If you are a Downton Abbey fan, you certainly remember…
Berkshire County Show
After a month in Hungary it was actually good to return to the UK. I missed it big time. What helped me to survive the difficult period in my life was that I knew I wanted to return to the UK and wanted to live my life here. I had flashes about life in the UK and this gave me energy get over whatever I needed to get over.
Once we were back, we needed a program that would help me to get back to normal life. The perfect opportunity presented itself in the form of the Royal County of Berkshire Show which was held on 16-17th September. What can you see at a County Show? It is an agricultural show where you can eat nice food and have fun as there are plenty of things to entertain you. At the same time it is a very important show for farmers, as their livestock can win prizes which makes their farm and products more valuable. I tried to google it whether there is something similar available in Hungary, but could not find anything. Perhaps the judging is not available for the audience in Hungary, but I might be wrong. Anyway, here in the UK it is open for the public and it is actually amazing how much such a show is part of the life of people. People do like visiting county shows and watching cattle and sheep and pigs and more importantly they are proud of it, irrespective of being a person from a town, or from a village. It does not matter. They know and are proud of their Island cattle breeds etc. And they are quite right, as this is part of the national values. As such they look after it – no wonder the famous “let’s preserve everything” attitude of the English applies here as well. The first time I saw a county show was on TV and this was the moment when I decided I wanted to go to one.
The first Berkshire County Show was held in 1909 and was such a great success that they decided to have it every year. During the economic crisis between 1928 and 1935 and the two world wars there were no shows held obviously. Almost every county has its own county show and there are some shows which are arranged by several counties together. The Berkshire one is said to be the biggest county show of all and although every man kindles the fire below his own pot, I doubt it. As said before, it is an important event for the farmers to win different prizes as their livestock becomes more valuable. It is a bit like a dog show but with livestock.
You have to arrive early to a county show because it attracts masses of people, plus the judging begins at 8 o’ clock in the morning. We were at the venue already by half past eight and was amazed how well organized the event was. There were plenty of things to see and do: a place for kids to pet animals, old steam engine and agricultural vehicle show, farmers’ market (cakes, cheese, ham, clothing etc.), Victorian funfair, horse show and the stables and barns.
We started with the cattle and we did not regret it at all. I think this is the most interesting and best part of the whole county show. During the judging the name of the breeds were displayed at every ring which was really good. I knew a few breeds like the Angus or the Holstein but was surprised seeing quite a few different breeds. I was even more surprised when I realized how big a bull can be! (At the end of the day, I am a City-girl…) As these huge bulls walk slowly you think there is something majestic in it. The only thing I did not like is that they had a ring in the nose and their owners pulled it to direct and instruct them, however, I would presume it is not painful but unpleasant.
My favourite cattle breed was the Hereford cattle. Whenever I looked at a Hereford bull I had the impression that this is the Old English breed. If I think of a pub named „The Bull” this is the type of bull I can imagine on the shield. The distinctive curly brownish red and white fur is so unique that it is THE Old English cattle for me.
The Aberdeen-Angus bulls are massive, they can weigh 800-900kg, cows can reach 500kg. As the English say there are the beef cattle and the dairy cattle one for its meat one for its milk. If anything this made me sad: the thought that one day the beef bulls and cows will be slaughtered, but let’s just not go into this now, let’s stay with the different breeds.
There were Devon, South Devon, English Blonde, English Blue, Belted Galloway, Lincoln Red, Jersey, Guernsey, Holstein, Charlois and Limousin cattle, the last three are continental. I loved the Jersey cattle which is a dairy one because of its cute face. The only really famous breed I could not find at the show was the Highland cattle from Scotland. What would have interested me to know is how farmers decide which breeds they want to keep.
The sheep and pigs were interesting too, however, I would have enjoyed the show better if the breed names had been displayed. Because of this we spent less time watching them. (I only learnt after the show that there is a pig breed called Berkshire pig (a black one) but there are no cattle named after the county.)
What was really good to see that the owners loved their animals: they cuddled them, stroked them, petted them or whispered something to their ears which calmed them down. Another positive thing was the many young farmers working in this industry and doing what they are passionate about. OK you could say that we have never seen a poor farmer and they always have enough money, however, I have just seen a program in which a farmer had 180 dairy cows and after a morning milking (which God knows how many tank of milk it gives) his profit was £50 net. Fifty. After an enormous work. I have full respect for these guys.
To have a full picture, there was poultry as well: chicken, cockerel, ducks, turkey. I felt for them because the had to spend all day in a small cage and it was probably not the most comfortable place for them, especially having to be looked at by hundreds of people. They were interesting and cute.
It goes without saying that you can have beautiful food on a venue like this. I could smell the pulled pork, the roasts and cakes all day (the only exeption was the pig tent). Young and not so young gentlemen worked on different steam engines which were amazing and still working!
As you can appreciate, there is an awful lot to see and enjoy at the county show, yet the main attraction for me and many others, was when they open the barns for the public to see the cattle. The cows and bulls were washed like cars in a car wash before they were led back to their place. Bless them… they were tired after such a day. It was amazing walking among them and see how big they are and pet them. However, being a city girl I was a bit scared they might kick me.
I can only recommend to go and see a show like this it is well worth a visit. Like I said, this belongs to British Isles culture as well, and they keep these traditional breeds alive with these shows and are proud of them. Quite rightly.
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