“I was going to buy a falabella for Ailish,” My grandad told my dad in his thick Offaly accent,” they were selling for a fiver and small enough to fit in the boot”. Unfortunately, my dad turned sheet-white at the prospect of a gifted 30-inch-tall miniature pony. But I decided to visit Appleby Horse Fair every year for nearly a decade.
Appleby Horse Fair is an annual gypsy and traveller festival. For a week of festivities, families travel from across the UK, sometimes making the journey by traditional horse-drawn caravan. Aside from horse-trading, Appleby Horse Fair is an important cultural and social event on the calendar. Appleby is a place to mingle and celebrate community, with attendees rarely failing to rise to the occasion. Expect to see bold outfits donned for the occasion and plenty of flashy horses.
Ran since 1685, Appleby Horse Fair is easily one of the UK’s most historic cultural events. Whether you are a horse lover or not, you should visit the fair at least once in your life. Here’s my guide to visiting Appleby Horse Fair.
Where is Appleby Horse Fair?
Appleby Horse Fair is held in the English town of Appleby-in-Westmorland in Cumbria. A Norman-established market town, Appleby-in-Westmorland has a history of trading and is a scenic location in the Eden Valley.
What is there to see at Appleby Horse Fair?
Horses, horses, and more horses! The main trade action is centred around The Sands and Bridge Street.
By the bridge, horse and rider skills are demonstrated by swimming and paddling in the river. And, by mid-morning, the River Eden is full of soap suds and horses being scrubbed down while sitting onlookers watch on from the opposite bank.
Behind the pebbled beach, The Sands road is nicknamed the flashing lane. Horses are shown off to the crowd by speeding down the road – ridden by trap, bareback, or (less usually) saddled. Horses have the right of way along this stretch, so be mindful of where you cross. Along the pavements, sellers wait with their horses, and you can approach to barter if you’d like.
If you’d like to indulge in some non-horsey retail therapy, Jimmy Winter’s Field has a market that makes for good browsing. It is well-worth wandering up to shop after you’ve seen the horses.
Can I buy a horse at Appleby Horse Fair?
Yes, the majority of horses at Appleby Horse Fair are for sale. To begin serious negotiations, you can approach with an initial offer, with both parties bartering until a final offer is agreed.
Sales are agreed on the spot and with cash, so make sure you arrive fully prepared if you wish to buy a horse.
How do you get to Appleby Horse Fair?
The town is accessible via rail and Appleby train station is only a short walk from the town centre.
Otherwise, visitors can drive to Appleby-in-Westmorland. However, be prepared for slow-moving traffic due to traps, riders, and horse-drawn caravans. Plus, you’ll likely find street parking limited, so make sure to bring change for car parks.
Typically, parking costs between £5 and £10 per day. If you are visiting at the weekend, Appleby Leisure Centre has a pop-up event car park with lots of spaces. And from the centre, you’ll only have a short and scenic walk along the river to reach the action.
When is Appleby Horse Fair?
Appleby Horse Fair usually takes place on the first week of June, although you can track annual dates on the official website. In 2022, Appleby Horse Fair starts on the 9th of June.
While the fair is on for a week, the weekend is the best time to visit. Saturdays and Sundays tend to attract the most crowds and, therefore, the most exciting action.
Where to stay for Appleby Horse Fair?
Deciding where to stay for Appleby Horse Fair depends on what experience you want.
Members of the traveller community tend to camp on Fair Hill, which you can organise with local landowners. If you’d like to be in the midst of the community and have the caravan camping experience, Fair Hill is a good option.
Otherwise, finding accommodation in Appleby-in-Westmorland requires extreme forward planning and a hefty budget. The town cannot accommodate the number of visitors it attracts, and most people camp on Fair Hill or travel in for a day.
With that said, you may get a room at the Tufton Arms Hotel, Royal Oak Appleby, Appleby Castle, or Appleby Manor House. Expect to pay upwards of £80 a night and aim to book even a year in advance. Staying at a hotel for Appleby Horse Fair is a definite luxury, so make sure to enjoy the experience!
If the ship has already sailed, don’t despair. You can always stay in a nearby town that’s easily accessible on the Appleby train line or join the flock of day visitors.