From the Northern Echo
GYPSIES and Travellers from across Europe have taken over a small Northern town for an annual event dubbed “the Mecca” for the travelling community.
Queues had already formed to get into Appleby Horse Fair, in Cumbria, when the event officially opened at 4am yesterday – marking the start of a week-long annual gathering that attracts more than 30,000 visitors.
The annual event is thought to have started in 1750, with Gypsies and members of the travelling community meeting friends, celebrating their music, history and folklore and buying and selling horses.
Billy Welch, who took over organising the event from his father, also called Billy, when he died 13 years ago, said it was an honour and privilege to organise it.
Mr Welch, who lives on a Travellers’ site in Darlington, has attended the event throughout his life and only missed it a couple of times due to work commitments.
He said: “Appleby Horse Fair is the most important event in the Gypsy and Traveller calendar. It is literally our Mecca.
“There is a great atmosphere here. It has been a bit windy and showery, but everyone’s in a good mood. The weather didn’t spoil the jubilee.
“This is the most unique event on the planet. There is no other event like this in the world, and we think ourselves very lucky and very fortunate to have managed to hang onto it. But it’s not just for us, it is for anyone to attend.”
Another man, who had briefly stopped in a layby on the A66, near Barnard Castle, on his way to Appleby, said the event reflected the strong family ethic among the travelling community as they kept alive the tradition started by their ancestors in the 1700s.
He said: “I’m following in the footsteps of my father, my grandfather, my great-grandfather and their fathers before them by making the journey to Appleby every year.
“It is a chance to meet up with family who we only ever see once a year and who we would not otherwise get to see.
“It is such an important tradition and one which we will always strive to keep going.”
Motorists are being advised to be aware of slow-moving and horse-drawn vehicles on the routes leading to Appleby, especially the A66, for the duration of the event and in the days afterwards as people make their way home.
For information about the fair, visit applebyfair.org.