George Borrow and the Appleby Gypsy Horse Fair

Mostly a wet weekend in Appleby in Westmorland as the Gypsies came for the annual horse fair, though spirits were definitely not dampened.

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Vardos (c) John Bainbridge 2017

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Bow Wagons on Fair Hill (c) John Bainbridge 2017

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On the Flash (c) John Bainbridge 2017

The horses were still washed in the River Eden, as they have been for decades. And the mounts were then shown off “on the flash” – the Flashing Lane, that is, on other occasions the public highway to Long Marton and Dufton.

Take away the motor cars and this is a little bit of old England come to life, not so different from the writings of George Borrow, the most neglected great writer of the nineteenth century.

As you walk among the horse-dealers, you see scenes that would have been familiar to Borrow, and characters that could have come straight from his pages – though the Romanies of his day would have mostly had tents rather than vardos (travelling wagons). Borrow refers to an early appearance by a travelling wagon in his book Wild Wales, following his walk there in 1854.

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Washing in the River Eden (c) John Bainbridge 2017

It was pleasing to hear the odd word of Romanes still being used. I used to know a bit years ago, though my memory seems to have disposed of much of it.

It amazes me that George Borrow is so neglected. I’ve been a fan since I was a teenager, but then I had rather a vagabond youth myself. If you haven’t read his books start with Lavengro and The Romany Rye, and lose yourself in a world of coaching inns, Gypsies and the open road, a struggling writer penning books in Regency London and so much more.

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A Fair Scene (c) John Bainbridge 2017

And lots about walking through our countryside.

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If you want to know more about George Borrow, I’ve written a little e-Book as an introduction on Kobo and Kindle, and devoted a whole chapter in my walking autobiography Wayfarer’s Dole.

Let’s give George Borrow the recognition he deserves!


6 thoughts on “George Borrow and the Appleby Gypsy Horse Fair

  1. What’s going on with the woman in the yellow jacket on that last photo getting a cart ride?

    I think that’s what I liked about the Horse Fair (apart from seeing all the lovely horses of course) – the fact that cars are absent from the scene! I went on a Saturday though and it was a bit too busy people-wise for me so I think I’ll go on a quieter day next time.

    Might well get those books by Borrow yet that you recommend – I’m still busy buying and reading all the Scottish Traveller tales just now though…


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