All fun of Holkham fair that shows best of Norfolk

The Holkham Country Fair returns this weekend, showcasing the best of Norfolk's country pursuits and produce. Chris Hill looks at its historical origins and its modern outlook.

With an esteemed venue so steeped in farming tradition, it is no surprise that the appeal of the Holkham Country Fair remains rooted in the traditions of the countryside.

But in the same way the estate's founding fathers pioneered an agricultural revolution 200 years ago, the fair which sprang from the 1st Earl of Leicester's renowned 'shearings' has evolved into a modern celebration of rural life.

The biennial event, which is supported by the EDP and EDP Norfolk magazine, is expected to bring 40,000 visitors to the sweeping North Norfolk estate over this weekend.

The Coke family's ancestral home of Holkham Hall will form a stately backdrop to a host of entertainments, displays and 200 trade stalls – showcasing the countryside at work and play.


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And for those of a more urban persuasion, there are opportunities for amateur all-comers to try their hand at clay-pigeon shooting, archery, fly-casting, lurcher-racing or a gundog scurry.

Co-organiser Christopher Lloyd Owen said the fair was an opportunity for visitors to embrace the history and traditions of the country, regardless of their own upbringing or heritage.

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But, he said, the main objective was far more simple than all that.

'The main aim of the country fair is to give everyone some jolly good fun. Its unstated purpose, if you like, is to say to the urban among us that this is the countryside, and it is 'work hard, play hard'.

'But I don't want to be evangelistic about it. There is a lot to discover and learn, even for people who have lived in the country all their life. But that's not quite the point – we really just want absolutely everyone to have a jolly good day out.'

Although the fair in its current guise has been running for 30 years, its origins date back much further to the days of Thomas Coke, the 1st Earl of Leicester. Nicknamed Coke of Norfolk, it was through his 'Holkham Shearings' – gatherings of farmers and friends in the estate's great barn to discuss agricultural matters – that he helped encourage reforms in animal feed, breeding and crop rotation in the 18th century.

Top of the varied bill in the Grand Ring will be the Musical Ride of the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment – the Queen's ceremonial guards. The regiment's first appearance at the fair comes the weekend before its annual open days at the training base at Bodney Camp, near Watton.

Admission costs �15 per adult, with children under 14 free. Car parking is free and dogs are welcome on leads.

For the full story see the EDP Sunday supplement in tomorrow's EDP.

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