The first full one-day show for the new G&S team was deemed a roaring success, report Laura Hitchcock and Rachael Rowe
It was a relief for everyone – organisers, volunteers, traders and visitors – to see such an enormous crowd back at the Turnpike Showground for the first proper one-day Gillingham & Shaftesbury agricultural show since 2019. The 2021 show had been planned through COVID lockdowns, and restrictions were only lifted the week before the show itself. It was, by necessity, a very different show from normal, held over two days.
This year’s heatwave was a serious problem, causing last-minute changes as the hard ground threatened the safety of polo ponies and showjumpers. And then, in a swift change of fortunes, the rain became the problem instead, as the day before the show was washed out with torrential downpours and thunderstorms. But on the day, the weather gods were kind: the forecast thunderstorms never materialised, and in the end there couldn’t have been a more perfect setting. Right from the start, there was a vibrant buzz on the showground. Wherever you looked, there was something to see or an old friend to greet.
While the livestock and pristine rows of tractors and farm machinery signal it is very much still an agricultural show, there’s something about the Gillingham & Shaftesbury Show that is a lot more. It’s the sense of community and passion for the countryside that make it an unmissable event in North Dorset’s August calendar.
It’s the people
The G&S Show spans the generations, from a weather-beaten man giving a terse nod to a neighbour to an excited child leading a calf into the main ring for the first time. Small children in long white coats carefully led sheep around a ring, appearing overawed by the crowds and the rosettes. Others trotted ponies through their paces in the rings or helped parents feed animals.
Children (and adults) sat captivated by Signature, the Dorset and Wiltshire signing choir, who kicked off events in the music area with modern songs ‘sung’ in sign language.
Over in the marquees, perfectly-shaped vegetables competed alongside glorious dahlias in a riot of colours as inspirational flower arrangements filled the horticultural tent.
Fresh eggs sat on plates, this year unaccompanied by their feathered producers, thanks to Avian Flu. The new Wool Village was busy with sheep being shorn by experts and the public learning about the value of British wool.
Steam to ferrets
There was laughter and curiosity at the ferret racing, where spectators were constantly warned about the perils of picking up an animal. The furry creatures raced down drainpipes – it’s tails out first, not the nose, that wins.
The speed at which the Shetland Pony Performance Display team hurtled around the main ring was quite a spectacle but highly entertaining.
The Terrier Racing was unmissable, with some spectators not there for the dogs so much as for Bill Galpin’s commentary.
There seemed to be someone working continuously on the steam engines, polishing and making sure the paintwork was gleaming. But what joy when they all rumbled into the main ring for a circuit or two.
The Grand Parade
The relaxed atmosphere of the day was juxtaposed at times with the strictest formality. Bowler hats in the judging ring, elegantly dressed ladies driving carriages, and pristine white-coated families leading cattle in the main ring. Some things at the G&S Show have remained the same for years. The big news this year was that the Grand Parade made an important and oh-so-welcome reappearance, after a 15 year absence.
It was eyes to the sky when the Lightning Bolts Army Parachute Display team landed in the middle of the show – the Dorset crowd feeling special pride as they learned the jump master is from Gillingham.
So. Much. Food
It’s at places like the G&S Show that you realise just how much food is produced within the Blackmore Vale. The Gritchie Brewing Company Bar was popular, and there was a lot of interest in tasting the gin distillers’ botanicals. There were long queues at the hog roasts and ice cream stalls, selections from so many choices at the fudge stand, and the delicious aroma of curry. You could make a picnic from tasty salami, a mountain of regional cheeses, plus local bread and cakes.
The great thing about the G&S Show is that you never know who you might meet as you make your way round. You may bump into old friends and colleagues while for generations of farming families it’s a chance to get together.
For the first timer, there’s that affirmation that you’ll be marking the third Wednesday in August in the diary for next year’s show.
And the year after …
The BV produced the first ever official G&S Show magazine this year – crammed full of fascinating insider peeks into what goes on behind the show, and extraordinarily serious *cough* in-depth interviews with some of the organisers. If you’ve not read it yet, you can do so here!