The lure of the county show

By | Category: Travel tips & opinions

This is what I expected from a county show

I confess I cannot remember when I last went to a county show. It is certainly over twenty years ago and probably closer to thirty.

Recalling those dim distant days, I seem to remember warm days, (memory always plays tricks) lots of straw underfoot and bales to sit on, cows that seemed much bigger than any of those I saw in fields and children riding Shetland ponies in loops set up in square fields.

County shows still exist which surprised me a little since memory suggested they were so old fashioned. Maybe living in suburbia for so long had removed the country from my being. Some quick checking showed that not only were county shows still around, some were thriving. Not just thousands but tens of thousands of people visit some of them.

In a conversation one day with Irene, (who also writes for Just about Travel) the subject of county shows came up. Both of us confessed to not knowing what a modern county show was like so we decided that both of us would attend one and write up our experiences.

The difference between us is that Irene is based in Denver in the USA and here was I in Wales. How similar were they? Do they each reveal a very distinct national or local flavour or are they much the same?

..and this

I decided to go to the biggest three day one in Wales, the Pembrokeshire County Show, which attracts more than a hundred thousand people each year to a showground near the small airport just outside Haverfordwest. Irene will do the same – go to her local show – and you can read her account in a few weeks’ time.

I’d heard that the Pembrokeshire event could be very busy so being a little impatient I decide to let the traffic rush subside before I ventured anywhere near the ground. What a wise decision! In the morning rush hour the local roads were snarled and people made it to work at a snail’s pace. Vehicles carrying all types of farm animals had set off early so that by the time I arrived just after midday, there were thousands of cars, trucks, campervans and horseboxes packed on the aerodrome and in fields. Even at that time of the day it took me fifteen minutes of first gear driving to reach a car parking space. Next time I’ll use the shuttle bus. And yes, there will be another time but I am getting ahead of myself.

There weren’t fun fairs at the last county show I went to

Seeing trucks parked in muddy fields I gave thanks that I was on tarmac. And there were no queues to buy the entry ticket. I could have got a discount if I had applied online before the opening day but the weather had proved to be pretty wet and windy so I had already formulated an excuse for Irene as to why I didn’t go. In the event I probably picked the best day, it being sunny and quite warm even if underfoot was soggy. But straw and strips of fake grass had been put down so although I sank into the ground I was protected and emerged strangely un-muddied at the end of the day. Now that was different from the old days when the dress code was a pair of wellies.

If I thought I would see animals being paraded as soon as I entered which is how I remembered things from the past then I was to be disappointed. Apart from a girl putting her horse through its paces prior to whatever event in which she was involved, all I could see were stalls. There were those selling artificial insemination solutions, (£30 per straw whatever that means) insurance, solicitors and car dealers all before I could get near any of the agricultural side of things. But I was drawn to an energy supplier hoarding which suggested I could save £100,000 on my energy bill if I installed their renewable wind farm option.  Since my bill is a fiftieth of that, this didn’t seem viable but it did make me realise just how much money was involved in modern farming.

…or a stage performance to watch.

The charity shops came next mingling with foodstuffs but where was the candy floss stall? Where were those huge jars of sweets where I could buy four jaffa sweets for a penny? Long gone I was told by a “child” of no more than twenty who looked at me as though I had come from another planet.

The Welsh Air Ambulance had parked a helicopter nearby but there were no tanks at the Welsh Regiment’s stand. But soldiers were on hand to satisfy youngsters who wanted to see the sophisticated hand weaponry available to the modern soldier.

I don’t remember much of a funfair in those shows of the past but here was a wide collection of rides including dodgems and the necessity for attracting the very young – a Thomas the Tank Engine ride. And tucked away was the candy floss man so maybe some things hadn’t changed! And bouncy castles. Quite a lot of bouncy castles.

Vinatge tractors were younger than me

Gradually I passed all the clothing and footwear suppliers (do wellies really cost £52 a pair?) although I was sorely tempted by six pairs of socks for a tenner until I realised that I had so many socks there were some that had yet to be worn. Finally there was the agricultural equipment area where children and adults seemed to be in awe of what was available. A woman pushing a stroller dashed past me exclaiming excitedly to her elder child, “Look at that John Deere.” The vintage tractors fitted my knowledge but did some really have to be called vintage given that they were manufactured long after I was born?

Seeking respite, I visited the cattle area where huge, manicured beasts barely gave me the time of day. Maybe haughtiness is bred into winners like these. Two men , obviously fixated by the Limousins were arguing the merits of each of the animals and a small crowd gathered to listen to the expertise. I found myself nodding sagely with the crowd as point after point was made. I almost convinced myself that I understood what was going on! But even I could spot quality.  Surprised to find I had spent an hour I thought a change was due so past the Radio Pembrokeshire stage where a continuous musical show was available for onlookers, I headed for the poultry section.  As a child I had cleaned out chicken coops and gone to markets to buy fresh stock for my nan’s hen-house. I still remember coming back on the bus with a metal cage containing a chicken or two on my lap.

More modern agricultural transport

I knew there were more than one type of chicken but didn’t know there so many. Some looked small and scrawny but apparently there are breeds like that. There were geese that seemed to be half my size and strange ducks with all sort of tufts and styles. Another hour had gone before I left there and headed to the tea tent. In my day there was one, today there are many. The catering has improved  as has the quality as I found out when I tucked into hog roast roll.

Back into the sunshine to watch some dog judging but when I opted for a beagle over a dachshund and the judge chose the opposite I found that I had joined the Honourable Society of Judge Bashers. Time to leave but staying with dogs I went to watch individual ones tear around an obstacle course to their glee and to the pleasure of their out-of-breath trainers. Another hour had gone by!

And where else but in Wales – a stall just selling daffodil bulbs!

I had only meant to drop the show for an hour or so. Instead half a day had gone. The county show of memory was nowhere near as big nor as all-embracing as the modern show. Times had changed and unlike my thought that county shows wouldn’t survive, this county show at least had.  The traditional agricultural element was still available but for those uninterested in rural pursuits, the county show had merged with the fun fair, added a strong retail element and provided a packed day out for the visitor and tourist.

As I left before the evening rush, I thought that I’d be back because there aren’t many attractions that can keep me interested and occupied for so long. And tens of thousands of others must think likewise!

If you enjoyed this post, please consider subscribing to the RSS feed to have future articles delivered to your feed reader.
Tags: , , ,