The annual Gypsy and Traveller Horse Fair, which takes place at Appleby-in-Westmorland in early June is reputed to be the largest of its kind in Europe.
Around 10,000 Gypsies and Travellers attend from all over the UK—including Irish Travellers, British Romanichal, Welsh Romanies (Kale), and Scottish Gypsies and Travellers. The New Fair, as it’s also known, attracts more than 30,000 visitors.
Although at one point I spent several years living in Appleby, I never actually went. The crowds and the inevitable traffic jams getting in and out of the town were the main reason. As is always the way, it wasn’t until this year, long after I’d moved, that I decided I should go.
The origins of the Fair are somewhat hazy. It was rumoured to have originated by a royal charter granted in 1685 by King James II, but this is no longer thought to be true. Instead, the Fair derives its right to exist by having done so for many years previously.
There was certainly a fair held at Appleby in medieval times each Whitsuntide—the seventh Sunday after Easter—although this ceased in the late 1800s. A New Fair had begun by 1775 on unenclosed land at Gallows Hill (named for the public executions held there) which was just outside the Appleby borough boundary. Here, horses and other livestock were traded by dealers and drovers. By the turn of the last century this had become a major event in the Traveller calendar.
Appleby has become a meeting place, and a time of social and family get-togethers, as well as an opportunity to trade horses. It’s also turned into something of a marriage market, where teenagers dress to the nines hoping to catch someone else’s eye and agreements are often reached between families, as well as disputes settled by mediators within the community.
Arthur Rackham's famous illustrations for The Wind
In The Willows included a traditional Gypsy Vardo caravan
Although there are any number of the traditional horse-drawn bow-top caravans and Vardoes, these are way outnumbered by modern high-tech caravans or tents. Vehicles start to congregate in the towns and villages surrounding Appleby in the weeks leading up to the Fair. There is no official organisation among the Gypsies, although the Shera Rom—the Head Romani—liaises between the travelling people and the local authority MASCG (Multi-Agency Strategic Co-ordinating Group) to arrange portable toilets, rubbish skips, water supplies, grazing, clean-up, etc.
The Fair runs from the Thursday through to the following Wednesday, and participants are only allowed onto Fair Hill shortly before it starts. Hence the numbers camping along outlying roads and open areas on the run-up to the event. This year, residents of Appleby were apparently outraged to find that a number of Fairgoers had set up camp on the local private golf course…
When you combine the tradition with the influx of people who come to see the Fair rather than take part in it, you might think the local population might, if not welcome it, exactly, then at least tolerate it.
Not always the case. Many of the nearby towns, such as Kirkby Stephen, put up posts along the verges to prevent the caravans and vehicles pulling off road. I’ve known businesses close for the duration, or employ additional security guards. One police officer I spoke to this year said she’d worked sixteen days straight.
The police presence was large, with numerous vehicles and officers after last year’s event drew criticism from locals. The RSPCA turned out in force and said they gave out animal welfare advice to around 130 people. A video of a horse being mistreated led to an online petition being started, but when I was there, on the Sunday, I saw no evidence of overt cruelty.
The idea of the Flashing Lane, where horses are shown off by being driven or ridden at a flat-out trot along Long Marton Lane, has always concerned me, purely from the point of view of long-term damage to the horses’ legs. I’ve never liked the speed at which some of them take the steep hill between the Flashing Lane and The Sands, where the horses are traditionally washed in the River Eden. In 2008 a man was jailed for causing the horse in his care to drown in the river. This year, due to heavy rain, the ramp leading into the water was closed at times.
There have also been fights breaking out between rivals. A mass brawl in 2009 led to a spate of arrests. Notably, in 2011, the police had to stop a bare-knuckle prize fight set to take place at the Fair to settle a score, with a £100,000 purse up for grabs. Drugs and public order offences also account for arrests.
Appleby New Fair will always be controversial. I can understand how a small minority give everyone else a bad name. There are strong feelings on both sides. But as an experience, it was fascinating, and I’m glad I went to see it for myself.
This week’s Word of the Week is dziggetai, meaning a species of Mongolian wild ass, more horse-like than other species.
For those of you who like to know the punch line right off
the bat (to mix a metaphor or two) the surprise is Naxos, the largest and
possibly greenest of the Cycladic islands, and neighbor to Mykonos. It’s like going back in
time…starting with today and marching back through decades into centuries until
ending up somewhere six or seven millennia BCE when this island launched the
Cycladic period. It’s had a storied history, but this being my birthday I feel
a bit sensitive about discussing the ancients today.
Instead, I’m offering a brief taste of the sorts of
surprises this fabulous island has to offer, all as photographed by Photobomber
(who took the photos). To be sure, they and a few other surprises will work
their way in my next book. I should add, that book is still in search of an
alliterative title and all suggestions are welcome.
So, without further delay, here’s just the briefest
glimpse of the enchanting island of Naxos:
Imagine yourself following this road
You find this deserted undeveloped beach
You see this structure off in the distance
Curiosity sends you off exploring
It becomes more and more interesting
What can it possibly be?
Better still, what was it?
Not Stonehenge...perhaps ConcreteHedge?
Stepping inside and looking back at the spectacular view,
You wonder what harm can befall you exploring.
Perhaps it's time to rethink that conclusion.
And who's this?
Aha, uplifting thoughts.
A bit of a different perspective
I'm beginning to think getting out there's not such a bad idea.
Definitely not a bad idea.
Though this means of escaped does cause one to pause.
Ahh, free at last!
But what's this?
At last, a friendly face.
Can't say the same thing about these birds.
What happened to friendly face?
An interesting lady
Alfred E. Neuman's sister?
What is this place. I better go find out.
But first a stop at the beach.
And then a bite to eat.
The path up to our hotel....the other path looked more welcoming
A killer view back toward town....so to speak.
On a journey to the Naxos Archaeological Museum at the top of the Old Town Kastro or castle.
Self Portrait by Photobomber.
On her way to the top.
Through the streets.
The old castle walls (Venetian)
The Catholic Cathedral and Duchy Palace
The rear of the Museum
One of its treasures, some as old as 5th Millennium BCE
Just a cool shot of the Museum
Naxos harbor at sunset.
It's still setting.
A mountain vista
A broader mountain vista
A mountain vista with sea on the side.
A valley village.
Example of the fertile land in action.
Access to the islet housing the symbol of Naxos.
Here it is, The Portara.
The Portara panorama
Hard not to miss this place.
I think I am confused.
Nothing new there.
I have two books out this month , and another one to deliver but we shall do our best to ignore that.
After the success of The Suffering Of Strangers in being long listed for the McIlvanney Award, it got a new lease of life.
I think this is what happened but I am not really sure.
So I was published by Severn after Michael Joseph merged with Random House to become the Random Penguin and they decided to drop 1/3 of their crime list. ( And they had just signed James Oswald so maybe they can only afford one Scot at a time).
Severn then merged/ was bought over by/got married to Canongate and they had a lovely wee baby publisher called Black Thorn. Black Thorn have taken much of Severn's crime list ( 2 titles a month) plus Canongate's crime list ( 2 titles a month?) and are republishing them with a really - wait for it, I am about to use a phrase not often heard in publishing - efficient and enthusiastic PR team dedicated to promoting the book!
They are nice and it has been fun. I'm launching in Dundee tonight for The Suffering Of Strangers, plus blog tours, Reader's days etc.
The new, new book is out at the end of the month, a beautiful book, a standalone called Mosaic. So far, it has been incredibly well received. It's the usual, quality Severn hardback at £20.
The new print of The Suffering Of Strangers is £8.99.The Severn paperback is £12.99. The hardback is £20.
The minute the paperback at £8.99 hit Amazon, the price of the hardback tumbled from £20 to... £4.99. And rapidly outsold the new paperback as it rocketed up the charts, taking the kindle edition with it.
So the benefit of all the PR paid for by Black Thorn was reaped by Severn in the case of Amazon.
I know they all sit in the same office so they have probably worked all that out for themselves.
I think Black Thorn have got other plans for the rest of the books, which raises the question, with the deadline looming like the Canonball Express, how long I can keep doing the day job. All the PR takes so much time.... and the editor who is paying me to write the books, is the one that I am putting to the back of the queue of my To Do list. This book is now called As Yet Untitled as every time I call it something, another book is published with either the exact same title or one word of a difference. Which not be a bad thing if they are best sellers with a similar cover design!
So Dundee tonight.
Tomorrow, it will actually be a relief to get back to the desk, fingers on keyboards and get killing people again...
Caro Ramsay 14 06 2019