I have known about Appleby Horse Fair for most of my life; I have passed Appleby-in-Westmorland on A66 when the Fair is on but I have never actually attended the Appleby Horse Fair. It is one of those events that I have always been intrigued by. I can remember exactly where, when and why I bought this tea towel as if it were yesterday.
The Appleby Horse Fair, held annually in Appleby-in-Westmorland, Cumbria, in early June, is an enigma. It has been held since 1685 under what was thought to be a Royal Charter but apparently, recent research has shown that, although a Royal Charter was drawn up, it was never actually sealed so there is no actual legal entitlement for the meet; custom and practice prevail . The Appleby Horse Fair is where up to 15,000 Gypsy Travellers, from all over Great Britain, gather to buy and sell horses, meet up with friends and family and gather to celebrate the Gypsy Traveller culture. Amazingly, there is no organised or scheduled programme of events; things just happen as they always have done. Horse selling takes place, usually at Gallows Hill (named because it was the site of the local gallows) near the crossroads of the Roman Road and the Long Marton Road. There is no organisation that is responsible for planning the Appleby Horse Fair. The nearest thing to structural organisation is the appointment of a Shera Rom, the head Gypsy Traveller, who is responsible for liaising with the local authority about things like temporary toilets and road closures. The most amazing sight is seeing hundreds of horses drinking at the River Eden, being washed down prior to be sold.
The Appleby Horse Fair attracts up to 25,000 non-Gypsy Travellers who want to take part in the atmosphere of this event. There are additional camping and caravan parks to cater for the visitors. As we know, there is always controversy surrounding the Gypsy Traveller population; as a result of this there has been a lot of evidential research about what happens at Appleby Horse Fair. For example, people often talk about the rubbish that Gypsy Travellers leave behind at their sites. Research has shown that the whole area of Appleby is cleaned up within two days of the end of the week-long Fair so you wouldn’t know that it had ever taken place, paid for by the Gypsy Travellers. This is faster than at other events of this size. The second myth is about the level of crime associated with Gypsy Travellers. Police statistics show that crime levels are lower than for other similar events; most arrests are associated with drug offences, mainly committed by non-Gypsy Travellers and the third myth is about potential animal cruelty. The Appleby Horse Fair has a high number of RSPCA Inspectors present who note very little poor treatment of animals and have reported high levels of animal welfare.
I bought this tea towel in the Tourist Informtion Centre in Appleby. I loved the picture; it has such atmosphere, with the combination of traditional caravans and crowds of people. While I was admiring the tea towel, pondering whether to buy it, I struck up conversation with one of the workers who was extremely knowledgeable about the Appleby Horse Fair and was passionately committed to the event. She was very excited by this new tea towel, designed by a local person. Perhaps more memorable, and nothing to do with the Horse Fair, was that this discussion took place five days after an accident I had had following a seizure. I looked pretty horrendous with a swollen face, bruising, dried blood and bits of plaster. In the past, my experience has been if you use a stick, for example, everyone thinks they have the right to ask you why and to interrogate you about your medical history. Suddenly, with the damage to my face, no one mentioned it, just stared, almost like it was a taboo subject, that I was a victim of some kind of domestic violence. I hated it. I just wanted to tell people that this was about epilepsy, and that epilepsy isn’t a taboo subject. Yet this woman asked me about it and showed some interest. I was grateful that someone was open enough to ask and I had someone to tell the tale to. Appleby is a place of potential myth about Gypsy Trvaellers and it seemed like a good place to dispel a personal myth and openly talk about epilepsy.
One word of warning, if you are in the area of Appleby around early June, avoid travelling on the A66 if you want to travel fast otherwise you will get caught behind a number of horses and traps; they are great to look at but not a help if you want to get somewhere quick. Appleby is a great place with lots of atmosphere and I just think that I would like to go to the actual Horse Fair.
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