Show where the young take charge

Many agricultural shows have marked their anniversary milestones by looking back over the years. Bilsdale Show, set on the western edge of the North York Moors, is looking forward as it celebrates its 100th show today.

Just south of Chop Gate, on the B1257 from Helmsley to Stokesley, the show has been keen to get the next generation involved. "As a committee we decided that we wouldn't do a lot of looking back," says Ruby Garbutt who has sheep, cattle and crops at High Orterley Farm, Chop Gate. "So we decided to invite the Year 6 children of Bilsdale Midcable CofE School to be our joint Presidents of the show for this year. There will be four of them, three girls and one boy."

Bilsdale's faith in youth may be tested on the showground today. The winners in the sheep classes will also be decided by young people, as sheep farmer George Allison of Low Cow Helm explains:

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"All of the championships in the sheep classes will be judged by teenagers. We always use judges from out of the dale and that's still what we are doing this year. It's just that they will be young people making the decisions."

These judges are not be without breeding and significant show experience. They include Hannah Brown, daughter of Val and Martin Brown of Newton-le-Willows, who is already earning a name for herself around the sheep rings of the county. Hannah and her fellow judges will have their work cut out because despite its size, Bilsdale Show attracts some leading names in the sheep breeding world of the moors, including Andy Fawbert of Farndale and Tim Dunn of Bransdale.

"Without great farming characters like Andy, Bilsdale Show wouldn't be the same," says George who also believes that the role of the traditional agricultural show is changing, to mirror what the public wants from farming-related events.

"There aren't as many who seem as bothered as they used to be about whether Fred or Joe has won from up the dale again. We still have all of the sheep classes for mules, Swaledales, blue faced Leicesters and this year we have reintroduced a rare breeds section. But there now seems more of an interest in what happens and what we do on the farm.

"People like to see demonstrations of what we get up to. With that in mind we have some interesting elements this year. One is sheep shearing. We have father and son Dennis and Jonathon Easton, who farm at Laskill, giving a demonstration on sheep shearing in an old fashioned way and still practised today, where one holds the sheep whilst the other clips. When those not involved in farming find out how much a farmer gets for a fleece in comparison to how much a pure wool jumper costs they are amazed at how little farmers actually receive.

"We will also have both a North Yorkshire butcher and baker giving demonstrations and the NFU will be bringing their roadshow which includes how to milk a cow."

Ruby Garbutt has been the chairman of Bilsdale Show since 1992, having joined the show committee in 1979. She has always lived in this beautiful dale and has been a regular since she was a child.

"I grew up here and this show has always been a part of my life. It hasn't changed much, although it used to be behind The Buck Inn in Chop Gate, in the village, until we came here in 1983. We get about 2,000 who come on a good day, but we never count to check. We're not that kind of show."

Bilsdale is not averse to looking back. "We celebrated the show's centenary of existence in 1995 and to mark that some of us dressed in the kind of thing that people wore in those days. I wore a magnificent purple affair that trailed across the floor, with a big bustle out of the back. That showed me just how difficult it was to get around in that kind of thing. In days gone by the men would all come dressed in suits and hats for show day. There are one or two who still do that today."

Cattle classes have been reintroduced over the past two years, with the Beef Shorthorns. There are also classes for horses, ponies and dogs, as well as sheepdog trials and a fell race.

Wensleydale Show and Malhamdale Show are also today. Bank Holiday Monday sees the turn of two smaller shows with Farndale Show and Burniston Show. One of Yorkshire's most delightful dales shows at Muker in Swaledale is on Wednesday.