Norfolk traveller makes 200-mile pilgrimage to horse fair - even though it’s cancelled

Kenneth Redhead, 75, in Appleby, Cumbria, on what would have been the first day of Appleby Horse Fai

Kenneth Redhead, 75, in Appleby, Cumbria, on what would have been the first day of Appleby Horse Fair, an annual gathering of travellers, which has been cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic Picture: Owen Humphreys/PA Wire - Credit: PA

A Norfolk traveller has made a pilgrimage to an ancient gypsy fair cancelled for only the second time in hundreds of years due to coronavirus.

Kenneth “Pont” Redhead, 75, set off from his home in King’s Lynn on Wednesday to travel the 200 miles to the annual horse fair at Appleby-in-Westmorland.

The great-grandfather said: “I know it were cancelled, but there still might have been one or two more come up to stay up here with a gap in between everybody, they could still come up now it’s being lifted with this virus.”

MORE - Norfolk distiller makes whisky in lockdownThe Appleby Horse Fair sees around 30,000 travellers gather to buy, sell and barter over horses, wads of cash being exchanged on the streets of the picturesque Cumbrian market town in a tradition dating back centuries.

But this year’s event was cancelled in March and appeals were made to the travelling community not to attend to prevent the spread of the virus, with Cumbria having some of the highest infection rates in the UK.

About 1,000 caravans and several hundred horse-drawn vehicles normally descend on Appleby, but on Thursday, what should have been the first day of the four-day event, it was clear travellers had stayed away.

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Mr Redhead said: “It would be packed out up here on a normal year. Thousands of people would be here in Appleby.

“And in the town and everywhere it would be packed out with travellers. This year there’s just nothing.

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“There’s no horses to buy. Can’t take the chance with that virus, but people come from Ireland, people come all the way from America, people come from the continent and everywhere, they come over here to the Appleby Horse Fair.

“It is the biggest travellers’ fair in Europe.

“I’ll be back next year again. That’s if this virus doesn’t kick off again in next summertime, it’ll all be back here again.”

MORE - Two more coronavirus deaths in Norfolk hospitalsThe fair normally sees horses ridden into the River Eden to be washed and cooled, before being shown off by trotting up and down at speed along the streets.

Its origins are disputed, with a fair charter from Henry II, dating from the 12th century, while other sources date the fair to the time of King James II of England in 1685, and a “New Fair” first being held in 1775.

Only once before, in 2001, due to the outbreak of foot and mouth disease, has the fair been cancelled.

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