I’ve been meaning to combine some of my Appleby Horse Fair images from the past two years with some audio I collected this June, but the past six months have been so hectic that I’ve only just got around to it.
I’ve written on here before of my fascination with the other side of Appleby – the social side where young single travelling men and women hope to find that special person.
When I went for the first time, I was transfixed by the young women. It was freezing cold and drizzled for most of the four days and I spent the whole time decked out in several tops, gloves, a waterproof and a rather unattractive pair of green wellies. Yet the young Gypsy and Traveller girls floated around the fields and village like neon, fake-tanned birds of paradise – decked out in some of the skimpiest clothes you’ll see outside a nightclub. It was utterly unexpected.
As I learned more about their culture, this display became even more of a conundrum. These remain some of the UK’s most traditional communities in terms of moral values and a girl’s honour is all. Couples usually marry young and often start families by the time they are 17 or 18. Sex before marriage is frowned upon, divorce is rare and family is everything.
Appleby, I learned, is not only about horses – there are actually two distinct parallel events taking place. Just as the animals are washed and groomed in the hope they will catch a buyer’s eye, the 300-year-old fair has become a time when many single girls primp and preen in the hope they will snare their Prince Charming.