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Country Shows and Game Fairs

The Complete Guide to Scottish Country Shows

Last Updated on February 28, 2020 by James Abbott

 

Country and agricultural shows celebrate the best of rural life, skills and traditions. If you are interested in rural life, a country show is a fabulous day out for all the family. Take your children, your partner or friends; there is something for everyone to enjoy – nail-biting show jumping, educational talks, shopping stalls, food and drink, pedigree livestock, machinery displays and more. The only question is how much time do you have? Country shows have so much to offer that a single visit may not be enough. 

Here we highlight three of the finest country shows in Scotland that you will not want to miss, what you can do there and our top tips. 

The Royal Highland Show

The Scottish Game Fair

The Border Union Show

 

 


THE ROYAL HIGHLAND SHOW

 

When is the Royal Highland Show?

The Royal Highland Show is held in June every year. In 2020 it will be held from the 18th to the 21st June.

Where is the Royal Highland Show?

The Royal Highland Centre in Ingliston, near Edinburgh, across a 280-acre site. 

What’s in the name?

The Royal Highland Show is named after its organisers, the Royal Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland. The reference to ‘Highland’ is not related to geographic location or the Highland Games, it only relates to the organising body. The Society was formed in 1787 to promote agricultural interests and education, in addition to the Gaelic language, Scottish music and poetry. When the organisation began the protection of Highland culture was a big issue following its repression after the Jacobite risings and the Society’s Highland title has remained ever since.   

What is Royal about the Show? In 1948, King George VI bestowed the Royal title on the event and royalty have been regular visitors to the Show since 1859, with many Royal Presidents and Honorary Members. 

What is the Royal Highland Show?

A celebration of Scottish rural life
The Royal Highland Show is a showcase of Scotland’s finest livestock, produce, machinery and rural life. The four-day extravaganza is the pinnacle of the agricultural calendar and attracts over 1,000 trade exhibitors, displaying everything from hi-tech tractors to outdoor clothing and luxury goods. The annual celebration of country life is estimated to contribute £65 million to the Scottish economy. 

It is a fantastic day out for the whole family with activities for children and adults to enjoy. The event is run over four days because there is so much to see and do for all ages. You might want to plan an extended visit as there can be a lot to fit in one day. 

What can you do at the Royal Highland Show?

Equestrian excellence

The Royal Highland Show is the largest equestrian show in Scotland with around 3,000 horses and ponies competing to win awards, trophies and cash prizes, including the sought-after Horse of the Year Show qualifiers. 

The Heavy Horse Turnouts are a wonderful sight that you will not see every day, with perfectly groomed heavy horses driven by carriage. The sight of these majestic horses and the sound of thundering of hooves make for a fabulous experience. Also, if you like seeing horses and their riders compete at the top of their form, catch the Show Jumping in the Main Ring. 

Foodie heaven

The Food & Drink hall offers appetising displays of some of the finest Scottish foods available. Your taste buds will be tantalised by the many tastings and food samples that you can enjoy. The food and drink alone are worth visiting the Royal Highland Show for. 

Scotland’s Larder Live in the Food & Drink Hall, allows you to sample wares from over 100 Scottish producers, watch cookery demonstrations and take part in tastings. The tasty treats on offer celebrate food provenance and seasonality. To see some of Scotland’s top chefs in action, we recommend checking out the Cookery Theatre. Watch as chefs and celebrities create dishes against the clock and inspire you with their cookery demonstrations. 

Competitions galore

There are over 900 competitions at the Royal Highland Show. The array of competitions includes everything from pedigree breeders showcasing their stock to top show jumpers competing for large cash prizes, and qualifiers for the Horse of the Year Show. The most famous competitions are the prestigious Royal Highland Show Championships and Interbreed Awards. The Show also plays host to the Scottish Open Farriery Championship, Scottish National Sheep Shearing competition, as well as the Scottish Championships for a number of foods and commodities. 

The competitions are an important fixture in the farming calendar because a win at this prominent event is a coup for a farm’s fortunes.

Discover country sports

Be inspired to get involved with country pursuits and head to the Countryside Area to try out new country sports and activities, all set against a backdrop of stunning scenery. Demonstrations and tuition cover a wide range of country sports, activities and rural skills, such as fly casting and ferreting. You could find a new hobby this way!

Sheep shearing, farriery and rural skills

You can watch those who are at the top of their game perform sheep-shearing and farriery demonstrations. The speed of the sheep shearing is something to be marvelled at, and just seeing the highly skilled work of a farrier and dedication to their craft is inspiration enough to give it a go yourself one day! There are also forestry demonstrations in the Forestry Arena, where you can also enjoy superbike displays. 

Music to your ears

The Royal Highland Show includes a packed programme of music and entertainment which creates a festival vibe to the event. You can enjoy everything from pop to bagpipes and choirs to ceilidh music. Groups of dancers also perform throughout each day. 

The Grand Parade

Enjoy seeing the country’s best prize-winning livestock on display, with coiffed cattle that are very well groomed! The Parade can be watched from a free grandstand and gives you the rare chance to see many different breeds at one time. 

Learning with fun activities

There are so many opportunities at the Royal Highland Show for you and your family to discover more about rural life, farming and wildlife conservation. There are a varied range of topics covered each year, including everything from farming and renewable energy to countryside management and rural skills. There are also a number of educational experiences and talks delivered by supermarkets and food organisations.

The Discovery Centre, run by The Royal Highland Education Trust (RHET, offers fun education for children of all ages with cooking workshops, interactive sessions and lots more. RHET also runs a schools programme at the event, enthralling thousands of school children about farming and where their food comes from. 

Scottish crafts and unique finds

You can find handmade crafts from all over Scotland at the event. By purchasing creative wares, you are helping to support independent businesses with their artistry. There is an entire Craft Zone in huge marquees, so there is plenty of handcrafts to suit all tastes. 

13th Avenue Arcade is a shopaholic’s dream, where you can find a wide variety of specialist clothing and equipment for country life, as well as luxury fashion and jewellery, garden accessories and homeware. You will find items that are not seen on the high street – perfect as unique gifts for loved ones. 

Agricultural machinery and vehicle displays

The Royal Highland Show hosts the largest display of agricultural machinery in the UK, delighting little boys and big boys alike. Tractors that show off the latest design features and innovations in machinery are on display. Just be careful if you are with children that they do not climb on the displays as it is not safe. 

You can also see major manufacturers showcasing their latest four-wheel drives, cars, pickups, vans and motorbikes. 

Go behind the scenes

You can go ‘behind the scenes’ at the Royal Highland Show and see the animals before and after the competitions. This lets you get up close to sheep, cattle, goats, poultry and horses and see the preparations that take place to get the animals ready for competition. It also gives you a better look at the differences between the breeds.

Top tips for the Royal Highland Show:

  • Go on the first two days if you want to avoid the weekend crowds. Thursday and Friday are usually less busy. Also, arrive early to beat the queues – the gates open at 7am daily. 
  • You can take a picnic into the Showground, but no alcohol can be brought in. There are plenty of bars, food and drink stalls at the Show.
  • Feeling in need of a mid-afternoon snack or tipple? Make sure to take advantage of the many free samples available in Scotland’s Larder Live!
  • Buying your Show entrance ticket in advance will save you time on the day and your ticket gives you access to all demonstrations, exhibitions and entertainment for free. 
  • The Grand Parade is extremely popular, so the Grandstand fills up quickly in the afternoon of Friday, Saturday and Sunday. It is best to get there in plenty of time before the Parade starts to get a seat. 
  • Take some cash; there are ATM’s on site, but they are few and far between. 
  • The organisers recommend leaving your dog at home as the event can be extremely busy. However, if you do decide to bring your dog, it must always be kept on its lead. Only assistance dogs are allowed into the Grandstands, Pavilion, Exhibition Halls or catering areas. 
  • Members of The Royal Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland have free admission and access to the Members’ Area with a private dining room and superior views of the Showground. 

 


THE SCOTTISH GAME FAIR

When is the Scottish Game Fair?

The Scottish Game Fair is typically held in late June or early July each year. In 2020, it will be held on the 3rd, 4th and 5th July.

Where is the Scottish Game Fair?

The Scottish Game Fair is held in the grounds of Scone Palace, Perthshire.

What is the Scottish Game Fair?

Celebrating conservation and the countryside
The annual Scottish Game Fair is a three-day celebration of rural conservation and the countryside. It is organised by the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT), in association with NFU Mutual, to raise vital funds for wildlife conservation science and bring awareness to the importance of game for the preservation of the Scottish countryside. The research funded by the event aims to ensure a thriving countryside rich with wildlife and game. 

The Scottish Game Fair celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2018 and attracts thousands of spectators each year. The Fair offers an educational and enjoyable day for everyone, whether you are from a rural background or not. There are engaging opportunities to learn about the countryside and the benefits of conserving such landscapes. 

What can you do at the Scottish Game Fair?

Have a go at country sports

You can participate in a variety of ‘Have A Go’ country sports sessions. This is one of the best things about the Fair and perfect if you want to try out a country sport for the first time. From fly fishing to archery and clay shooting, you can try out an activity in the safe hands of a qualified instructor. The fly-casting tuition occurs on the beautiful banks of the River Tay and there is a stunning backdrop to the whole Fair in the Scone Palace Parklands.

Fancy yourself as a bit of a Bear Grylls? The Scottish Game Fair also gives you a chance to learn about bush craft and countryside skills from an esteemed bush craft tutor who previously worked for Ray Mears and was a former consultant for Bear Grylls. These sessions are free and open to all ages.  

Food theatre, sustainability and provenance

Make sure you visit the Fair’s Food Hall where you can enjoy mouth-watering samples from Scotland’s finest food and drink producers, watch cookery demonstrations and learn about making the most of Scotland’s wild produce. In the Cookery Theatre leading chefs show off their culinary skills and green credentials, giving you cooking inspiration to try at home.

You can also enjoy talks on countryside living and discover how Scotland’s top chefs and food brands are ensuring sustainability is always on the menu. The Fair also aims to highlight the importance of food provenance – after all, knowing the source of your food takes you back to country life. 

Shopping for country wares

There are over 500 trade stands for you to enjoy looking round at the Fair, meaning you are bound to find something you like. From crafts and clothing to outdoor equipment and food, the Scottish Game Fair has so much choice. You will also find specialist stalls in the Fly-Fishing Mall.

Live entertainment and shows in the Main Ring

The Main Ring is the place to see a variety of live entertainment including ferreting and falconry displays, pipe bands and terrier racing. The terrier racing is always an entertaining watch as they tear after the furry thing on a string as fast as they can. If you have a dog yourself, you can get them involved too! You are welcome to register your dog for the competition, no matter what breed, though terriers desire to chase often gives them an edge. You can also enter your dog into the daily Scurry competitions, particularly useful when training a gundog. The competition simulates the requirement of a dog to mark a shot bird and to retrieve speedily to hand, using dummies.

The ferreting and falconry demonstrations showcase these crafts to inspire the next generation. Falconry is an art that is over 4,000 years old and you can enjoy two fabulous flying demonstrations on all three days of the Fair. Watch as owls, hawks, kites, falcons, vultures and majestic eagles fly up above while there is an educational and entertaining commentary. 

Game face on…it is competition time

You can also watch the excitement of traditional field and country sports competitions at the Fair or get involved yourself. The weekend is a key date in the calendar for anglers, gundog breeders, clay pigeon shooters and falconers, among others, who compete for coveted titles and prizes. Here is a small selection of the many competitions held at the show:

  • The Fred Taylor Memorial Trophy for Working Hill Ponies. This esteemed competition sees working hill ponies and their handlers who are dressed in traditional stalking tweeds, compete to win stalker rifles. 
  • The Four Nations International Gundog competition is one to watch on the Saturday – teams from England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales compete. Expect leaping, chasing and retrieving and as dogs adhere to the commands of their masters.
  • The Scottish Open Spey Casting Championship occurs on the Sunday with a top prize of a day’s salmon fishing for two and a stay at Ballathie House Hotel, including dinner, bed and breakfast. 

Lots on for children

There are plenty of activities at the Fair to keep the younger members of your family entertained. From learning bushcraft skills and taking part in the Junior Macnab competition to woodland quizzes and animal identification games, your youngsters will not get bored. After a day of activity, do not forget that there are loads of tasty treats for them to try in the Food Hall!

A must for families is a visit to the education tent, known as the ‘The Covey’, within the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust area. Here the habitat and wildlife of the upland environment is brought to life, as well as the science behind countryside conservation and the importance of predator control. Tweed Forum’s ‘bugs under the microscope’ and ‘poo id’ games are also great fun for children. For young children, there are also regular free storytelling and ceramic workshops each day. 

The Junior Macnab experience encourages young people to get outside and enjoy everything the countryside has to offer. The competition is free to enter and open to ages 8-21. They will compete to hunt rabbits, pigeons and fish for trout. If they bag a Junior Macnab and have a completed game card, they could win fantastic prizes including a family pass to the Scottish Game Fair the following year. 

Works of art

Hear from some of the best wildlife artists in the country that are inspired by Scotland’s natural beauty in the ‘Artists in Action’ tent at the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust Stand. The artists discuss their art and how it portrays the natural world. You will also have the privilege of watching top wildlife artists at work as they create their next masterpiece. It is like a backstage pass into an artist’s world! We would not miss it.

Classic Land Rover displays

Classic Land Rovers and jeeps have been a staple of the country lifestyle for generations. You can admire an impressive display of these iconic vehicles at the Fair, including classic examples of the Jeep, Series 1 Land Rover, Series 11, 11A, 111, the Land Rover Defender and more.

Top tips for the Scottish Game Fair:

    • You can opt for a combined ticket that gets you entry to Scone Palace as well as the Scottish Game Fair. You can then enjoy visiting the Palace on any day throughout its opening season. 
    • Planning and prioritising what to see at the Game Fair will ensure you get the most out of your visit. See the organiser’s Events Programme. Just make sure you do not try to cram too much into your day! 
    • Go on a Sunday if you want to see the hill ponies. This is the day of the Fred Taylor Memorial Trophy and the hill ponies cannot be seen on other days. 
    • Put a pair of wellies in your car boot to wear after a downpour, when the park land and carparks can become a little soggy. 
    • The Fair has an educational slant which can give you a clearer view of what rural life is like (if you are not from the countryside), the important issues facing the countryside, and how game is important for the conservation of natural areas. Many of the talks on countryside living and conservation are fascinating – you are sure to leave with a greater interest and understanding than you had before.
    • Do not miss the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust’s flagship stand beside the main ring, showcasing the trust’s research and how it can be translated into practical conservation management.

 


THE BORDER UNION SHOW

When is the Border Union Show?:

The Border Union Show is held on the last Friday and Saturday of July every year. In 2020 it will run from the 24th to the 25th of July.

Where is the Border Union Show?

The Border Union show is held at the Borders Event Centre in Springwood Park in Kelso, Scottish Borders, across a 46-acre site.

What is the Border Union Show?

Rural life at its best

The Border Union Show is a traditional agricultural show based in the scenic town of Kelso that has been running for over 200 years. The Showground is adjacent to the famous Junction Pool of the rivers Tweed and Teviot with a fantastic view of Kelso Abbey. Set amongst stunning scenery, the annual event is a highlight of the agricultural calendar for the Scottish Borders and Northumberland.

The Countess of Wessex visited the Show for its 200th anniversary year and it has an impressive turnout each year of attendees, competitors, traders, exhibitors and entertainment. Rural life is an essential part of living in the Scottish Borders and the Border Union showcases the best of country life with a Food Fair to tempt your taste buds, fun fair rides to keep young ones happy, livestock and animal competitions and more.

While it may be on a smaller scale than some other country shows, the Border Union Show packs a punch when it comes to a traditional country show experience with many livestock and equestrian displays. From heavy horse turnouts to rare sheep breeds, it is an immersive experience in all that the countryside has to offer.

What can you do at the Border Union Show?

A treat for foodies

The Border Union Show has one of the best showcases of local produce in the country as well as food producers from all over the UK. In the Food Hall you can sample and purchase a mouth-watering selection of food and drink, from luxury ice creams and award-winning meats to fresh seafood and local gins, there is something to suit all palates.

There is also a wide variety of catering outlets onsite, so you will not go hungry with many delicious foods on offer. Otherwise, for a leisurely lunch you can bring a picnic, but no alcohol is permitted on site. Any alcohol must be bought from one of the licenced bars at the event. 

Also, do not miss the live cooking demonstrations inside the Food Hall – perfect for inspiring your own cooking. 

Competition time

Over two days there are over 500 open competitions covering livestock, horses, cattle, sheep, donkeys, goats, poultry, rabbits, horse shoeing, shepherd’s crooks, young farmers stock judging and industrial arts.

The Border Union Show also hosts three national livestock competitions, namely the Scottish National Simmental Show and the Scottish Limousin Grandprix cattle competitions, and for sheep, the Beltex Scottish National Show. 

Showing livestock is often a very proud moment for farming families and a multi-generational affair, with the younger members of a family helping to show the family sheep, for instance. Discover all the competition classes you can enter on the Border Union Show website

Live entertainment for the whole family

The Main Ring is the place to see country entertainment at its best, from livestock parades and a hog show to rural skills demonstrations and action-packed shows! There is plenty of exciting entertainment on both days for all ages.

On Friday, the Grand Children’s Pet Show and Pony Club show jumping are big draws for the crowds. The Pet Show is a light-hearted competition that children can enter with any type of pet and it is free to enter.

If you are visiting on the Saturday afternoon, do not forget to stop by and watch the Grand Parade. It is always a popular event, where all the prize winning livestock from the competitions are paraded around the ring. Also, there are rural skills demonstrations which vary each year and offer a fascinating insight into traditional farming practices and country skills. 

Shopping and crafts

Make sure you leave some time for retail therapy on your visit to the Show. With more than 200 trade stands, there is something to tempt everyone, from farm supplies and tractors to clothing and furniture.

Hunting for a special gift? Head to the Craft & Gift Marquee and you will find a treasure trove of handmade and unique gifts that you will not find on the high street. 

Music and dance

There is a full programme of music at the Border Union Show. You can enjoy watching live music on both days at the Show including many talented local young musicians. On the Saturday evening, the Show Dance is a highly anticipated event that will undoubtedly capture your attention. The music and dance continues the celebratory feel of the Show that keeps visitors coming back year on year.

Children’s fun fair

It would not be the Border Union Show without the Fun Fair. The ideal place for your children to run off some energy, have fun on the whirligig and bumper car rides, and enjoy child-friendly entertainment. Also, do not forget the tractor ride experience where your child can sit in a tractor next to an experienced driver and be taken on their very own tractor ride. Great excitement for little ones!

Learning about country life

The Border Union Show will always be a fun day out for the whole family and as you weave your way around the Show you can learn more about rural life. Positioned around the Showground, there are educational boards that provide more information about the different breeds of livestock on display.

There are learning opportunities for all ages. Make sure you visit the educational hubs where you can discover more about rare breeds and listen to several talks on country life, covering subjects such as river conservation, wildlife and forestry by the Tweed Forum, The Tweed Foundation and Scottish Forestry.  

Top tips for the Border Union Show:

  • Under 16’s go free, making it a great day for the whole family.
  • Saturday is the day to go if you want to see the livestock competitions including sheep, cattle and goats. 
  • Going on the Friday? The Grand Children’s Pet Show and Pony Club Show Jumping are both highly entertaining and worth a watch. 
  • Book your tickets well in advance to get early bird discounts on the entry fee.
  • Visit the Bake & Create Show area to see all the baking competitions with stunning creations on display. In this area you can also see floral art, preserves and handcraft competition entries. 
  • Thinking of bringing your dog? Dogs are welcome at the event as long as you keep them on a lead and under control at all times. 
  • There is a public car park located close by to the showground and parking is £3 per car. On the days of the Show there is also a free shuttle bus running regularly from the car park to the Showground and back.
  • Members go free! If you are a Member of the Border Union Agricultural Society, you will get free access to the Show on both days as well as access to the Members’ marquee. This Members only facility overlooks the Main Ring, affording you the best view of all Main Ring activities. You can also book a lovely two course sit-down meal for lunch inside the exclusive marquee and relax at the bar, saving you time and beating the crowds on the day. If that is not already temptation enough, you can also access a free Members only parking area.
  • If you are not local to the Show, it is worth exploring the beautiful landscape of the Scottish Borders as well on your trip. From the Eildon hills near Melrose to the imposing Cheviots on the Anglo-Scottish border, there is a bounty of stunning scenery to enjoy. 

 

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