Dorset’s grand salute to rural life – the 2023 Dorset County Show


It was all change this year for the Dorset County Show – James Cox, the Show Secretary who breathed new life into the Gillingham & Shaftesbury Show took over the County Show team this year, and he hit the ground running. In ten months he swiftly brought fresh new branding and a new website, but also set about introducing new areas, new attractions and altered the layout for the show itself.

The Dorset County Show 20203 – even the overflow for the overflow car parks were filling!

And what a show it turned out to be. Despite a moderately disastrous summer, the show weekend was a sunshine spectacular, and thousands of Dorset residents and tourists filled the roads as they made their way to the Dorchester ground. The show was better than even James imagined.

Widely known as ‘the cutest sheep breed in existence’, the Valais Blacknose sheep judging was popular

‘Numbers are still to be finalised, but instinct says it’s one of the highest-ever gate entries the show’s had,’ says James. ‘It’s incredible. I started volunteering at the Dorset County Show when I was 10 years old (and was no doubt more of a hindrance than a help) and now here I am, in charge of organising it.
‘Of course it’s a mammoth team effort, and I have to thank everyone involved, from the crew putting up a thousand sheep hurdles in the run up to show weekend to the many team members that spend hours (days?Probably weeks!) putting their all into the many sections of the show. As well as the year-round Show team, about 400 volunteers all come together to deliver the show, and so many of them have, like me, been a part of it their whole lives.’

Big Pete raising a cheer from the thousands watching

Big Pete and The Grim Reaper, the world’s largest Monster Trucks, were the big draw in the main ring, and they never failed to impress.

‘I don’t even LIKE trucks’ one of the elderly ringside watchers exclaimed loudly, as she whooped and cheered with the rest of the thousands watching as the giant trucks drag raced, bounced into the air, pulled a van in two, and squashing a few normal family cars flat.

The Scurry Racing was thrilling – 87-year-old Jeff Osborne with ponies Tik & Tok

The Scurry Racing was another highlight, with one of the the sport’s leading lights, 87-year-old Jeff Osborne, competing – it was a hugely entertaining section that had people glued to the ring.

Away from the main attractions the livestock were a huge draw for the crowds of visitors; even when they weren’t in the ring and being judged, the square layout of the cattle and sheep lines encouraged visitors to get up close and speak to their owners. The sheep shearing competitions were popular, fast-paced, wildly entertaining – and judging by the audience comments, a complete eye-opener for many visitors.

The enormous Food Hall was advertised as ‘Dorset’s Biggest Larder’ and it may well have been. Filled with artisan producers, whether you wanted a sausage roll, an iced bun, homemade fudge, wasabi cheese or caramel rum, there was a stall for you. Over by the Countryside Ring – where you could watch horseback falconry, terrier and ferret racing and gun dogs – there was a brilliant new family-friendly Fabulous Food & Farming Area, where kids were enjoying ride-on pedal tractors, milking the locally-famous red Dike’s cow and learning about the journey of food from field to fork through the interactive displays.

The crowded shopping aisles were busy all day, with craftspeople, traders and artists all doing brisk trade, and the immense horticulture marquee felt like a cathedral to vegetation with its rows of wonderful flowers, neat vegetables and spectacular displays of creativity – though we felt some of the judging was tough! (see the judge’s comment in the picture below).

Tough judges in the childrens ‘Vegetable Insect’ competition

‘It takes a full 12 months to pull a show of this size together,’ explained Show Organiser James. ‘The final few months are incredibly busy, of course, but the work for the 2024 show begins right now, before this year’s has finished packing away. Though I do plan on catching up on a little sleep before we start it all again!’


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