Simple pleasures of small shows

A scene from a previous Danby Show
A scene from a previous Danby Show
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Chris Berry takes a trip to the North York Moors to see how the area’s agricultural shows are using a traditional formula to draw crowds.

Danby Show is, to my mind, probably the archetypal North York Moors small show.

They are simply agricultural and equestrian affairs with nothing added except buns, cakes and plenty of friendly rivalry.

This week sees Danby Show take place on Wednesday with Rosedale Show following on next Saturday. Egton, Farndale and Bilsdale all make their bow by the end of the month and little Boon Hill Show at Newton-upon-Rawcliffe will be under way today.

Danby Show, is to my mind, probably the archetypal North York Moors small show in that it captures that James Herriot All Creatures Great and Small atmosphere and spirit. It’s where you’d still expect competitor farmers to say the word “vetnary” (not veterinary) in a respectful yet wary manner.

While those shows on the edge of the Moors that have taken place in recent weeks have understandably become much larger, being on major roads and a draw for tourists, you get the feeling that the likes of Danby will always stay the same and that’s the way everyone prefers it. They’re a little bit off the beaten track, seem not too bothered that additional thousands of tourists don’t suddenly descend on them and appear quite happy with the numbers who turn up on the day.

One of the proudest moments I have had in writing about farms, farming, rural life and agricultural shows over the past 20 or more years came two years ago when I was asked to become president of Danby Show. It was a task I relished and acceptance of my work with countryside folk.

My previous experience up until that point had included judging the sloe gins and liqueurs at Thornton-le-Dale Show. Apparently the lady who had judged the previous year had hit a gatepost on her way out of the showground! When I got there I could see why. There were 72 bottles!

If you are ever asked to be a president at an agricultural show, which I hope to be again one day if anyone takes the hint, here are the duties you may expect. I judged the tradestands, the very young sheep handlers, the fancy dress on horseback, and presented all of the trophies in the main ring.

The role provided me with a whole new perspective on just how much work goes into putting on shows such as Danby and the time and effort required. And I’m not talking about any effort on my part.

Everyone involved with the organisation of Danby Show is busy. They fly around trying to make sure that everything goes as smoothly as possible. The show secretary and her team appear to work non-stop throughout the day with a constant stream of faces Appearing with questions that need answers right there and then.

Walking around the show in the capacity of president and judging, as opposed to wielding a camera and capturing people in unfortunate positions and gathering in stories for future issues, brings additional dimension.

You find out just how people in the local area are able to make their living, if not from farming. One such young man I met was Chris Raw who has developed a successful wrought iron enterprise at Fryup Forge. I talked with one lady from the show committee about her role in designing traffic lights! They don’t have many of those in Danby.

One man who has been synonymous with Danby Show for the best part of the last two decades is ringside announcer Graeme Aldous. He’s another who gets things flung in his direction when he least expects them.

“I don’t get to see much of the show itself because I’m just stationed in the same place all day but I have to say I’m always impressed with how thorough the hunter judges are in making their decisions. The horses look magnificent and the judges deliberate long and hard.

“The fancy dress on horseback is a real treat and the lengths people go to dress their ponies as well as their children constantly amazes me. In recent times, though, I think I’ve noticed that the recession must be biting a little as we have had a fewer entries. Hopefully, this week we will have a good turnout.

“I do receive some lovely comments about the clarity of the announcements and this is where I have to pay tribute to Tony and Andrea Atkinson. Any announcer or show commentator is only as good as the public address system allows and I have to say theirs is the best I have ever come across.”

Nicola Welford farms at Lealholm and is the livestock secretary for the show. Danby attracts healthy entries in its Swaledale and Mule classes in the sheep section with Moors names such as David Hanson, Andy Fawbert and Pete Turnbull; and its dairy classes with Lauren Nicholson and Simon Cornforth.

“This year we have 10 sheep classes and four cattle classes. We’re particularly pleased with the amount of Swaledale and Holstein entries. We are also looking to increase the number of entries in the sheepdog trials this time and we are keen to get numbers back up so we will be taking entries on the day. We have Charles Cuttler coming who is particularly well respected and we’re hopeful of a good number.”

Until the end of August.

Saturday, August 10, Boon Hill Show.
Wednesday, August 14, Danby Show. 

Saturday, August 17, Rosedale Show. 

Wednesday, August 21, Egton Show. 

Monday, August 26, Farndale Show. 

Saturday, August 31, Bilsdale Show.