Every year, over 1000 exhibitors, 4500 animals and 190,000 visitors descend on Ingliston, Edinburgh, for the rural extravaganza that is the Royal Highland Show. As well as a key fixture in the farming calendar, the RHS is an eclectic celebration of foodie fare, making, crafting, gardening and outdoor pursuits among all sorts of other lovely things. Whether you’re looking to buy a plough or just some rose petal jam, there’s something for everyone at the Highland Show. As a big believer in all things local, Scottish and sustainable, I’m ashamed to say I’ve never been before as it falls at a busy time in the school calendar, but I was keen to rectify this in 2016. So this time last week I was packing my picnic basket and prepping my wellies for an adventure in the outskirts of Edinburgh.
The Royal Highland Show is unlike anywhere I’ve ever been. The sheer variety was mind-boggling: outdoor hot-tubs being sold alongside farmers exhibiting prize-winning sheep – quite surreal, and something I’ll never forget. Seeing the livestock was definitely my highlight of our visit; we spent a good while viewing the gorgeous sheep and met the beautiful champion Hampshire Down, below, complete with sash and a wee coat to keep warm. The passion and care of the farmers was palpable and we had some lovely chats. Sheep are more than just a pretty face – the saying ‘being a sheep’ does these animals down, they have such lovely personalities. Speaking of which, they seem to favour hummus as many of them cheekily sniffed my basket with our picnic in!
After making our way round the extensive sheep pens we headed to see the Shetland ponies – I only wish we’d had the energy to stay until late to watch them racing! Again, such sweet-natured animals. I was never a wee girl who wanted a horse, but now I’d have a Shetland any day! Speaking of wanting animals, ever since falling for our neighbour’s West Highland Terrier Brian when we lived in St Andrews, I’ve been desperate for a Westie and we saw a fair few at the Show I wanted to take home with me… One day!
There were so many amazing producers and makers in the food hall but it was so packed it was impossible to take pictures – or even stay for long! Next year I would get there even earlier to beat the crowds that emerged when the sun came out. From the talented Mademoiselle Macaron to East Lothian’s innovative Colstoun Cookery School (both of whom I’ve written more extensively about in my Christmas Foodies Festival post), there were so many experts and artisans to make us proud of our Scottish culinary heritage and foodie expertise. As well as local companies, it was good to see bigger brands celebrating Scottish produce: M&S had a pop-up shop with interactive installations showcasing local ingredients. They even had an incubator with hatching chicks. One day I would love to keep hens; only 7 years on the waiting list for an allotment!
If you go, make sure you dress for all seasons: we had lashing rain and glorious sunshine – I was prepared for the former but not the latter and regretted my lack of Factor 50. You will walk miles, and wellies are a necessity given the mud (it’s almost always been raining or is going to rain!). Make sure you wear comfy socks, as I had a blister or two even from my trusty pink (kids!) Hunters I’ve had for yonks. Picnics are encouraged – great if you are trying to be thrifty, but seating spots few and far between (at least, we didn’t find many). We had lunch perched on a fence, but eventually caved and paid for a drink and a seat! In spite of my reluctance to part with cash, it was money well spent as the secret garden bar was a gorgeous celebration of Scottish gins – I had a delicious Pickerings gin with grapefruit and Al had an Isle of Harris gin with sugar kelp. Decked in fresh blooms it was a feast for the eyes too. I’ll definitely be back at the Highland Show for years to come – a true festival of all things Scottish.
Have you been to the Highland Show before? Are you doing anything fun this weekend?