Out of the three Weardale agricultural shows this year, I made it to the final one at Stanhope. Held on the second weekend of September, Stanhope is a two day show and to make up for missing Wolsingham and Weardale I turned up for both days.
On Saturday I arrived via the Weardale Motors 101 bus at 11.30am, and managed to find the show ground half an hour later (it’s actually about five minutes from the bus stop). Stanhope show is not exactly big but it makes up for this by being set in beautiful Weardale scenery, and once through the gates it’s impossible to get lost. The showring was dominated by horses: Welsh and hunters on one side, showjumping on the other.
Once the horses were finished, we were entertained by stunt motorcyclists The Flying Gunners followed by the Eagle and Vulture Show. The handler brought out a series of increasingly massive birds, including a Stellar’s sea eagle. Then it all started to go a bit wrong. Introducing the vulture, he told the crowd that all the vulture wanted to do was laze around doing as little as possible for the most amount of food, and that his favourite part of the show was going back in the van. On queue, the vulture made a dash for the van. This seemed to me to be part of the show, but then the vulture spotted the open door of another van and leapt in – much to the horror of the poor woman inside!
Foiled, but not giving up, the vulture tried to fly through the closed window of the van, then flew off to the edge of the arena to devour a polystyrene cup.
The last bird out was a bald eagle. The handler let it fly off a couple of times, which was pretty cool to see as he flew right over the crowd. The second time, the bird flew off up the hill and seemed to take an interest in a flock of pigeons. Then nothing much happened. The handler started running out of things to say, and the eagle was now nowhere in sight. Finally and humiliatingly, the handler ended the show and drove out of the arena. I haven’t seen any reports of an eagle rampaging over Weardale, so I assume all was well in the end.
The Grand Parade revealed something I wasn’t expecting: for an agricultural show, Stanhope was rather lacking in farm animals. A handful of cattle and four sheep made it onto the arena, which was dominated by equine prizewinners. I did learn something about the local sheep though, as the compere gave us a lecture on upland sheep breeding: the black-faced sheep on the left is the Swaledale. This is crossed with the Bluefaced Leicester to produce a spotted-faced sheep called a mule. The mule is then crossed with the Texel to produce slightly less tough but presumably fatter lambs. We didn’t get to see the result of a Texel-mule mating but I suspect the local fields are full of them.
The climax of day one was the Sulky racing. I confess I had absolutely no idea what this was until the racers came onto the track to warm up. It turns out to be harness racing, and the sulky is the name of the cart. I watched two races and then headed home to catch the bus back to Durham.
On Sunday I took the Weardale Railway to the show. They had made an extra platform to take passengers directly onto the show ground, which I thought was a nice touch. Certainly not faster (or cheaper) than the bus, the train was definitely more relaxed and picturesque. Staffed by volunteers, the crew were polite and courteous – service you don’t normally find on public transport.
Again, the first part of the day was dominated by horses. This time Dales, Clydesdales and coloureds were being judged on one side, driving horses on the other.
Today we were entertained by the Kangaroos Gymnastics team. Their first display was a comedy gymnastics performance, interrupted half way through by a loose horse. Their second was a more technical performance, which ended in them showing the crowd why they call themselves Kangaroos. The photos don’t do them justice, but they were very entertaining and inspiring to watch – if you get a chance I recommend them.
That was the end of my show, as I wanted to catch the 4.20 train back to Bishop Auckland and then back to Durham. Sadly I missed the Cumberland wrestling and wife carrying competition, but I guess there’s always next year!
More photos on flickr