The sun is shining and everyone seems to have taken on a leisurely pace. The show field sits in the basin of the valley with the Cove off to one side. Right now I’m watching a line-up of cattle – this is for best in show as each one has a red first prize rosette. There are bullocks and bulls and cows. I am not sure of the breeds but there are limousines here among them. Three of the six handlers are women, each dressed in white and using a long stick to tickle the animal’s underside.
In the tent where the cattle are gathered families prep the animals. And wait. One man is lounging in a chair, eyes closed, apparently sleeping while around him the cows are mooing and people are chattering. On a hay bale two young men are sitting, one with his arm draped over the shoulder of a young boy – the trio talking to others of a similar age who stand with their backs to me.
Earlier I watched the judging of the Bluefaced Leicesters, just one breed of sheep that is being shown today. There are many breeds – Wensleydales, Swaledales, Dalesbred, Mules and rare breeds – and classes including best gimmer lamb, gimmer shearling, ram lamb and pair of females. There’s a big turn out of younger farmers, from late teens all the way down to seven or eight year olds, and many women.
At the Yorkshire Hawking Club stand I talk to a man about the Harris Hawk he is petting, and get to see a young goshawk up close. The hawkers meet to fly their birds and let them hunt. ‘It’s awesome when you see them flying together hunting a rabbit, ‘ he says.
Past the pies and pork scratchings and the fudge stand there’s a plant stall which is a blaze of colour. Crocosmia in yellow, orange and red, hydrangeas , phlox, polemonium. Over the stone wall behind the flowers a woman in tweeds is guiding her bay horse over jumps. Waiting for their turn to show there are children, the youngest maybe six, sitting on smaller ponies, eating ice creams.
Next along, past marshmallow plaits and liquorice laces and a coffee stall I come to the walling space. Jim Kidd and James Bowden are the first two in line, each building a wall from stones laid out between hurdles. Beside them Mark Bashforth and Ted Mason, both of whom have laid some of the bigger stones to act as through stones. ‘If you need a shift give us a shout.’ These boulders are too heavy for one man to lift. Names on the plaques include Phil Smith, Frankie Brown, Anthony Whitaker, Max Metcalfe and Will Wildman.
I walk back toward the main ring where tractors are being shown with the same amount of pride and praise given to the cattle earlier on. The brass band plays, and the whole valley is in sunshine.
Malham Show has been held in this location, with the white drop of Malham Cove in the background, for over a hundred years. What has changed? There are more visitors arriving in cars, and the style and preference for the look of cattle and sheep has changed, but in essence, it is still a show that appeals to all the family and is rooted, unmistakenly, in the farming culture of the Dale.