Andrew Brown: When did country shows turn into shopping parades?

There are few things more enjoyable than a good country show especially if you can take some kids along.

One of my favourites was always the Keighley Show where you could encounter tents full of strangely shaped rabbits and competitions that seemed to range from “best ferret with one white leg”; through to “most bizarrely shaped rooster over 1kg”.

The hours it must have taken the breeders to identify and then select for a particular style of highly decorated feathers on the legs of a pigeon and the care they had put in to preparing and showing them were always impressive. But the main fun was always in challenging the kids to spot something even more peculiar and outlandish than you saw in the last tent.

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So when I was down south recently and it was suggested that we took a day out to see the Royal Bath and Wells Show I was very easily persuaded. What is not to like about taking a three-year-old and a five-year-old on their first trip to discover all the delights and eccentricities of the breeders art and science?

Then we got there and I discovered that it was not quite what I had come to expect from my local show. For a start there was the ticket price. They don’t charge 22 quid a head in Keighley, I can tell you. Then there was the shock of the scale of the retail experience that came along with the show.

Almost as soon as we had got past the entrance we found ourselves in a giant shopping centre where row after row of very smart purpose built vehicles had been opened out to display some remarkably expensive wares.

You could buy a designer country jacket, a nice walking stick - green Wellingtons were of course on offer. There was fishing tackle and specialist agricultural machinery which seemed fair enough. But you could also buy a motorbike, a caravan, a cottage in the country, and a four by four so smart you would never want to drive it across a field or a boat.

There wasn’t just one or two stores, there were around 1,000 teaming with customers with a showground somewhere hidden amongst the shops.

Overwhelmed by people and by customer choice, I gave up on trying to find any actual animals and plonked myself down in a tent where there was a bit of peace and quiet.

Eventually, after a lot of effort and working our way through the huge crowds, we did manage to find something resembling a country show. The kids were particularly taken by the exhibition of fly fishing. I was a touch less impressed by the fact that it was taking place in a field. It had to be carefully explained to me that you couldn’t let a simple thing like a lack of water get in the way of a display of genuine skill. But we all enjoyed the shire horses and eventually even I began to appreciate some of the advantages of the range of shopping opportunities.

I tracked down a whole tent full of bee enthusiasts and had some very interesting conversations whilst parting with a considerable amount of money to stock up on equipment.

Nevertheless I came away not entirely convinced that large well financed shows are the best kind. I have spent enough years living in Yorkshire to be of the firm opinion that a proper show needs a set of sweaty men in an odd collection of running garments charging off up some impossibly steep hill in close proximity to a cake contest, a dog obedience show and some very finely turned out sheep. In my view country shows should be on a human scale and it is not a bad idea if they contain more animals than shoppers.

I think I can rely on that finding that at Keighley or at Kilnsey. And with a bit of luck if I turn up at enough local shows then one day I might even get to see an exhibition of trout fishing somewhere near a river.

Readers might like to note that this year’s Keighley Show is on September 3, with Kilnsey on August 30.