Appleby Fair: horse washing, Blackcurrant cider & Spit shakes! a day out with Keith moss

Updated: Jun 15, 2019

I've been meaning to go to Appleby Fair for years and every time it’s been on, something has always stopped me from going, usually work but this time I'm prepared and on my way.

The cameras I’m taking are a Nikon L 35 AF 2 Compact camera loaded with Tmax 400 and a Rolleicord 6x6 with one of my favourite films Ilford HP 5+.

One of my missions today is to capture the horses being washed in the river so choosing the right camera and film is essential for this job as there will be a lot of movement . The forecast isn't good, so whilst it’s bright now, it will cloud over and get darker before the rain comes. The compact camera will be great for grab shots and the more serious shots I will shoot with the Rollei.


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I arrived around 11.30am as traffic had been busy on that damned A66 (I hate that road).  So first things first, where to park? I head for the castle and there is plenty of space and it's only a tenner for all day. Years ago I had heard stories of cheap places to park on nearby fields where it was only a fiver to park but twenty to get out! Stories like that always make me smile.

I'm parked in a nice place in the grounds of the castle next to the thousand year old Keep and it’s beautiful. Next job, I'm afraid, is getting the kettle on for a much needed cuppa, that done I check my kit making sure all is well, then down to the river.  

The place is packed with hardly enough room to swing a cat. Then I see the bridge that’s full of people watching the horses down below being washed, fantastic! I quickened my pace and feel like a schoolboy rushing down to the river bank, then scrambling down the bank into the river… it's time to get my feet wet and get in amongst them.

It's full of young ones washing and riding the horses through the deep water of the river some of them can't be more than ten or twelve years old but riding with great skill and totally at ease with their animals, it’s a beautiful thing to watch.

My Rolleicord comes out of my bag my light meter follows at pace as there’s no time to loose. I take a reading of 250th of a second at F8 perfect... a fast enough shutter speed to hand hold and enough depth of field just in case I make a slight mistake with the focusing.

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The challenge is on! I get to work and it's fast paced. I go through a film in no time at all and then on to the second roll, loaded and away we go. That too is gone in a couple of minutes. But I know I have enough and I've got some great shots. Out comes my Nikon L 35 AF 2 Compact loaded with the Tmax 400. I take a few snaps then get out of the way back up the river bank to where the crowds are watching.

At the top of the river bank there is a street that runs along the side of the river, in the middle of the street is the famous Grapes Pub, packed to the rafters. All along the street horses and carts are on display with people bartering and spitting on their hands, deals being done. It really is a fantastic sight and experience to behold.

I snap away with my camera but can't get into the places I want to be in as there are just too many people! Never mind, I'm really happy to get shots of the horses being washed it's something I’ve wanted to capture for years, so I’m chuffed!

The rain starts, it gets heavier and I shelter under a tree where I meet a woman who owns one of the carts for sale. We start chatting and she asks 'do you want a cider?’ I reply that I haven't had cider for years, so I accept the can and it’s a delicious blackcurrant flavour. We chat about how things used to be in the past at this fair, I have another and we put the world to rights.  

The rain is now very heavy, so I decide to head back to Dapper Dan and call it a day, but not before the lady gives me a massive black plastic bag which she ties and wraps around me like a riding cloak!

I have to say one thing that I did notice which I didn't expect was the enormous Police presence, on reflection I think it spoils it a bit. I remember when I first went to Appleby Fair all those years ago it being a much more real and grittier place but I am going back quite a while ago when everything seemed bigger than what it was. Nevertheless I had a fantastic time and went home with three rolls of images I can't wait to process.. the end of a perfect day.  

Take care,


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