coming this year that we have worked on that and we will be better organised. We were amazed by the number of cars and simply hadn’t known what to expect just by changing the date.

“We are also always grateful to the Close family for letting us run the show on their land that is farmed by Ronnie Bailey.”

Paul’s farm runs to around 300 acres plus moorland rights on Grinton Moor and he has sheep and cattle.

“I’m the third generation to farm here since my grandparents Norman and Freda came in 1947. My grandmother’s family farmed at the other side of the dale. My father Harold still helps and I couldn’t do without him, plus I employ a young lad for some casual labour but otherwise I’m pretty much a one-man band on land that varies between an SDA (Severely Disadvantaged Area) and DA.

“We had dairy cows here until 15 years ago but they became unviable when the parlour needed replacing and now I run a flock of 600 ewes and a herd of 60 Limousin X and Belgian Blue X cows.

“We just grow grass and a few break crops such as turnips. I try to re-seed about 10-15 acres of grass each year and we cut around 100 acres on first cut with a further 40 acres on the second cut.

“We struck lucky with the weather this year which meant the first cut was in the middle of June and that allowed me to prepare the field for the campers and caravanners who had booked with us for Le Tour.

“I was in partnership with the mountain bike shop where my wife Clare works and we had a cracking time. We sold a three-day pass and a lot of day tickets, we had a big screen and put on a bar and a band. It was the most amazing day and we were totally sold out. We have various mountain bike events and caravan rallies during the year.”

Paul bucks the trend of sheep breeding in the dale with his Texdale crossbred sheep. It’s a breed that is still inclined to engender a shaking of heads amongst Swaledale purists but he’s doing well with them.

“It raises a few eyebrows as I’m in the middle of Swaledale and I’ve had good comments and bad but I started with them 10-12 years ago when the fat lamb and Mule gimmer job crashed and we find they give us a better return so we’ve never gone back to the Mule.

“The Texdales are very hardy sheep that we run on the moor and come in with tremendous lambs.”

The 102nd Reeth Show takes place on Bank Holiday Monday, August 25. For more details, see www.reethshow.co.uk