From the Guardian
Gypsies from Britain's four distinct travelling communities have packed up their wagons and driven their horses to Cumbria for the annual meet-up of all meet-ups since a royal charter was granted in 1685.
"It's a a bit like Christmas for us" laughs Romany Diane Price, "It's the main event of the year, a chance to see members of the family who have moved away and friends you won't have seen for years."
For the settled communities along the routes radiating out from the small Cumbrian town, the mingling of horse-drawn vehicles with modern traffic on some of the region's Roman roads is generally the first sign that the annual migration is underway.
But for many in the Gypsy community, the passage will have been planned, and in some cases started, many months before.
That brings its own problems as Diane, who works as a consultant on traveller affairs, points out - there's fewer places where horses can be rested along the routes these days and can result in tensions with the police which are almost as traditional as the fair itself.
When the week long celebrations start in earnest on Thursday, the local paper today predicts more than 40,000 people will be in temporary residence this year and, while horse trading is still one of the main activities, it's thoughts of marriage which will be top of the agenda for many.
The Big Fat Gypsy Wedding television series isn't something this community likes to be reminded of but there's no getting away from the glitz of the occasion and the extravagance of the outfits. Diane says the young women have saved throughout the year for the fair to make sure they have the best designer gear for every day of the event, spending hundreds, if not thousands, of pounds.
"We don't have a lot of other opportunities to meet husbands - we don't go to nightclubs and such. This is a break from the usual cooking and cleaning, like going on holiday. You can get some food and then go out, a chance for galavanting."
The photographer and writer Ciara Leeming who works with many gypsy communities said even now that many Gypsies and Travellers are settled in houses or on permanent sites and generally only semi-nomadic, and with their young people heavy users of social networking sites like Facebook, this tradition persists.
"In the past the church at Appleby would have been kept busy after the fair but I think couples probably take their time more now.
"Sadly it's easy for tabloid TV shows like Big Fat Gypsy Weddings to pick on aspects of this culture - such as the skimpy clothing - and to mock and caricature, creating damaging new stereotypes of this most stereotyped of communities. The young women's fashions - quite a recent phenomenon as I understand it - are certainly eye-catching, but there's a lot more going on beneath the surface than many people give them credit for."
Diane agrees, while the fair might evolve, it will remain an important touchpoint for a community which is often misunderstood, where horses represent money in the bank and a way of life with its traditional values can seem increasingly under threat.