Winning tip: all steamed up, Dorset
The Great Dorset Steam Fair in Tarrant Hinton (returning 25-29 August 2022) is the ultimate country fair in my opinion. Covering over 240 hectares (600 acres), it’s the size of a small town. There is a vast spread of attractions, from working traction engines and vintage farm machinery to huge craft tents to motorcycle stunt displays to live music and much more. Peruse rows of trade stalls, take a ride at the fairground or listen to some of the many fairground organs, playing everything from traditional tunes to Abba hits. Alluring aromas will draw you into the food hall marquees, where you will be spoiled for choice.
Highlands in Hertfordshire
The Harpenden Highland Gathering opens (on 12 September) with pomp and ceremony; this is one of the biggest south of the border. Echoes of haunting bagpipes and beating drums build to a crescendo as the marching clans of pipe bands enter the arena. Traditional Scottish dancing includes jigs, reels and the Gay Gordons, while the games feature tossing the caber and haggis hurling. The staples of a country show remain, with duck and sheep herding displays, alongside the judging of oversized local produce. The day culminates with Knights of the Crusades, where children are invited to play the parts of squires and maidens before the closing ceremony, with pipe bands marching as one over the brow of the hill.
My favourite pig, Cumbria
The Gloucester old spot is my favourite pig. I encountered the “cuddly” beasts for the first time at the Westmorland County Show. It’s a feast for the eyes to see the different breeds of cattle, goats, alpacas and, of course, pigs. I also like the marquee with all the cakes and other homemade stuff. With local producers in the food hall and entertainment all day, there’s something for everyone to enjoy. This year it will be held over two days on 8-9 September to manage the crowds.
Full-on farming fun, Shropshire
I love taking my family into the hubbub that is Burwarton Show in Shropshire. It was cancelled this year, but fingers crossed for 2022. With shire horses gleaming and jangling in their finery and brass, prize rams and cows with calves all parading in the main ring and, of course, a marching band, Burwarton brings together the best a summer’s day in the countryside can offer. It’s full-on farming fun, while somehow also being laid-back and familiar. Vegetable growing competitions sit alongside fair rides (that actually make you scream). The “catch-the-(automated)ferret” race, aimed at speedier pets, is hilarious and complements the local food and sun wonderfully.
Celebrating Ladies in Pigs: east Yorkshire
Once the biggest one-day agricultural show in the county, east Yorkshire’s Driffield Show took place over two days this year (21-22 July 2022 tbc). First held in 1854, it’s the social event of the year for local farmers, with silver salvers, rose bowls, cups and trophies in categories for heavy horses, sheep, cattle, horses and ponies. Those without specialist knowledge can spot the difference between Charolais, Dexter and Limousin cattle or check out how Oxford, Suffolk and Hampshire sheep breeds differ. “Ladies in Pigs” provided cooking demonstrations celebrating British pork, and the Food Zone oozed with exhibitors offering tempting local produce.
Wood is good, Leicestershire
Timber, the International Forest festival, sponsored by the National Forest in the mystical surroundings of Feanedock Woods, takes place in July (1-3 July 2022). It’s a chance to cherish nature, art and spirituality in a three-day festival where poets whisper in the forest, treetop tightrope walkers perform spectacular feats, folk musicians play magical songs, storytellers wander freely, floating acrobats appear from nowhere, debates are launched in a background of woodland opera and illuminated soundscapes. Friendships are formed and beers opened in a vibe of music, magic – and a sprinkling of mischief.
Guardian Travel readers' tips
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Hearts of oak, Dorset
Stock Gaylard Oak Fair, 28-29 August, in Sturminster Newton, Dorset, is a family-run rural annual fair, set in beautiful parkland with an ethos on rural crafts, particularly wood crafts and the environment. It’s a gentle and peaceful event.
Grand day out, Cheshire
The Royal Cheshire Show (31 July this year, 2022 tbc) has so much happening on its showground near Tabley village that there really is something for everyone. They have animals, trade stands, bands, competitions of various kinds, flower and produce displays, farmers’ floats, quad bikes, machinery, food and drink stands, mothers’ union and WI. There are lots of delicious food stalls and activities for the youngsters. It is a fabulous day out.
Taste of Gower, south Wales
The Gower Show (cancelled this year, 2022 tbc) takes place in Penrice Castle Park, near Reynoldston, in green fields between ancient woodland and rugged coastline. You will find the typical oversized vegetables, WI sponge cakes and flower displays that are mandatory to any country show, but it’s the sheep judging that feels most celebrated by the locals – it is Wales after all. Sheep of all varieties line up for this main event, in hues of cream, beige and brown, their owners eager for a rosette. Meanwhile saltmarsh lamb burgers sizzle in a nearby food van. They are the true taste of Gower, where land meets sea.
Come on my ’ansum, Cornwall
Stithians Show (online only this year, 11 July 2022) in Cornwall is one of the country’s largest one-day shows, held normally on the first Monday after Saint Stythians Sunday in July. It was first held in 1834, and has grown considerably over the years. The growth of the show has forced it to relocate from the original site, but has maintained its presence in the village of Stithians, Cornwall. Attractions include heavy horses, horse jumping, dogs’ agility, various agricultural animals. Traditional tents house flower arrangements, cookery competitions and more. So come on my ’ansum, take a look: you won’t be disappointed.