Yorkshire’s Bilsdale Show the one for everybody

Dennis Easton at Low Ewe Cote Farm at Laskill in Bilsdale with Dave Sanderson, Bilsdale show chairman. Picture Tony Johnson.
Dennis Easton at Low Ewe Cote Farm at Laskill in Bilsdale with Dave Sanderson, Bilsdale show chairman. Picture Tony Johnson.
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Tucked away in the dale between Helmsley and Stokesley and at the foot of the Cleveland Hills is the hamlet of Chop Gate, affectionately referred to by the locals as Chop Yat for many years.

The 106th Bilsdale Show will once again take place at Thornhill Farm just beyond the village next Saturday, August 27, and this year even the show banners announce the favoured version of the village’s name as the location.

Bilsdale Show is one of the county’s smallest agricultural shows with a gate, or should that be Yat, of merely 1,400 attending each year. It is one of the most endearing and friendly dates in the rural calendar. Like many shows it has had its fair share of ups and downs and a couple of years ago there was even the slightest of chances that its proud history might have been consigned to the record books as another to have fallen by the wayside. It was a time when others had to step up to the plate to take over the reins from those who had kept it going for many years.

“I became involved two years ago when I attended a meeting because a new committee was needed,” says David Sanderson who farms 500 Cheviot X ewes in a remote part of Bransdale with a hefted flock on the moor. “I was born in the dale and as long as I can remember my dad Rob has been on the show committee. My parents farmed opposite the showfield and my brother Stephen farms there now and is also on the committee. When I heard about the meeting, which was a bit of a crisis meeting, I said to my wife Trudy that being Bilsdale born and bred it would be wrong of me not go.”

David found himself taking on the chairman’s role and although he confesses that Trudy now chairs most of the committee meetings he maintains an active involvement with the show in his own way.

“I’m only really the chairman in name. I tend to pick up other jobs that nobody wants to do instead, but we got the show on last year and we’re not just keeping it going, we’re putting together something that everyone wants to come to by adding one or two things.

“My feeling is that I’d like the show to continue representing the farming part of the dale. I think we do that quite well at the moment. We have around 250 sheep entries, there are vintage tractors and we like having a bit of something special that relates to agriculture in the ring.

“This year we have Carol Mellin with her sheepdog display herding everything from ducks and geese to children! It’s very much a traditional North York Moors dales show.

“We also have a music tent that we started last year and is fast becoming another strong part of the show. This year there will be even more acoustic acts and folk entertainers appearing. Trudy is also secretary for the general tent that hosts all of the other classes such as baking and children’s competitions. What has become really evident and actually quite amazing when it comes to the trade stands is the number of smaller local businesses that now exist in Bilsdale. That’s really good news for the show’s future.”

Committee member Dennis Easton farms at Low Ewe Cote Farm, Laskill where he has 1,000 breeding ewes, half of them Swaledales and half Mules. He also runs a small suckler herd of 14 Aberdeen Angus and Limousin cows.

He’s been involved with the show for 40 years, shows sheep himself and his partner Dory Read is the sheep secretary. His mother came from Low Mill near Fangdale Beck. He’s impressed with the show’s increase in numbers in the sheep classes.

“We’ve certainly got more sheep entries and we have most breeds here. We’re finding that we are getting particularly strong classes at the moment for rare and primitive breeds such as the Ryeland, Hebridean, Jacob and Soay.”

One new but very old award will be presented at this year’s show in the form of an engraved tea caddy that dates back to 1924 and was bought recently at an auction in Kirkbymoorside.

“A local butcher bought it and asked whether we wanted it for the show. It is inscribed ‘1924 presented by McDougall & Robertson Ltd, Sheep Dip Makers – Manchester & Oban – Bilsdale Agricultural Show.’ It was made by Walker & Hall in Sheffield and we think it may have been originally presented in the Scotch Blackface section. We’ve decided that as the Teeswater is the only breed still native to this area we will present it to them.”

David describes his farm in Bransdale as one of the toughest in the North York Moors and that means he’s used to roughing it. He has also brought a little of his way of life into Bilsdale Show too. We have one of the hardest, highest and wettest farms in these dales so I’m acclimatised to what needs to be done at home, but for the last two years I’ve also slept in my car across the gateway to the show the night before.

“It’s not as rough doing that in summer as it is going up on the moor in winter, but we were advised it was the best thing to make sure that everything is okay the next day.”

Farming in Bilsdale and Bransdale where Dennis and David ply their trade is still hard and without farm payments and environmental schemes they would be pushed to make any kind of living.

When Bilsdale Show takes place next Saturday you won’t find anyone moaning about it.

Dennis Easton has spent 40 years in Bilsdale. He was originally at Lockton House before moving just up the road to Low Ewe Cote Farm. His son Jonny, who works with him on the farm and also works part- time as an agricultural engineer and sheep shearer, now lives at Lockton House.

Tonight Jonny is running the annual sheep shearing competition the Jungle Speed Shear at The Rose & Crown in Nawton Beadlam. Funds are being raised for Yorkshire Air Ambulance and there will be a bar, hog roast and disco.

“It’s a fantastic night, great fun, with people who really can shear quickly,” says Jonny.

The Speed Shear is at 7pm tonight, Saturday 20 August. Entry £5. Competitor entry £15. For information contact Jonny on 07813 623290.