28 May 2015

If you’re at a loose end today and fancy a little trip “Oop Dale” you can catch one of the great Yorkshire experiences: the annual sheep show – the Swaledale sheep-breeders’ World Cup – at the The Inn at the Top, aka Tan Hill. The usual country show clutter of craft and cake stalls is notable by its absence from Tan Hill. Rather than tourist trinkets, there are a handful of stalls selling wellies, foul weather gear, shepherds’ crooks, veterinary products and farm supplies like “Two Gallons of Battle’s Summer Dip”, “One Bag of Minerals”, and “Five Litres Top Clip Worm Drench”, but that’s pretty much it apart from the pens of sheep and the men  who breed them. If, to the untrained eye at least, the sheep look virtually indistinguishable from each other, all with peaty-coloured, off- white fleeces, black faces and white noses, the farmers – or at least the clothing they wear – tend to be just as identical, all clad in flat caps, tweed jackets, moleskin trousers, wellingtons and Barbour-type coats.

The sheep show at the inn might look homespun and unassuming, compared to the village shows elsewhere in the Yorkshire Dales, let alone the Great Yorkshire Show at Harrogate, or the Royal Show  in the days when it was held every year,  but as one farmer said to me, back in my days at the inn, ‘There are classes for our sheep at the Royal Show, but the winner there might not even get a ticket [an entry] to this show. This is where you’ll see the best tups and yows to be found anywhere.’

If the sheep don’t tickle your fancy, the Lofthouse and Middlesmoor silver band from Nidderdale will be playing as they have since the very first show in 1951, when they happened to be passing on their way back from a concert elsewhere, and stopped to see what was going on.  Inside the inn, the bar will be doing an absolutely roaring trade. If the weather’s dry and the wind isn’t howling over the “tops”, get yourself a pint, perch up on the fellside and listen to the band playing the local anthem: “Beautiful Dale”. When the last notes fade away, all you’ll hear is the liquid song of the curlew, the gabbling calls of the grouse, the monotone piping of the golden plovers nesting among the tussocks of heather and the beautiful song of the lark raining down from the sky above you – only occasionally interrupted by the noise of the farmers arguing about the judges’ choice of the supreme champion sheep. Enjoy!