Pair to leave village hostelry after Muker Show

Darren and Emily Abbey, owners of The Farmers Arms in Muker.
Darren and Emily Abbey, owners of The Farmers Arms in Muker.
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Concentration around the sheep rings carries palpable intensity, fell runners grimace and grit their teeth climbing relentlessly and the band plays on tirelessly.

These are just three of the hallmarks of Muker Show in upper Swaledale and form vivid mental pictures that those who have found the show over the years hold dear as their own slice of rural nostalgia that – apart from ever more colourful running vests – doesn’t change.

While other shows feature similar classes and timetabled events, there is a pureness about Muker that in my humble opinion isn’t found anywhere else among the county’s 50-plus agricultural show season. The only breed of sheep is the Swaledale and the show is miles apart from the handbags, gladrags, burger vans and coffee shops that populate others.

Darren and Emily Abbey haven’t been on the showfield on show day at all during their seven-year tenure as landlord and landlady of The Farmers Arms, the village’s famed and extremely well supported pub, but they are very much a part of the day and with Muker Silver Band starting and ending proceedings playing outside to packed gatherings they get their own fix.

The couple’s hostelry days will come to an end a few days after this year’s show, which takes place on Wednesday, with new owners Chris and Karen Stanley moving in the following Monday.

They’re certainly not leaving Swaledale behind though, as they will continue living in nearby Thwaite.

Darren fell in love with the dale many years ago after moving here having given up dairy farming with his father at Snape near Bedale.

He’s worked at the other pub in the area at Tan Hill, where he learned cellar management and how to keep beer, while also working in the area for Masham farmer and civil engineer Ken Rodney.

“In my early working life I thought I’d been put on this planet to milk cows and we were milking around 120 Holstein Friesians but circumstances changed.”

Having come from a farming background Darren understands how much shows can mean to local farmers and particularly in the Dales.

“Shows like Muker and Tan Hill really matter, that’s why there is such scrutiny from everyone around the ring. Every farmer watching on is an expert on the Swaledale and everyone is looking closely at the sheep and the judge for where his eye is taken.

“A good result at Muker contributes to the success of the farmer’s sheep in the autumn sales that start soon. Achievements here can dictate who will do well in those, so it’s a big deal watching what happens and there’s a lot riding on the outcome.

“The winners come here afterwards and fill their tankards and trophies in celebration.

“Muker Silver Band leads a procession of officials and judges from the Farmers Arms to the showfield and the band plays three sets during the late morning and afternoon before regrouping outside the pub to lead in the community singing including the Swaledale anthem Home of the Swale.

“I get goosebumps as soon as someone mentions community singing outside the pub on show day.

“The atmosphere is like nothing I’ve ever experienced and when that song is sung by something like 1,000 people it really does bring a tear to the eye.

“It’s a sea of people outside the pub all day, but the singing ramps it up even more and it’s just magical. It will have special significance this year with us leaving the pub that I’ve always been proud to call my local since I started coming here.

“In those days at the other side of the bar when David and Sheila Alderson ran the pub before myself and Emily.

“The pub is successful due to a number of factors. It’s great walking territory. People come for a walk and then pop in for a drink or a meal.

“The major walks such as the Coast to Coast and Pennine Way pass close by. There are holiday cottages, bed and breakfast accommodation and a campsite, but most importantly for everyone around here there is good local trade.

“The Farmers Arms is the place to be and the local farmers are, as we are, fiercely proud of the pub and that it carries their name.’

‘While we are incredibly busy on show day one of our busiest nights in the run up to the show is the Wednesday two weeks beforehand.

“That’s the last day for entries to come in for the show and anyone who hasn’t posted theirs can come to the pub and hand their entries to the secretary.

“We had a record number of entries come in on that night this year.

“It’s also a good excuse for everyone to get out for a drink.”

The Farmers Arms has not been without its characters throughout its history and those that play up to their part as proper Dales folk as well as having a healthy obsession with Swaledale sheep provide visitors with additional entertainment value.

‘This is a special place for everyone and some enjoy the tag of being regarded as great characters.

“We often get people asking the whereabouts of the gentleman with the wooly hat and wellies. That’s Gordon Peacock who is a farmer and drystone waller who now lives in Reeth, so we don’t see him so much as that’s like leaving the country when you live here.’

Darren and Emily first met when Darren helped the Aldersons run a bar in the marquee for Muker Show’s centenary show in 2005.

Emily’s parents Rob and Anne Wilson had purchased the village tearooms in 2002 swapping life in Hull for the Dales and she had joined them having studied a Newcastle University.

‘We married in 2008 and took on the pub seven years ago with the help of another couple in the village who have been silent partners.

“The only reason we’re leaving the pub is that we are hoping to start a family.’

Muker Show takes place Wednesday, September 6.