John Traynor has a wealth of knowledge about all things outdoor, he's a contributor to our magazine website and an experienced tent camper.
National and regional shows grab the headlines but it's the local shows that are the backbone of country life...
Typical of the social and business life of countless communities is the annual Bellingham Show in the lovely North Tyne valley. This was once the haunt of Border Reivers. Families, clans really, who stole cattle, raided farms and murdered for money or because of feuds about honour, theft or insult. Trade is very different these days but you still need your wits about you!
As we crested the hill above the village, the rain grew heavier and mist swirled around the hills. The landscape looked desolate, lifeless even, but the reality was very different.
To make the most of a visit to the show, we had booked a camping pod at the Club Site on the outskirts of the village. Why a pod? Why not? It was time to give this camping evolution a proper trial.
With no let-up in the rain and wind, it was great to unload the car and set up camp in our insulated wooden ‘tent’ – complete with lights and heater.
In the morning, it was obvious there would be, at best, ‘mixed weather’ for the day. We were up, washed, dressed and ready to go, kitted out in wellies and waterproofs. The Club Site is just a couple of hundred yards from the fields that held the show so there was no need to drive just to saunter instead.
Crowds were streaming along the road despite the rain, proof that the apparently empty landscape hid a large population in its folds. As the rain pelted down, it was no surprise to hear lots of laughter and cries of greeting as old friends met up.
It was an early reminder that this is truly a local event. And a really important one at that. Despite not being locals, we met with warmth and friendliness throughout the day.
To get our bearings, we ploughed through the mud right around the fields despite feeling that it was a Tough Mudder obstacle event rather than a day in the country.
Fortunately, the rain eased and then stopped so we made sure to not to waste the opportunity. Chatting with people showing their livestock, with salesmen dwarfed by tractors and watching youngsters competing in riding events was great fun and the weather didn’t matter.
Then, the sun came out! From a rather grim battle with the elements, the Show’s true character came to the fore with even more good humour and banter plus even more people. With dark clouds approaching, it was clear we were in for another soaking.
The Reivers Return beer tent was crowded, so we tracked down the bacon buttie van and retreated to the bell tent that sold cider. Shelter in exchange for buying drinks seemed a fair exchange and we christened it ’The Cider Shack’.
Later, we discovered the foodie tent and nibbled our way through all sorts of samples. Whilst there was no obligation to buy, I’m a sucker for local supplies and had brought a rucksack. It was soon full.
These events are always full of characters. Some look eccentric, others bizarre, but they’re all entertaining and a veritable feast for people watchers. From the ribald banter, it was evident that that it was ‘a local show for local people’. Happily, we were made more than welcome.
Despite our positive outlook, the weather was taking its toll. Various events planned in the program had to be cancelled and we considered beating a retreat to Hexham. But we got chatting to people, found our second wind and went on another wander.
Several hours after leaving the security of the pod, we returned triumphantly, clutching a variety of purchases from local sausages to a barbecue made from a Campingaz gas bottle. It was to be added to my collection of barbecue-related items, rarely used but lovingly cherished.
Was it worth it? Absolutely! We loved the people and animals we met at the show, had all our cobwebs blown away by the blustery weather and have embraced pod life. I still prefer to pitch a tent but ours would have taken days to dry out after the weekend’s deluge.
Pod Life: We were warned that space is tight inside so we took a couple of 21st century camp beds from Outwell (normal bed frame height). We could store bags and boots underneath as well as using them as seats with a table set up between them to eat and to play the obligatory campsite Scrabble tournament.