In late June each year the Royal Highland Centre at Ingliston, near Edinburgh Airport, throws open its gates for the Royal Highland Show. The show is run by the Royal Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland. Founded in 1784, the Society aims to promote the regeneration of rural Scotland by showcasing the best that Scotland has to offer. And if visitor numbers are anything to go by, the message is getting through loud and clear: a total number of 188,449 visitors were recorded in 2015 - almost 10,000 higher than in 2014 and 805 more than the previous record attendance at Ingliston in 2010. Of that number, there were more than 30,000 children who attended the show for free.
Sponsored by the Royal Bank of Scotland, the show doesn't just feature the animal and craft competitions that have made its name over the years. Boutique designers from Scotland and across the UK showcase high quality clothing and accessories not seen on the high street. There is also a vast selection of specialist clothing and equipment for a variety of country pursuits, as well as agricultural equipment of every shape, colour and function, and in sizes that range from the impressive to the extremely impressive.
Members of the Royal family are regular visitors to the Royal Highland Show. Her Majesty The Queen, HRH Princess Royal and HRH Princess Alexandra all visited in 2009, the year of Homecoming, and HRH Princess Royal was back again in 2013 and in 2015.
2015 saw the Royal Highland Show focus on food production, to tie in with 2015 being Scotland's Year of Food and Drink. Scotland's Larder Live! was the place to go for live tastings and cookery demonstrations designed to educate both children and adults on how the food they eat is produced. Other participating producers were housed in food courts across the site ensuring that some of the country's best food and drink was available for visitors to sample and to buy. Scotland boasts one of the best natural larders in the world and has a long-standing reputation for quality food and drink. The Royal Highland Show 2015 provided a showcase for producers of premium products, including artisan cheeses, world renowned whiskies, Scottish gins, seasonal berries, jams and chutneys and arbroath smokies to name just a few.
Whilst it can be said the Royal Highland Show offers something for everyone, the animal competitions and judging are, for many, the highlight. Equestrian and livestock events take place from dawn to dusk over the duration of the show and visitors are able to observe the preparation and judging of the magnificent animals proudly put forward by their breeders.
In 2015 there were almost 5,000 animals including sheep, cattle, poultry and horses present. There were around 1,500 sheep with entries representing many different breeds. Having watched the judging and competitions, visitors are able to wander around and look at the prize winning livestock close up.
Around 1,000 cattle from 20 beef and dairy breeds were also entered into various competitions. The prestigious Royal Highland Show Championships and Interbreed awards being the most famous, and most coveted. Housed in the Royal Highland Hall these hairy competitors are made to look their best before being paraded before the judges and the public.
It's not just the best livestock that are judged at the Royal Highland Show. The finest foods, traditional skills and show jumping are also assessed with the winners receiving highly coveted prizes. The craftspeople and food producers are able to enter various competitions. As well as the "best" honey, butter and cheese prizes (amongst others), there is judging of traditional crafts such as knitting, needlepoint, shepherds' crooks and walking sticks.
Meanwhile, back in the main ring, the show jumping classes attract many famous names in the sport from across the UK. Equestrian events take place in both the main ring and in other areas of the showground, with visitors able to claim a grandstand seat or rail-side view at no extra cost. Competition is fierce, with over £45,000 worth of prize money to be won over the 4 days.
The Lowland Hall is packed with the stands of producers from across Scotland, the rest of the UK and parts of Europe. In addition to Scotland's Larder Live!, which was the foodie focus in 2015, other cookery demonstrations take place throughout the day with some of the country's top chefs in attendance. Visitors are able to taste their way through the show before buying the produce and taking it home with them. The purpose of this part of the Show has always been to provide visitors with a wide range of food and drink from across Scotland, and it is now able to boast the largest display of Scottish produce anywhere.
The Royal Highland Show is marketed as "The Greatest Show On Earth"; and as the annual showcase of all that's best in farming, food and countryside, it cannot fail to impress. There is a huge display of the latest farm machinery - who doesn't want to imagine themselves driving a tractor? - a countryside area with its own loch and some stunning landscaping, plus trade stands, demonstrations and events reflecting a wide range of country sports, activities and rural skills, a Children's Discovery Centre with lots of hands-on activities including opportunities to cook with Scottish food, plus music and entertainment and much, much more....