Show season – winter cometh!

The Orkney agricultural show season has come and gone in a week! Several Orcadians kid us that this signifies the end of summer, when the tourists leave, the nights draw in, the weather turns to cold raging gales, and they shut their doors. This is a little harsh (even though a gale was raging outside as I started to write this) because there are several festivals still to come in the next few months including the Orkney Science Festival which has justifiably earned an international reputation, together with the Rock and Jazz festivals all in September. Others have commented that Orkney community activities only really get going in the winter months when the farming is less intense and the locals have the place to themselves.

Meanwhile, the last week has seen a fast-moving circuit of agricultural shows held in East Mainland, Shapinsay, Sanday, St Margaret’s Hope and Dounby, culminating in the grand Orkney County Show held in Kirkwall today (Saturday 13 August 2016). Entirely by chance, Tish and I visited the nearby isle of Shapinsay on the day of their show last Tuesday. It was bright and breezy after the last set of gales blew through the day before. On the small ferry we found we were the only non-commercial vehicle but we chuckled that we were not pressed up against the huge tractor with the massive bale prongs and intimidating raker attachment (only to find it was our close companion on the return crossing). This is one of the inter-island ferries that require you to reverse on, care being needed not to end up in the harbour as reported in my It’s Gone Technical post).

Around Shapinsay – select an image to view the gallery.

The Shapinsay Show

After visiting several landscape features including the well-preserved Iron Age broch at Burroughston and the Mor Stein Standing Stone, we returned to the Shapinsay Show, held in a modest field adjacent to the local school, where we lunched on authentic Orkney Buffalo Burgers while watching the delights of the horse show ring. We had missed the sheep competition in the morning (mostly involving orange fleece-coloured Cheviots and big-eared Border Leicesters) but the cattle were receiving their final brush and polish before going into the judging ring. A can of hairspray was being liberally applied to the back-combed tail of a cow with calf. Tish identified it as L’Oréal Elnett which I am informed is not a budget product. We admired the tractor with the scary raker now fully deployed and watched the gundog class being judged in the school playground – there were only two contestants so each went home with a rosette. We also entered a competition to judge the combined weight of three Guinea pigs; nobody has phoned us yet to say we won so the excitement is waning.

The Dounby Show

In contrast, the West Mainland aka Dounby Show held just up the road from us was a grand affair with considerably more of everything – livestock, bloodstock, poultry, stalls, agricultural equipment – and rain, not that anybody seemed in the slightest bit bothered. The dog show was keenly-contested (even though everybody insisted it was just a bit of fun). There was a tidy funfair where the ride prices were 50% cheaper than would be commanded “doon sooth” as I am now heard to enunciate. A falconry display provided lunchtime entertainment although curiously this included a long session with a pointer dog. Our friends from Historic Environment Scotland were on hand showing off their new Virtual-Reality headset displaying five Scottish and five overseas World Heritage Sites with head-spinning fidelity. Cleary, Dounby is not just a day out for the farmers but a real family show. We left contemplating that we would be doing it all over again two days later, at the even bigger and grander Orkney County Show!

Footnote: I could add any number of photos to this blog, except that ‘The Web’/Wordpress is reluctant to let me upload them 😦

The Orkney County Show

Typically around 10,000 people – half the population of Orkney – squeeze into Bignold Park on the edge of Kirkwall town to attend the annual County Show. Fortunately it is a very short walk from the town centre because there are no car parking facilities at the show. As predicted, there was indeed more of everything and it becomes hard to add superlatives after enjoying ourselves at the supposedly ‘minor’ regional shows described earlier. The weather started dry and bright although this did not deter us or indeed most of the attendees from arriving in waterproofs and more importantly, stout wellies. In scale this was closer to the Kent County Show that Tish and I normally work at each year – which typical attracts 77,000-100,000 visitors over three days. Back in Orkney, a few showers later in the day conveniently turned to persistent rain in the late afternoon, just as the show organisers were due to start winding-down the one-day event.

The Kent County Show is renowned for its display of hot tubs and expensive garden furniture as well as almost anything else remotely unrelated to agriculture; so we were pleasantly surprised to see only a small hot tubs stand while seeing remarkably little sign of any immediately-dispensable paraphernalia. And if I have said it before it is worth repeating, the general quality of Orcadian craft work and jewellery as displayed here is outstanding.

The livestock competitions were enthralling, not only because so many of the farm names were familiar but because the quality of livestock was so much higher than exhibited at the regional Orkney shows – this really was the “Best of the Best”.

Supreme Show Champion “Nearhouse”, the Shorthorn bull on the right, and “Snowflake”, a six-year old Clydesdale mare, the Champion horse.

Apologies that for unknown technical reasons I am unable to upload any other photos to this blog. I will try to add to this post in slow time.

And now the football results…

As the rain was increasing in intensity we did not stay for the Bignold Park finale which was the final of the Orkney inter-parish football cup. There is surely never a football competition in the world as hotly contested and as closely-regulated as this. Through the wonders of technology I am able to report that the trophy was retained by the parish of Stromness in a 2-0 defeat against Rendall after an own-goal and a penalty sealed victory. I am gutted for the diminutive parish of Rendall (in which we resided during the month of July) who might otherwise have been hailed as Giant Slayers!


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