Appleby Horse Fair is now in full swing as thousands of travellers and horse dealers assemble in Cumbria for the annual gathering.
The fair was established by Royal Charter in 1685, giving the travelling community the right to converge on the town of Appleby in June each year. It was originally held in the town centre, but as its reputation grew, it caused ever-increasing chaos, and was eventually moved out onto Fair Hill.
The event has been cancelled only twice in its history. In 1750, the plague put pay to the horse dealing, while in 2001, the restrictions imposed because of foot and mouth disease accounted for cancellation of the fair.
Much of the travelling community arrived on Fair Hill yesterday, following the tradition of taking the horses down to the river to wash them after the exertions of their travel. The next few days will see all sorts of equine activity, including silky racing and flashing, as dealers show off horses to potential purchasers.
Last year, money was poured into a special flashing track for precisely this purpose, but horse owners rejected the safer track in favour of the long, narrow Long Marton Road, where they have flashed horses for years. The new track, they claimed, was too narrow for their purposes, so this year they return to the tarmac venue, aided for the first time by the protection of the police.
There are other alterations this year in an attempt to improve the welfare and safety of horse and human alike. Following a fatal accident last year of a man and his son as they drove along the A466, huge efforts have been made to increase awareness of the fair and its implications.
“There’s been a big improvement in warning motorists that there is a great deal of horse-drawn traffic around following the tragic accident last year when neither the man and his son, nor the horse stood a chance,” explained a spokesperson for Appleby Tourist Information Centre (TIC).
Although there are rumours from time to time prophesying an end to the horse fair, Appleby town itself is adamant that it is a significant event, both culturally and commercially
“I hope that it does continue as it’s a very enjoyable event. It’s hugely important to people as a cultural event, as well as bringing valuable trade to the town. The fair has been going on for hundreds of years, and it has always been a very positive thing for the town,” a TIC spokesperson said.