Smoke smuts flew in the air, the hiss of steam echoed around our redbrick garden walls. Had our gentle patch of Herefordshire been invaded by some kind of fire-breathing dragon? No, it was Bromyard Gala time again.
We're on one of the main routes into the show ground and every year, about this time in July, we're entertained by the smells, sounds and the sight of steam traction engines heaving themselves up the hill through our village. I love it.
In fact, I love everything about the Bromyard Gala. It's been running for about fifty years, although I would imagine some kind of country fair pre-existed for much longer
It's a delightfully old-fashioned rural event and a triumph of community spirit and organisation. There are sheep competitions, cattle showing, heavy horses, a fairground, vintage tractors and classic cars, stalls selling country crafts, food and beer tents, a bandstand, an arena with all sorts of activities going on - and so much more.
Bromyard is a town with medieval origins situated on the border with Worcestershire. It has the usual issues small rural market towns face - limited employment prospects, a scattering of empty shops, and not enough public transport. It could sink into decline. However, Bromyard chooses to fight back. It's become the Town of Festivals, or The Jewel in the Downs, as the beautiful Bromyard Downs act as a stunning natural backdrop. You have to admire its tenacity - and sense of humour!
There is an annual folk festival, Nozstock - a music event, and a scarecrow festival. It also holds a well-supported Christmas Fair to celebrate the switching on of the festive lights.
A Donkey Derby, Boot Fair and 1940s Street Party are held around the time of the Gala and bring in much needed tourism
Many people bring their caravans or camp and stay for the whole weekend or longer.
Bringsty Forge Ironwork
This year, it was the second time the Gala was held in its new venue on a much larger site. We spent the best part of the day there. We had a good look round the plant stalls and admired the ornamental ironwork from the Bringsty Forge, greeted some appealing alpacas and said hello to some cute ferrets. I tried to resist the lure of buying handmade earrings in the craft marquee (and failed).
One of many superb traction engines
My highlights are the traction engines and the heavy horses. Both are huge, both take enormous effort to get ready and both are expensive to run. It’s been sad to see fewer traction engines at the show over the last few years, as running costs have escalated. However, the cars stuck in the queue behind as they lumber majestically to and from the show ground are probably quite relieved.
Superb heavy horses
The heavy horses gleamed in the sunshine (more about the weather later). Trained to pull barges along canal towpaths, one had her feed and water bucket – a beautiful piece of canal art – attached to her harness. They are such dignified, gentle giants.
Food and drink plays a major part in the Gala. This year I ate the best beef burger I’ve ever had. I was able to thank the animal it came from, as there were pictures of the cow on display! It was so good I went back for another.
Majestic Hereford cattle
Herefordshire abounds with good food, especially good meat. What else would you expect from the county which produced the world famous Hereford cattle?
Gwatkins and their prize winning ciders
The county is also one of the UK’s leading cider producing areas and that’s on offer too. Gwatkins make prize-winning cider so I had to taste that too. I tried some of their strawberry cider, mainly on the grounds I was driving home and all their other offerings were far too strong. I’m not usually a fan of adulterated cider but it was good stuff.
There are vehicles on display too. If you like vintage cars, caravans and tractors it’s a real treat to wander round and admire them.
One year an immaculate E-Type Jaguar was on display. It must be the world’s most beautiful car
I got chatting to its owner and became so enamoured of it, I gave it to the hero in one of my early books to drive.
The main arena is home to displays of all sorts. Over the years, we’ve enjoyed Trevor Hill’s astonishing bird of prey demonstrations, gun dogs showing off their training, children riding stunt motorbikes and dog fly ball competitions. It’s different each year. This year we watched Stampede Stunt Company do their Magna Carta Jousting Show. It featured a lurid tale starring King John, Robin Hood and Maid Marion. It was hammy but hilarious.
It’s an outdoor event so is dependent on good weather. The Sunday we went dawned clear, not as hot as recent days, with a cooling breeze. Perfect. Or it was for the first few hours. We watched as the thunder clouds rolled in from the west. Horizontal rain and a howling gale froze us in seconds.
But we Brits don’t let a bit of rain stop play. What do we do? We head for the beer tent. I had fun people watching
A muscly, longhaired chap in tattoos and a leather waistcoat happily bopping along to Whitney Houston sticks in the memory. Then I got chatting to an older guy. He sat in his motorised wheelchair with a white poodle on his lap. Whipping back his jacket, he explained he used to take the dog for rides on his motorbike and pointed to his t-shirt which had photographs to prove the fact. Two characters just begging to go into my next book.
A couple of pints of real ale for the hubby and a band playing golden oldies and we emerged back into the sunshine an hour later.
Wonderful! I can’t wait to go again next year!
Editor: While I Was Waiting is Georgia’s latest book. Set in a small village during World War 1 and the year 2000, it’s inspired by the warm people and magnificent countryside of Herefordshire. There is an article about the book here.