MISERABLE weather failed to dampen the lively atmosphere as the Appleby Horse Fair reached its traditionally biggest day on Saturday.

For the thousands of gypsies and travellers that had made their way to Eden for the annual fair, heavy rain and boggy fields did not ruin the event.

The opening of the river ramp was delayed until approximately 11am to allow the water level of the River Eden to drop, but once it did the poster image of the fair was back as horses bathed by The Sands.


With visitor numbers down on usual years given the incessant rain on Saturday, the real activity was at Fair Hill as scores of poncho-clad attendees made their way through the market, camps of caravans and bowtops, and the bustling Flash Lane.

As the fair offers a prime opportunity for owners and buyers to come together, riders travel at speed down the lane to show off their fine equine specimens as crowds struggle to catch a glimpse of the action.

Eden District Council reported that the number of caravans was down 112 on last year - 815 were motorised and 176 traditional horse drawn bowtops. Stall numbers were up by 33 to 276.

The Great North Air Ambulance was called to the event at around 2.20pm on Sunday to attend to a woman who sustained a facial injury while watching a horse race.

It is believed that the passing horse threw a shoe during the race, hitting the woman, in her 20s, in her eye. After treatment on scene, the patient was airlifted to Cumberland Infirmary, Carlisle.

Hugh and Leah Chambers, of County Down, Northern Ireland, were visiting for the first time and they had been amazed by what they had seen.

"We had heard so much about this place that we had to come and see it," said Mr Chambers. "It's been really, really good, there's a brilliant atmosphere around.

"There's a good relationship between the police and everyone that's here and I think it's going well.

"We were by the river yesterday and it was incredible, it's something completely different that you don't get anywhere else."

Another first timer was farmer Matthew Emson, from Derbyshire, who had made the journey with some of his traveller friends.

"Even though the rain has come down it hasn't stopped people coming and there's a really nice family atmosphere," he said.

"Everyone is really down to earth and this is something you certainly don't see anywhere else. I've really enjoyed it so far."

A vast range of stalls also keeps visitors entertained, with equine equipment, clothes, toys, food and fortune tellers. For many, Appleby is the most profitable time of the year.

Keeping the seven-day fair running smoothly is a multi-agency operation involving the police and a number of animal charities ensuring the welfare of the horses as well as the many gypsies and travellers.

Tracy Genever, from the Blue Cross charity, said: "We're just trying to support the travellers in what they're doing – they're on holiday really and trying to have a good time so we're here to help that.

"We are building bridges with the travelling community because there are people who think it's all bad here but really it's just a lot of people who love their horses."

Dr Robin Hooper, chairman of MASCG and the Chief Executive of Eden District Council, said: “The number of early arrivals has again been low and the traffic management plan has help to minimise traffic congestion in and around the Appleby area, especially when gypsies and travellers migrated onto Fair Hill. The clean up operation in Appleby has ran very smoothly. The clean up of outlying areas will be undertaken on a priority basis and will be completed over the next few days."

Gypsy and Traveller representative on MASCG, Billy Welch said: “This year’s fair has enjoyed a really positive atmosphere, even the rain couldn’t dampen our spirits! All has been peaceful and quiet on Fair Hill."

The RSPCA and their colleagues from animal welfare charities, including vets, addressed a number of animal welfare issues at this year's fair. RSPCA Chief Inspector, Rob Melloy, said: “The main concern for the RSPCA this year was the high water level of the River Eden where horse washing takes place. The sheer volume of rainfall in the lead up to and during the fair meant on some occasions we had to close the river ramp and Jubilee Ford on a precautionary basis to protect the safety of animals and the public.

“We have issued a number of warnings at this year’s fair and have a number of on-going investigations. Most disappointingly, we had to rescue two dogs left in a car, despite prior warnings about the fair not being a suitable event for dogs.