I can just about tell the difference between a Belted Galloway, a Limousin and an Aberdeen Angus, but my knowledge of Scotland’s fabulous cattle breeds ends near there. That’s why I always enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of the Royal Highland Show, outside Edinburgh, which begins this week.
Even if the rain doesn’t hold off, the 177th Royal Highland Show at Ingliston is one of our most iconic national events. My first visit was as a schoolboy when my interest was in the combine harvesters, Massey-Ferguson tractors and lashings of ice cream, but on regular visits since then I’ve been astounded and delighted at what rural Scotland has to offer. It’s the showcase for the very best that our countryside can produce and it is always a place packed with exceptional Scottish food, with cooking demonstrations, and drink. It is truly is one of Europe’s most impressive celebrations of farming, food and rural life, and it is on our doorstep.
Agritourism - i.e. farm, estates & crofts offering tourism or leisure experiences – is big business in Europe and over the last five years has grown in popularity in Scotland with organisations like Go Rural promoting the importance of this sector. Right enough, with 75% of Scotland filled with agricultural land, it’s an opportunity too good to be missed. From farm shops to farm holidays, kids’ farms to farm cafes, currently the sector generates over £99 million to the Scottish economy. However, with Italy’s agritourism sector generating 1.2 billion Euros to the Italian economy, there clearly is room for growth.
Since 1784, the Royal Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland, has been the standard-bearer for farming and rural industry in Scotland. With over 16,000 members, its key remit is to promote Scotland's land-based and allied businesses. The show contributes over £250m to the Scottish economy and is supported by the Royal Bank of Scotland, its partner since 1981.
I know country folk from all over rural Scotland who regard the Show as a special break from all their daily grind, from those dark and early mornings out in the depths of winter, so they are welcome to let their hair down a little (just a little) in the Shepherd’s Bar. I’m always impressed by the care and attention that is lavished on the show animals to get them spruced up for judging. And often there are so many young people from our farming communities who are vigorously brushing the hair or leading the stock into the ring.
If you’ve never been to the Show, it’s almost impossible to describe the variety of colourful exhibitions on topics such as deer management, woodland planting, renewable energy, wildlife conservation and rural skills education. There is always top-level show jumping delights huge crowds in the main ring, while the motor displays of 4x4s, pickups, vans and motorbikes from a range of major manufacturers never fail to attract admirers.
There are handcrafts and paintings from all over Scotland. The range and the expertise in the marquees at the Craft Zone proves what an innovative and inspirational nation we are. There’s great music as well as groups of dancers performing throughout each day at the West Concert Stage, the East Stage, and around the showground. While the tartan uniforms of military bands playing bagpipes and drums are a stirring feature constantly reminding you where you are.
There will also be some strong political debating from the politicians and the National Union of Farmers who will use the backdrop to talk about Scotland, the UK and Europe, and the importance of farming, particularly as we head into the uncharted post-Brexit waters. I'll leave that discussion to those who know what they are talking about!
Of course, the Royal Highland Centre is one of Scotland's largest indoor and outdoor event venue hosting everything from concerts and sporting events to exhibitions. There are over 250 events annually and the centre welcomes over a million visitors each year. If you can’t make it to the Highland Show this week there are offer events including the Scottish Car Show, on 15-16 July, followed by Scottish Horse Show, on 18 July, and British Showjumping, on 21-23 July, and Truckfest, among other events.
So make a point of heading to the Show. Take in the splendid and busy scene, enjoy an ice cream, listen to the skirling pipes, and watch some of our wonderful Scottish-bred livestock. I’m certain you’ll not be disappointed.