Vibrant slice of life or annual invasion? The Appleby horse fair rides again

Gypsies gather in the Cumbrian town to do what they’ve done for centuries: trade horses

On one bank of the River Eden, villagers and tourists enjoyed the sunshine with picnic hampers and Thermos flasks. On the other, gypsies bathed their horses before trotting them off to prospective buyers at the Appleby horse fair – the largest and one of the oldest gypsy fairs  in Europe.

The Romany Way met Little England yesterday and no one seemed to mind that much.

It is either a vibrant slice of a traditional way of life or an unwelcome annual invasion of the Lake District, depending on your point of view. Every year, Appleby, the former county town of Westmorland, with little more than 3,000 residents, braces itself for the arrival of up to 150,000 visitors to the fair.

Lasting for a week and starting on the first Thursday of June, the event traces its history back to James II, who, in 1685, granted a royal charter allowing a horse fair “near the River Eden”. But the gypsies reckon they have been coming to Appleby for at least 500 years, and possibly since Roman times.

Travellers and gypsies from around the world converge on the Cumbrian market town to meet old friends and do business – mainly trading horses. Attendance is bolstered by a much wider community of “weekend gypsies” from all walks of life, people who share an interest in horses and caravanning.

Billy Welch, head gypsy and event organiser, a 52-year-old father of two sons, inherited the running of the fair from his father 14 years ago.

Over the years, things got more complicated. As well has horse trading, the fair is also where many younger members of the community meet their future wives or husbands. So, now, mobile beauty salons must be configured into the camp layout, along with rows of portable toilets, burger bars and the other necessities of 21st-century life.

Mr Welch insists, however, that horses are the main reason for what is still the biggest date in the Romany calendar.

Making a purchase is steeped in ritual. Buyers are supposed to stand next to the horse they fancy and then the owner will appear.

Starting prices for the finest horses can start at £25,000. There is a tradition of haggling but, being less tolerant of time-wasters than the average car salesman, owners are reluctant to start unless they smell serious money.

Locals, used to seeing tourists turn out in force to observe the travellers, tend to keep their distance.

“As locals, we lock up – and stock up,” said one pensioner. “I would be quite happy for them to have their week if they had any respect for the town.

“They cause such a mess, and the traffic on Sunday is terrible. And we have to lock up buildings, when we wouldn’t normally bother, because we know they’ll steal stuff.

“Today, the atmosphere is good, though. It is very amicable. But the problem is in the evenings when they have had a drink.”

But some residents believe the town’s often downright hostility  to the annual gathering means Appleby may be missing a tourism trick.

Doreen Donnelly, 83, who retired to the area three years ago, said: “When I hear people moan, I think it’s terrible.

“I don’t know why people complain so much. A lot of the shops and pubs close when they could be making money.”

Arts and Entertainment
Game Of Thrones
Uh-oh, winter is coming. Ouch, my eyes! Ygritte’s a goner. Lysa’s a goner. Tywin’s a goner. Look, a dragon
tvSpoiler warning: The British actor says viewers have 'not seen the last' of his character
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave long-running series
Esteban Cambiasso makes it 3-3
premier league
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
The Etihad Stadium, home of Manchester City
premier leaguePlus updates from Everton vs Palace
people'I hated him during those times'
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Heskey's aim has improved since the end of his English football career

Long after his career in English football has ended, Emile Heskey's impotency in front of goal remains an object of ridicule.

Dame Vivienne Westwood has been raging pretty much all of her life
peopleFirst memoir extracts show she 'felt pressured' into going out with the Sex Pistols manager
Arts and Entertainment
Lauryn Hill performing at the O2 Brixton Academy last night
musicSinger was more than 90 minutes late
Lewis Hamilton in action during the Singapore Grand Prix
Formula OneNico Rosberg retires after 14 laps
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: 'Time Heist' sees a darker side to Peter Capaldi's Doctor
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Head of Marketing and Communications - London - up to £80,000

£70000 - £80000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Group Head of Marketing and Communic...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: Level 3 Nursery Nurse required for ...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: L3 Nursery Nurses urgently required...

SEN Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: We have a number of schools based S...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam