The Appleby Horse Fair begins today at Appleby-in-Westmorland, Cumbria, England. Early each June more than 25,000 Roma, travellers and gypsies gather to celebrate their nomadic heritage. It is the largest gathering of its kind in the world.
The horse fair traces its origins back hundreds of years. There are no corporate sponsors or organized events, the fair is best characterized as a marketplace to buy and sell horses. To attract buyers, horses are traditionally ridden to the banks of the Eden River and washed. Once clean, they are hitched and driven at fast speeds down the “flashing lane”. The lane is a portion of road cordoned off from pedestrians. Most of the horses are cobs pulling sulkies, wagons or caravans. Few are ridden, if so, the norm is bareback.
There are more than 300,000 Roma and travellers in the UK. The majority are settled or live in long term campsites. With motorization the number of horse drawn caravans had declined during the last century. Recently there has been a resurgence of the traditional, slower paced lifestyle and as you would expect, an increase in horse ownership.
The forecast for this year’s event is for rain but that won’t dampen the spirits of these horse-loving gypsies.
Gypsy and traveller spokesman, Billy Welch proclaimed, “We are British gypsies so our spirits are still high. We are having a good laugh at the weather and it’s going to fair up as the week goes on.”
Photography Courtesy Phil Noble and applebyfair.org.