Horse Play at the Appleby Fair

Each year in early June, the quaint town of Appleby-in-Westmorland in North West England is transformed into a gigantic fairground attended by thousands of Gypsies and Travellers (Irish Travellers), many of them who make their way to Appleby in horse-drawn vehicles.  This year, I decided to join them, though I have to admit that my vehicle was not “horse-powered” in the traditional way.

According to some, the Appleby Horse Fair started in the 1770s and is billed as the largest traditional “Gypsy” Fair in Europe, though at times, it felt more like a big family reunion.   The event is officially a horse fair (with lots of transactions), but most of the people I met have been coming here for years to ride their horses in town and enjoy drinks around the fire with friends and families.   

Many people come to the fair in their caravans (aka campers), often pulling a horse trailer, but some make the journeys in their traditional “box-top wagon,” a horse-drawn vehicle that reminded me of old Wild West movies.  In fact, for a few of them, these wagons are still “home,” as they have never slept in anything else.  Seeing these people (and their dogs and birds) arriving at Appleby and to the grounds, where they could camp for the duration of the Fair in their box-top wagons, was no doubt a visual delight.

During the Fair, there is a non-stop procession of people riding their horses, or riding in their sulkies (a light 2-wheeled carriage of the sort used in what is called harness racing in the U.S.), from the fairground to the town where they could show off their horses or wash them in the Eden River. 

Many people just hang out at the campgrounds or go to the numerous markets for fortune-tellers, palm readers, food, music, tools and hardware, china, and horse-related merchandise, including harnesses and carriages.  And when visiting one of these markets, the women and girls of the Gypsy or Traveller’s community will always be stylishly dressed-up.

Next time, I’ll definitely go in a wagon.




16 Responses

    1. Thanks for visiting, Ivy. It was interesting to see how proud the Travellers are of their horses. It sure is a big part of their lies.

  1. As always, a fascinating blog accompanied by delightful photos! It’s obvious these are such photogenic people who enjoy being photographed! Love the colorful wagons. I hope you and Richard are doing well!

    1. Thank you Sally. All good here and we love our new home. Yes the Travellers are colorful people and I too like the wagons. Some of them were coming from very far away in these wagons though. I felt for the horses.

  2. Fascinating! Obviously the gypsies feel quite at home with you, France, as you seem to be included in much of their experiences at the horse fair. Lovely, lovely images. I can almost smell the grass (and the horses!). The boy riding the horse in the water is a dream of mine – to ride a horse in water, maybe like riding on a dolphin.

    1. Thank you Kathy. Well, if you want to fulfill your dream to ride a horse in the water, this is the place. I could not tell whether the horses enjoy it, they certainly seem to like being in the water to be washed but I am not sure whether they liked being submerged up to the neck. It is certainly a good way to cool off if it gets hot (which was not the case when we were there). Always nice hearing from you, Kathy.

    1. Thanks for visiting, Frances. We sure need a little more connections these days. Always nice hearing from you.

  3. Great story France. You certainly took advantage of some lovely weather in the UK. Beautiful colours and great subjects.

    1. Thanks Jeremy. Always nice hearing from you. As for the weather, it poured most of the time but we had a few dry moments. I guess this is lovely weather for the UK 😉

  4. I hope you do get to go in a wagon next time 😀.
    It looks idyllic..and makes me want to sing the Happy Wander song we were taught in primary school .
    Beautiful photos .
    The world is full of people living all sorts of different lives . 🌺

    1. Dear Emilie, Nice hearing from you. Yes, the world is a dark place these days so sometimes a little break from it is good. But things are not as perfect as they look here either, though I didn’t notice any, domestic abuse has been documented in some Travellers’ communities and, of course, some of these Gypsies and Travellers are communities that are often discriminated on. But this is another story, the fair is typically a joyous event. All the best, France

    2. I can well guess that things are not as perfect as they seem . No romanticism from me and they are the sort of pictures that connect us to a world that flies under the radar.. I do wonder how many more years events like this will continue . Beautiful in sunny weather but in the cold & damp 🥶. .
      Does the local council provide amenities for the gathering ?

      1. Well, this event has been going on forever (hundreds of years they claim) and they are used to cold and damp weather so I think it is there to stay. As you can imagine the locals are divided as to whether they support this event or not, some leave town for the duration, others try to maximize business opportunities. The city council is somewhat supportive and provide some amenities, but according to the Gypsy and Traveller’s communities, not nearly enough!

  5. Dear Franclelerc,
    Hi!I am a senior high school student from China who was accidentally recommended to log on to this website to see your photos while reading extra-curricular books. That’s great! Your experience and photos are very appealing, as if I was traveling with you at the moment. I like your photos very much! They can truly reflect the stories of different regions. Sincerely, Vivian.

    1. Dear Vivian, Thanks so much for stopping by and for your kind comments on my work. I am glad you feel that you are traveling with me as it is the intent. Keep on visiting. All the best, France

Would love to hear from you!

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