Saturday, 25 May 2013

The Royal Highland Show

Heavy Horses at the Royal Highland Show

The annual Royal Highland Show in Edinburgh, Scotland's annual farming and countryside showcase originally an event of interest only to farmers now offers four days of entertainment at the end of June and food and drink not always available locally. Apart from the £200 Million business generated by over a thousand exhibitors exhibitors compete for prizes and trophies totalling a million pounds. It is a fun day out for all the family with attractions including Heavy Horses, Archery, Chainsaw Carving and children's activities. 


The Royal Highland and Agricultural Society was founded in 1784 but waited till 1822 to put on the first show at the Queensberry Hotel in Edinburgh's Canongate: life moved at a slower pace then. To put this in perspective this was about ten years before  Burke and Hare showed the unacceptable face of capitalism and freeenterprise, the Napoleonic wars were fading into history and Edinburgh was still semi rural.

The first show exhibited 60 to 75 cattle eight sheep and two pigs. About a thousand people attended and the takings were enough to cover overheads so the show became an annual fixture in Edinburgh and Glasgow. In 1829 the show got wanderlust and for 130 years moved from city to city till it settled down in the permanent 300 acre site at Ingliston in 1960.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries the show changed, becoming open to breeders from other parts of the UK, exhibitions of agricultural equipment and prizes for dairy produce.

Today it offers farmers an opportunity to network, expand their business and find what is going on in the industry, exhibitors a chance to sell their wares, many of which have nothing to do with farming, and the general public and their children to see farm animals. There is entertainment almost everywhere, A range of activities for children (those under 16 go free) that varies from year to year, shopping and fashion tents covering almost everything you might want to buy and food and drink sellers everywhere.

The Site

In 1958 the Royal Highland and Agricultural Society Scotland purchased the Ingliston Site and after two years of work the site was opened in 1960. More and more facilities were added till 2006 when a proposed extension of Edinburgh Airport threatened the site. Once the plans for the extension were killed off an upgrade of the site started, scheduled to finish in 2014.

In the 1990s the site hosted raves. Nowadays it is used throughout the year for various events, the largest being the Royal Highland Show and attracts over a million visitors a year. There are some apparently permanent features like an ecological garden but the majority of events at the show are ephemeral.

Doing Business
The show is also the UK's biggest agricultural show and real business happens here with an increasing emphasis on renewable energy in addition to the normal business of farming.

The show's trade directory  gives the information needed to make connections and there is a bookable business space with standard office facilities and private rooms.

Getting there and back
The show ground is some ten minutes walk from the Airport and about 20 minutes drive from the city centre. Exhibitors need to get there early to be able to set up before the roads get busy later in the day. Normally the local bus company, Lothian buses run a special service between the city centre and the show ground. Traffic clogs up the roads so expect a long ride. If you go by bus check the times of buses back to town, especially the last bus.

Accommodation generally becomes scarce around the time of the show ( and even scarcer during the Edinburgh Festival in August. Naturally the Badjao Bed and Breakfast has been and remains delighted to welcome exhibitors and visitors alike. We are about 20 minutes drive from the showground and parking is currently free nearby. If you do not want to take the dedicated service to the show you can take local bus 35 to the airport and walk about 10 minutes to the show ground.

Wrapping up
Our experience of the show was that it was a great day out. The scale of the agricultural equipment was amazing. Sore feet prevented us seeing some of the displays such as Chainsaw Carving, Archery and Farriery. The site was very muddy because of the rain that makes Scotland such a green and pleasant land: we recommend stout shoes and an umbrella. Signposting was good but while the maps round the area show where you are standing it can require some mental gymnastics to relate this to the road layout. The standard of food and drink was variable: the food from some places was frankly not worth the price, with decent looking tables all reserved and service that was a little slower that one would expect given the number of customers, while from others it was very good. It pays to look around before paying out.

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