It’s not every day you get to visit an annual event that has been running for 780 years.
Aside from the (relatively) modern clothes that the visitors to Corby Glen’s 779th Sheep Fair are sporting, it’s easy to imagine that this event hasn’t changed for centuries.
My guide, Marjorie, is 75 years old.
She’s lived in Corby Glen for her entire life, she remembers seeing Beverley Allitt walk home from school as a child and she’s never missed a Sheep Fair.
“Even when I was poorly with the flu when I was 10, I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.”
To a weekend visitor like me, the whole thing is a little mind boggling. Whilst the people might have changed in appearance, so much of what the Sheep Fair represents feels like it should belong to another century. It might sound silly, but the mere sight of a retro carousel gently spinning in a field is reminiscent of the 20th Century. Throw that in with the hundreds of sheep that are constantly bleating and milling around and you start to really get an idea of life must’ve been like back in the Victorian era.
“My Ma, used to take me when I was a bonny lass”, Marjorie tells me, whilst we share a stick of cotton candy and a pint of dark ale, that seems to affect me more than it does her.
“You won’t believe me, but back then it was actually more popular than it is today!”
I tell her that I believe her.
Although the Sheep Fair gets consistent news coverage on a year-on-year basis due to it’s historical nature, it’s easy to imagine how it could have been much more popular perhaps a hundred or two hundred years ago. Whilst Corby Glen remains a very rural village, agriculture in the area has been decreasing over the decades, so each year there are less and less sheep to show at the Sheep Fair.
“I’m just glad that our little Fair still gets the attention that it deserves from the rest of the country, it’s such a nice feeling to know that people are thinking of us whilst we’re having our little shindig.”
There are many red faces by the end of the afternoon, it’s not that cold out, but it would appear that the local ale stand has made something of a killing. With Marjorie taking me by the arm, we make our way back up to The Woodhouse Arms, where I’ve promised to treat my guide to a dinner. It’s a good thing I reserved the table well ahead of time; we push through the merry throng of drinkers crowding the bar to find that our table in the restaurant is the only one left.
The Woodhouse Arms is one of two drinking establishments in Corby Glen (the oddly named Fighting Cocks does good business as well, I’m told) and whilst both are popular, it’s clear the former has cornered the market on decent pub grub. I wash down a perfectly slow roasted lamb shank with an excellent bottle of red, whilst my compatriot struggles through a huge helping of Barbary Duck. By the end of the meal we’ve both joined another table and the reveries, that started with ales down at the Sheep Fair, continue well into the night.
I don’t struggle sleeping that night – snoozing peacefully, no doubt with a satisfied smile on my face; an expression that has probably re-occurred for centuries on thousands of similarly satisfied visitors.