FOR many Cumbrian families the agricultural show season is the highlight of the year.

But for the past two years the pandemic has wiped out the county's show calendar, causing millions of pounds worth of losses to the rural economy.

Hundreds of shows up and down the country were forced to cancel as the virus tore through the county, starving farming communities of annual chances to meet acquaintances, denying traders a vital market and rural charities of fundraising activities.

But 'It's Showtime' once again this summer in the county, bringing with it a packed programme of activities, attractions, competitions, displays, live entertainment and shopping.

And to kick it off is the county's flagship Cumberland Show, taking place on Saturday, June 11 - but this year with a few changes.

Cumberland & Westmorland Gazette: The Cumberland Show 2017 at East Park, Brisco. Rosie Owen, 4, from Liverpool and tractors. 2017. Picture: Jonathan Becker.The Cumberland Show 2017 at East Park, Brisco. Rosie Owen, 4, from Liverpool and tractors. 2017. Picture: Jonathan Becker.

Normally held at East Park, Brisco, the show for 2022 has a new home at The Showfield at Warwick-on-Eden.

The reason, explains operations and development secretary Gillian Potts, is the southern bypass. “We had to move because it was going through the old fields,” she says.

“Because of where the site is, on a very busy main road, we’ve employed a traffic management company and they’re going to be putting traffic lights in.

"We’ve got a new online system for people to book their animals, so our schedule is online, and we’ve got a new company that you can get your advance tickets from, so we have a lot of new things together.

"I just hope we can all cope!”

Each year the Cumberland Agricultural Society, which, for more than 180 years, has promoted local agriculture and rural life, offers one charity the opportunity to be part of the event and the Eden Valley Hospice has been chosen this year in memory of the society's Horse Secretary Margaret Ogden, who they sadly lost last year.

Cumberland & Westmorland Gazette: The Grand Parade in the main ring, at Skelton Show, July 2016. Picture: Louise PorterThe Grand Parade in the main ring, at Skelton Show, July 2016. Picture: Louise Porter

Jill Dunglinson, show secretary said “Margaret was a joy to work with, she was an asset not only to the Horse Section but the whole the Show, and she is dearly missed by all.

"She was a real friend to everyone involved with the show, including the committee and also our show competitors too so we are really pleased to be able to remember her in this way at this year’s show.”

Eleanor Viney, fundraising manager at the hospice, said: “We’re absolutely delighted to have been chosen as the Cumberland Show’s charity partner for this year and look forward to attending what we know is a fantastic occasion in Cumbria’s agricultural calendar.

“The opportunity to attend the Cumberland Show will not only allow us to raise vital funds so we can continue to provide dedicated and compassionate care for local families when they need us most, but it will also help us to raise awareness within our community of the incredible work that goes on here at the hospice.”

Cumberland & Westmorland Gazette: TRADITION: The Cumberland Show 2018. The driving competition in the Main ring.TRADITION: The Cumberland Show 2018. The driving competition in the Main ring.

The Cumberland Show is the pinnacle of the year, combining the traditional and modern to celebrate farming, food and the countryside.

Among the highlights are livestock classes, vintage vehicles, wrestling and a fun dog show, with a countryside area displaying everything from dry stone walling to artisan cheeses.

“We did hold a horse event last year on the old showfield and that was a great success,” explains Gillian. “We’ve got to be excited that the show is back – ours is the first of the season in this area – so we’re excited but also nervous.

"It’s getting everyone back into the swing of things. People haven’t been showing, knitting or baking.

"It’s been two years since the show – normally, we’re just on autopilot.”

This year poultry will be missing after an outbreak of bird flu hit the country.“They’ve just opened the doors for poultry to go ahead and it’s just too soon to be doing a poultry show, but everything else is going ahead.

"What we want, for a start, is no rain, and the sunshine would be even better. We have usually between 15 and 20,000 – it’s obviously weather dependent.”

Relying almost entirely on volunteers, the show is made possible by people like Gillian – who is also the trophies secretary for Dalston Show – giving their time and talents freely.

“A lot of people put an awful lot of hours into this, especially this year,” she says. “It was very difficult before Christmas – we didn’t know if we were going to go into another lockdown, it was very much the uncertainty. You feel as if you’re trying to catch your tail, so we’re all pulling together.

Cumberland & Westmorland Gazette: NEW attraction: On the Edge Motorcycle Stunt Team appearing this year at Skelton Show NEW attraction: On the Edge Motorcycle Stunt Team appearing this year at Skelton Show

“It costs over £25,000 just for marquees. People really have no idea. Insurance is also a big thing. It’s unbelievable how much it costs to put a show on.”

“It isn’t just for farmers to take part. We’ve got a lot of schools involved in the home industries, whether it’s handwriting or making a decorated birthday card.

"There’s also baking and flower arranging. You don’t have to be a farmer to enter. There are lots of things to get the children involved – the grandparents as well.

"We’ve even got a male baking class. They have to make at home three pieces of chocolate brownie, bring them to the show and see who wins.”

It may not be all hog roasts and rosettes but, first and foremost, the show aims to be fun. “It’s just a great day out,” says Gillian. “There’s something for everybody.”

The second show to hit the county's calendar is England's largest village show, Skelton, which is famous for its myriad of entertainment.

Returning after a two-year break the 126th show takes place on Saturday, July 2 at Hutton-in-the-Forest.

“The shows highlight the importance of the rural economy and more particularly the wealth of local talent and skills which need to be kept alive and the sale of local traceable produce that is not only good for you but sustains our rural way of life,” says Nina Oxley, publicity officer and vice chair.

As well as retaining its traditional agricultural roots, the show continues to evolve to provide a great day out for everyone. This year they are launching a new Food and Entertainment village.

As well as a varied range of food and drink, live entertainment will be provided throughout the afternoon and early evening by the show's regular Penrith Town Band.

There will also be a number of local artists with the headline act Eliza Gutteridge who reached the finals of ‘The Voice’ in 2018 as part of Team Tom.

Agriculture is still very much at the heart of Skelton Show as Chairman, Colin Atkinson comments “in addition to the large selection of cattle, horses, dogs and sheep, there is a marquee full of classes for children, cooking, painting, floral arts, vegetables and walking sticks.

"The extensive @TasteSkelton Food and Gifts and Crafts tents provide a wide range of local produce to taste and purchase whilst other attractions include the Cumberland and Westmorland Wrestling competition, pony sports and numerous trade stands”.

Eden FM will be broadcasting from the showfield again and this year are attempting to break the Guinness World Record attempt for more than 140 commentators to be on the one radio show.