26 Jun 2010

Royal Highland Show 2010

“Ladies and gentlemen, here are your winners,” says the announcer, and a wave of applause sweeps through the audience that surrounds the arena. Bonzo the bull’s handler grins as he is congratulated by a member of Royal Highland and Agricultural Society.

Bonzo himself, whose team of British Limousins have taken first place in a mixed breed event, seems nonplussed. Later Bonzo will be seen napping in his pen while a huge fan endeavours to keep the champion cool.

I am sitting in my living room, still trying to decide between my favourite moments of the Royal Highland Show, which started on Thursday and finishes tomorrow. This was my first year visiting “the greatest show on earth” and despite reading about it beforehand I didn’t really know what to expect. Where I grew up every town had an autumn fair that included livestock events and baking contests, so I figured it would be like that, only bigger.

Not just bigger. It is enormous. It is so huge that despite having a map I still managed to get lost. Twice.

From fencing to fire pits, tractors to giant spare tyres, everywhere I went there were farming folks with serious expressions scrutinizing this bit of field equipment or that particular high speed drill. The smiles pasted on the salesmen’s faces revealed their hope that this would be the next big sale.
When I first arrived I headed straight towards the sheep pens, as my blogger friend Brenda had asked me to take a photo of the winning Bluefaced Leicesters. I have never seen so many different breeds of sheep in one area before, let alone so many that were beautifully groomed instead of their fleeces being flecked with mud.

For some time I was distracted by this charming fellow. Behold the incredible texture, colour and curl of his horns.
Eventually I found them, their red and blue ribbons posted above their pen. Here you are Brenda: the prize-winning Bluefaced Leicester ram. He seems shocked by his sudden rise to fame.
In the land of food, the name of the game seemed to be meat. Carved meat, meat on a roll, meat made into sausages, meat sold in packs at the food hall, demonstrations on how to best cut and cook meat.

However there was also plenty of cheese, seafood, and heaps of other goodies on offer in the main food tent, which was so busy it was a trial just to get through the place, let alone sample anything.

I did manage to buy myself a small block of Loch Arthur Creamery’s award winning Criffel cheese, which is velvety smooth and flavourful and goes perfectly with oatcakes.
But my foodie highlight of the day was far from the food hall, way on the west side of the event grounds. Traditional Arbroath smokies were being made right there, smoke pluming through the burlap that covered the fish, which were hanging on poles in stout wooden barrels.

Of course I had to have one, thus marking off one more thing on my Scottish “to do” list, as this was my very first Arbroath Smokie ever. Oh it was goood…moist and flaky and rich: the perfect outdoor event food because it is wholesome but also feels like a special treat.
No matter where I wandered, I kept being drawn back towards the arena where the cows and bulls were being shown. The size of the bulls is shocking and they are incredible to watch, their deeply muscled forms lumbering behind their handlers as they are led past the judges. Perhaps it is because I am a Taurus, but these bulls were my favourite animals of the day. And of course, no trip to a Scottish agricultural show would be complete without the iconic Hielan’ Coos.
Now it’s time for the weird photo of the day! I had the zoom lens on my camera and snapped one of the judges who happened to be carrying around toothpaste and a toothbrush in his sock. Caption ideas anyone?
I took nearly 200 photos today but I shall show you just one more. It is not the strongest photo but I think it is my favourite. The Clydsdale owners were all getting their horses ready to show, brushing their hair and adding adornments to their manes and tails, and I got this shot of a woman tending to her horse. She was tidying the hair in front of his eyes and speaking tenderly to him, while he nibbled gently on the back of her hand.
Such a simple, precious communication, which to me signifies the depth of concern the farmers take with the animals in their care.

As a participant, winning a ribbon is wonderful because it means accolades from your peers and positive advertising for your business. But a ribbon won on a single day demonstrates only a fragment of the time, effort and love that has gone into ensuring that animal’s health and wellbeing. They don’t make a ribbon big or shiny enough for that.

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