Much to my daughter’s dismay, I absolutely LOVE country shows, and in my opinion, some of the smaller ones are some of the best. As a teenager I had a friend whose dad was into beagling, so we used to used to go to the Royal Bath & West and do what all cool teenagers do – watch the ferret-racing, sing along to The Wurzels and watch horses jumping over the same 8 jumps for hours on end, and I loved it, but the Bath & West is huge, and can be quite hard work and impersonal.
Melplash, however, is perfect – big enough to have all the variety of attractions, competitions and some decent entertainment and food, but small enough to walk around without too much effort, and as it’s our local, it’s a very social day for us.
Now held just outside Bridport, the Melplash Show has been going since 1847, and is a really important event in the farming and equestrian year.
Agricultural shows have always been a vital social hub for farmers, who often work very long hours in isolated locations, and it’s a chance to exchange gossip, compare produce, do deals, and catch up with old friends. It is also a chance to see lots of new kit for sale, pick up some show bargains, and enter livestock or farm products in the competitive classes. If you haven’t seen farming as a competitive sport, these shows are an eye-opener. There are classes for everything from bulls, pigs, sheep etc, through to products such as the best silage, fleeces or wheat. As well as pride and bragging rights, these competitions serve a serious economic purpose – a prize-winning cow or bull can be worth thousands of pounds, and for breeding herds the accolades added to the bloodlines can add thousands to the value of any offspring.
For the visitor, this means rows and marquees full of beautifully groomed, shiny, very spoilt livestock, which is a great introduction to all the wonderful variety of shapes, colours, sizes etc of the different livestock. If you don’t know your Oxford Sandy & Black from your Hungarian Mangalitza, this is the place to learn. I know a breeder of Devon Ruby Red cattle who was delighted when her husband bought her a hairdryer for Christmas one year – not for her, but a giant one for her show cows!
Also on show in the horticulture tents are the most perfect fruit, vegetables and flowers, and those stalwarts of the show schedule such as vegetable animal sculptures, garden in a plate and giant marrows etc. These classes are open to everyone, and there are LOTS of classes for children, lots for beginners and with a huge range of crafts, art, skills and products represented, it’s worth having a go and getting involved. Schedules are available online, with all details provided. We used to do our village show; my daughter had a second in the rock cakes, and my son won the vegetable animal with a cabbage/cucumber tortoise creation!
Out in the show rings are the horse and pony classes, including the stunning heavy horses, shows such as horse-back archery, parades of winning livestock and other entertainments and displays.
The Discover Farming marquee will have all sorts of hands-on activities for families to learn more about food & farming, and for those who are really keen to get involved, they can visit the Farmers for the Future marquee, with advice about the opportunities available in agricultural careers.
Of course, the end product of all farming is food & drink, so there is a huge variety on show, to be judged, bought, eaten and tasted. The Cookery Theatre will have demonstrations from great local chefs, and the big competition this year is the Best Scotch Egg Competition, sponsored and judged by the prize-winning Anchor Inn at Seatown, and the Bridport Banger Competition will be hotly contested.
There is always lots of music, lots of cider, lots of dogs and so many brilliant trade stands you will wish you’d taken more money with you! You can buy everything from a hand-raised pork pie to a new combine harvester, if you have a few hundred grand to spare, and the country clothing etc are great.
For country people and townies alike, there is so much to look at – you can watch sheep-shearing, see inside a working beehive, see milking in action, and get really up close and personal to where your food comes from, and meet some of the people who are so passionate and knowledgeable about the world of farming and the countryside.
Tickets this year are £14 for adults (if bought online, £16 on the day), and free for children. As well as covering show expenses, these tickets contribute to bursaries to help fund the next generation of farmers, and the Melplash Agricultural Society are active all year round running events and competitions to advance farming and countryside skills in the area.
Go along on Thursday 24th August and have a cider, see some beautiful animals, try some farm-fresh foods, see some incredible quality crafts and produce and immerse yourself in the skill, passion and heart that goes into the British countryside.