Thatching, Show-Jumping, and Rhubarb Wine at the Suffolk Show

Show-jumping at the Suffolk Show

Trinity Park near Ipswich

Clive and I went to the 2011 Suffolk Show last week.  I’d never been to an agricultural show – the Sydney Royal Easter Show, or a U.S. state fair – and thoroughly enjoyed my first taste of what a big event like this is all about.

I was particularly taken with a number of unique British aspects of the Suffolk Show, beginning with an area set up by members of the East Anglia Master Thatchers’ Association.

Thatching display area, Suffolk Show

From one of the young thatchers, we learned there are about 40-50 qualified thatchers in Suffolk and about 500-600 in Great Britain, with significant numbers in Devon and Cornwall.  The thatcher told us the career is attractive because it’s both a traditional craft and a relatively well-paying profession.

We watched him cut reed stalks with an instrument he called a ‘bill hook’ or a ‘spa hook’ – he said in some areas it’s localised to a ‘Suffolk pattern bill hook’ or a ‘Welsh hook’.

A master thatcher with his tool

Neither Clive nor I had ever seen show-jumping live, so we spent quite a bit of time watching one of those competitions, as shown in the photo at the top of this post.  We were dazzled by the skilled riders and their magnificent horses as they performed around the Grand Ring.

Other favourites of the day:  seeing Suffolk Punch horses (more about these wonderful creatures in a future post);  watching a military demonstration that included abseiling from a Lynx helicopter and the landing of an Apache helicopter by soldiers from nearby Wattisham Army Air Base;  seeing Princess Anne talk with the soldiers afterwards; and, quite unexpectedly, finding a retail stand where we got incredibly helpful information about home ‘combi boilers’ and water systems as input to our renovation plans.    

A highlight: seeing the Princess Royal (albeit from a distance)

We made a few food and drink discoveries:  that East Anglia (which incorporates Suffolk, Essex, and Norfolk) has its own Wine Association and friendly growers, and one of them makes a rhubarb wine that Clive, who loves rhubarb in almost any form, thought was worth purchasing.  I liked Calvors Brewery’s ‘3Point8’ golden lager.  We were given a jar of goose fat (‘for perfect roast potatoes’) which we’re unlikely to use, but did treat ourselves to a skewer of plump, sweet Suffolk strawberries dipped in white chocolate fondue as a decadent late-afternoon treat. 

Rhubarb wine, made in Suffolk

There was so much more we wished we had time to see:  the animal parades and judging, the Grand Parade, the flower and plant areas, and the hundreds of retail and market stalls. We walked through several displays of farm machinery — each one seemed bigger than a house to me – and bypassed the rides, sports areas, and wildlife centre activities set up for young children. 

Towards the end of the day, we found Suffolk Coastal’s Felixstowe ‘Great Days by the Sea’ stall, and had an interesting conversation with a young woman who works for the local council about various activities in our new home town.  We added a few Felixstowe maps and brochures to the bag of Suffolk information we’d picked up earlier on Eat Street.

Eat Street at the Suffolk Show

 I haven’t fallen in love with pig and cattle competitions or anything like that (I haven’t even seen one of those – yet).  I have fallen in love with the Suffolk countryside and its wide open spaces, but I still adore Sydney and Paris and don’t think there’s any danger of me turning into a farming person at this stage of my life.

But I really loved the Suffolk Show and hope to return next year, maybe on both days.  It was fun and educational for me, and I suspect the show’s general atmosphere, the animals, the competitions, the tasty food, the entertainment, and the grand spectacle of families having fun together are much the same at similar events around the world.

We read more than 90,000 people attended the two days of the Suffolk Show this year.

Suffolk Showground, near Ipswich and Felixstowe

Being at the show reminded me of my father, who grew up in Iowa. More about that in my next post.

Thank you, Suffolk Show, for a great day out.

8 Responses

  1. HI Carol and Clive,

    Most of the shows like that in the U.S. are held toward the end of the summer, at the height of harvest–the one in Centre County, called Grange Fair is the last week in August. It has all the usual vendors, food, entertainment, and judging of farm animals, farm machinery, and canned and baked goods. Not as many show type horses, but draft horses. (The word draft comes from Anglo-Saxon, and of course East Anglia is the heart of where the English language first developed.)

    I bet you and Clive had a lot of fun seeing the activities of the day and enjoying the food, displays, and vendors. Your pictures were interesting too. I especially liked the thatching pictures and the info about that ancient craft.

  2. Thanks Eleanor — glad you enjoyed it 🙂

    The thatching practice is definitely fascinating and I hope to learn more about it as time goes by.

    Cheers.

  3. I can’t believe you have never been to a show/fair like this before. We will definitely have to take you to the Easter show one year you are in Australia for Easter. Glad you are enjoying getting to know your new home and surrounding area.

  4. I’m sure the Sydney Royal Easter Show would be another amazing experience!

    Thanks for your comment, Mrs Chipndale and hope we can do that one day 🙂

  5. Well that looks like fun. I went to an agricultural show in Paris once. Interesting to see all of those animals.

  6. Linda, it really was fun — can’t imagine seeing a show like that in Paris! Good on ya 🙂

    Cheers.

  7. Hello Carolyn .. sorry I have not been over here for a while .. I am laid up .. Broken ankle and in a cast .. happened nearly two weeks ago .

    Oh you are soooooooo British .. ha ha ha.. I suppose though it is new to you so that is ok . and I love the piece about you not turning into a farming person .. Jai adore Paris .. .. xx

  8. Anne,so sorry about your ankle!! Hope you are resting it nicely so you can soon return to dance on the streets of Paris!

    Take care and thanks for your comment — all the best from C and C

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