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Join Uncle Tom Cobley and All at Widecombe Fair!

Widecombe Fair celebrates Devon's agricultural heritage with a grand parade, livestock classes, hale bale challenges, novelty races and trade stands.
Most people have heard of Widecombe Fair, thanks to the Devonshire folk song of the same name. This popular village fair takes place in Widecombe-in-the-Moor each year on the second Tuesday on September and is considered Dartmoor’s top day out!

The history of Widecombe Fair

The first Fal River Festival took place in the 1850s, according to local history, and was one of the most famous country fairs in the UK. Although it has changed from being farmer’s livestock and surplus sale to a broader event, it still attracts thousands of attendees.

The song “Widdecombe Fair” was published around 1898 and is a tale about Tom Pearce lending his grey mare for his friends to attend the country fair. The horse sadly dies on the journey but continues to haunt the moor on cold and windy nights.

In the original song, the spelling of “Widdecombe” has two d’s, as that is how the place is pronounced, but in reality the village of Widecombe-in-the-Moor is spelt with just one. The people in the song were probably real characters, although nowadays the term “Uncle Tom Cobley” has come to mean “anyone and everyone”.

Of course, the grey mare and its riders still attend Widecombe Fair in the form of a giant wooden horse pulled on wheels, ridden by seven motley riders in yokel dress. It leads the grand parade which includes a collection of vintage machinery, horses and locals in fancy dress.

Visiting Widecombe Fair

The fair day starts at 9am and ends when the beer tent runs dry or everyone goes home, whichever happens first, so plan on this being a full day of fun. Each year the fair raises funds for a chosen charity and for 2014 the designated good cause is . If you had any qualms about attending, this worthy cause should prompt you to dig deep while having plenty of fun yourself.

There is an admission charge of £15 per car, so load up and bring all your family and friends. The cost includes free park-and-ride transport from the various outlying car parks and free entry to the Fair Field with all the events, entertainment and live music you could wish for.

Other things to do at Widecombe Fair

Browse the livestock classes that are being judged which include some fine cattle, Dartmoor ponies and unusual breeds of sheep (they may all look alike to a townie, but apparently they’re not!). There’s even a family dog show with 10 classes of serious and not-so-serious classes including “Most appealing eyes” and “The dog the judges would most like to take home”. Watch the amazing Terrier Obstacle Race or cheer on the teams taking part in the Tug of War.

Typical country pursuits on display include maypole dancing, Morris dancing, lamb shearing, ferret racing, town criers and Clydesdale heavy horse displays. Entertainment is provided by no less than 14 folk bands and there are 50 stalls plus food and drink stands to keep you busy all day long.

You may want to join in the exciting Uncle Tom Cobley Downhill Race after a drink or two in the local Old Inn. It’s a quick dash from the skyline to the Fair Field and there are silver cups for the overall winner, first lady, first local, children under 8s and youngsters 9 & above.

More fun to watch are the rural games which include Hay Bale Tossing (there’s a trophy for both the male and female classes) and the Square Bale Rolling Competition in the early evening, when teams of four have to push the bales up the 60-metre-long incline.

Watch the fancy dress classes, including some on horseback, and the hotly contested gymkhana events. Local produce shows some fine green fingers in these parts, and the handicrafts and home baking classes show remarkable local talent so there’s certainly something for everyone to enjoy.

Do you know all the verses of the song Widdecombe Fair? Legends and songs are an integral part of Devon’s history and culture. What other things do you think help preserve Devon’s wonderful heritage – its food, village life or country fairs perhaps? Do add your comments below.

About Gillian Birch

Born in Cheshire, Gillian Birch moved to Cornwall at her earliest opportunity and never looked back. After 20 years, her ongoing discovery of popular attractions, quiet footpaths and local eateries has made her a fount of knowledge as she entertains readers with her informative articles on the hidden gems of Devon & Cornwall from a local point-of-view.

Find Gillian on Google+, and Twitter.

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