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 of 188,810 visitors were recorded in 2016, an increase on both 2014 and 2015 figures. 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. To give this some perspective, 2016 saw a total of 48,941 exhibitors at the show.
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. Whilst there were no Royals attendees in 2016, a number of political figures including Fergus Ewing MSP, Ruth Davidson MSP, David Mundell MP and Rory Stewart MP did attend, as did Chief executive of the Royal Bank of Scotland, Ross McEwan. (Continues below image...)
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 2016 there were 7,000 animals including sheep, cattle, poultry and horses competing for £225,000 of prize money and 280 trophies worth around £2,000,000. Having watched the judging and competitions, visitors are able to wander around and look at the prize winning livestock close up.
There were around 1,500 sheep with entries representing many different breeds. 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.
Following closely behind the livestock in terms of popularity in 2016 was the Show's revamped 13th Avenue Arcade, which featured an array of luxury retailers, offering fine furniture, jewellery and art along with a new Prosecco bar. Two new themed bars, the Botanical Garden, serving Scottish gins, and The Stetson, proved popular additions, with live music, food and quirky themes. The Show's food offering, Scotland's Larder Live!, housed in The Lowland Hall, also proved very popular. Featuring over 120 of the finest food and drink exhibitors from across Scotland and the UK, Scotland's Larder Live brought to life the main consumer message of 'farming equals food' and was a lively, stimulating, informative and interactive area full of smells, sights and samples. Some of Scotland's finest chefs including Jamie Scott and Lady Claire Macdonald were in attendance to lend their support.
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....