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The Royal Highland Show

If ever there was evidence of the enduring popularity of one of Scotland's most iconic events, it came on a wet weekend last June when a staggering 75,000 visitors made the trip to the Royal Highland Show on the outskirts of Edinburgh, boosting total attendance to more than 148,000. For 2008, the organisers will be hoping for a kinder weather pattern from Thursday, June 19 to Sunday, June 22, with numbers anticipated to be well over the 150,000 mark, a figure more in keeping with recent statistics. So let's forget scenes of children splashing happily through puddles or horses galloping through the mud and look forward to four days of spectacle and entertainment as the spotlight shines on Scotland's major summer event with its focus on farming, food and countryside.

The beauty of an event like the Royal Highland Show is its number of core attractions – grand parades of livestock, tempting aromas in the Food Hall, rural pursuits and skills in the Countryside Area, gargantuan farm machinery, shopping till you drop!

Visitors have a fair idea of what to expect, but each year Show Manager David Dunsmuir and his team endeavour to change the formula, introducing new features and welcoming new exhibitors.

"It's a bit of a moving feast, " says David. "We have to keep things fresh to attract, not only our regular visitors, but those coming for the first time. Many have heard about the show but are not sure what to expect. We can guarantee them a few surprises and a day out full of interest, new experiences and above all, enjoyment."

Despite its title, the show has rarely featured one activity central to the Scottish summer calendar - Highland games. This year, though, as part of Strength of Strathclyde - the initiative being staged by the Royal Highland and Agricultural Society Presidential team – international "heavies" will be demonstrating the skills involved in caber tossing, stone putting and weight for height where a 56 lb weight is heaved over a high bar.

The Highland sports demonstrations take place in the main ring on Saturday and Sunday and include Scotsman Gregor Edmunds, the world caber tossing champion. Although Strathclyde is often regarded as a built up industrial and urban landscape, the region, extending from Argyll to Ayrshire and Lanarkshire, is famed for its farming and food production.

This is the other important strand to the Strength of Strathclyde feature and a specially built pavilion in the Food Hall will showcase a number of up and coming local food and drink companies - beef and lamb from Clyde Valley Farms Direct, free range eggs from Corrie Mains, Mauchline, Simple Simon's Pies from Coulter, Biggar, beer from the Fyne Ales Brewery in Argyll, smoked salmon from Burns' Country Smokehouse at Minishant and from Glasgow (and using Corrie Mains eggs) the Handmade Meringue Company.

Strength of Strathclyde will be a focal point in the Food Hall which has become the Royal Highland's most popular attraction with around 100 top food and drink companies, loads of products to sample and a full programme of demos and advice in the Scottish Food & Drink Theatre, put together by one of Scotland's top foodies Wendy Barrie.

The hall also features prize winning cheese and butter from the various Royal Highland competitions and as a reflection of the increasing interest by many dairy farmers in diversifying into ice cream manufacture, the summer favourite now has its own competition featuring, not only farmhouse varieties, but entries from some of Scotland's top ice cream parlours.

Since its inception a couple of years ago, the section has grown out of all recognition and from 2008 it will be known as the Scottish Ice Cream Competition with classes for vanilla, strawberry, chocolate and "open" flavours.

Many ice cream makers, of course, have their roots in Italy bringing an international dimension to the show. Indeed, such has become the universal fame of the Royal Highland that it is now classed as one of the world's best agricultural events, appealing to both a specialist farming audience and to a huge cross section of other visitors.

For 2008, many will be travelling from abroad, from the Commonwealth, Europe and some further flung countries such as Russia, China and Saudi Arabia.

The international contingent will be swelled this year by Simmental cattle enthusiasts who will be in Scotland for the World Simmental Congress, which will include special classes for the breed at Ingliston.

Many foreign visitors will be unfamiliar with our Scottish weather and with imminent climate change, it can be difficult to anticipate what to expect!

Warmer summers, milder winters and fewer frosts may appeal to most of us but the change that is forecast over the next 50 years will have a major impact on Scotland's landscape and farming practice.

In a special exhibit, the Scottish Government and the Forestry Commission Scotland will be demonstrating that impact on the landscape, from the high mountain tops, down through the uplands, to woodlands, farm pasture and meadows - an educated assessment of how land forms and farming might alter over the next few decades.

Everyone, of course, can make their own contribution to minimising the effect of global warming by reducing their carbon footprint. It's for that reason that "renewables" will have a high profile at the show with a section dedicated to wind and solar power, biomass, alternative energy and the like.

Whether it's children learning more about where their food comes from with the Royal Highland Education Trust posing the question "So You Think You Know About Farming?" or adults and juniors alike marvelling as the sparks fly at the blacksmith's forge or ladies who lunch enjoying the special programme on Friday's Ladies Day, the Royal Highland will deliver.

An area to look out for this year is the motor zone which has increased in size with sixteen car manufacturers represented. They include Volkswagen who will be featuring the David Beckham Football School and Peugeot who will be offering a mini driving experience.

Add in 4000 head of prime livestock, tips on outdoor living, agri-trade exhibits, gundog demonstrations, premier class show-jumping, music and dance from a Welsh male voice choir, the pipes and drums of the Queen Victoria School to Strictly Come Salsa, and it's easy to see why the show is enduringly popular.

And even if it does rain? David Dunsmuir: "No worries…we have miles of permanent roadways but more importantly, there is so much under cover that you can spend the best part of a day taking in most of the attractions. But at the moment…we're thinking sunshine!"



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