Early, early golden mornings and late violet-sky nights – summer in Scotland. The weather
hasn’t been exactly blissful so far, but the arrival of summer heralds the start of show
season: in most farmer’s calendars, there’s always a day or two set aside for presenting,
judging, and celebrating animals, produce and good practice, with a healthy dose of
socialising and a dance thrown in, at a local or national agricultural show.
Dating back to the 1800’s, agricultural shows are where tradition, innovation, commerce
and recreation come together, giving people the opportunity to explore and appreciate the
diversity of rural life and the wider value of the rural economy. And year after year, people
flock to agricultural shows – as the interest in rural living grows, they attract ever increasing
numbers of visitors.
This year is the 200 th anniversary of the Royal Highland Show, in Ingliston, near Edinburgh. It
is the largest annual agricultural show in Scotland, with over 1000 exhibitors, 4,500 head of
livestock and an expected 200 000 visitors. It’s an exciting – and daunting – prospect, being
one of those 1000 exhibitors, but small businesses like mine are an important part of the
rural economy, and, from a different perspective, I am following in a long tradition of
stubborn, creative farmer’s wives who can’t make jam but still like to be involved.
From 200 000 visitors to 200 – our local show, on the 16 July, also attracts visitors,
exhibitors, and a spirit of competition to rival the space race. Farmers from the island and
the mainland will gather to show cattle, sheep, poultry and dogs, and a huge variety of
baking, preserves and handicrafts. It’s a day of festivity and pride in the results of the hard
work that goes into this ‘rural idyll’ that really is such incredibly hard work sometimes, and
often very light on the ‘idyll’. It is a day of community and delight in ourselves and our island
It is a life that few farmers would change, but that every farmer has cursed at some point,
and although it can seem, at these shows, that the idea of a ‘farming life’ is something to be
marketed, packed up and sold as a tweed coat, jar of jam, deer-horn buttons or even a bar
of soap, it isn’t that simple. Farming is getting up at dawn; it is going out in the rain, frost,
and snow; it is mourning the loss of each lamb and each field to the weather, or crows, or
bad luck. It is something more than ‘something you were born to’. It is also something the
media can’t seem to decide on – either berating and demonising the farming industry, or
polishing it up and sanitising an overpriced 40 acres with a cheeky personality who can’t
drive a tractor and an interest in rare breeds.
But for the most part, farming is also the best kind of life, worth preserving and celebrating.
It is part of our heritage and culture, and part of our future, and agricultural shows bring this
to together, for everyone.