At this year’s Royal Highland Show, which runs from Thursday June 23 until Sunday June 26, there must be a few coos and horses whose great-great-great-grandparents appeared in the first of these annual events.
That’s because, incredibly, it’s the show’s 200th birthday, and the first full post lockdown production since 2019.
To celebrate, there are some exciting new additions to this rural showcase, which has a Scotland’s Natural Capital – Highlands and Islands theme this year. Among other things, these include an upgraded food hall experience, Scotland’s Larder, where there will be appearances from author Ghillie Basan and Bad Girl Bakery. We spoke to organisers about 2022’s offerings and what it’s like to be back in the saddle.
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Bill Gray, The Royal Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland chairman
What was it like pausing RHS?
The overriding sentiment was one of loss. It robbed everyone of the opportunity to make the annual pilgrimage to reconnect with friends as they had done for generations. It affected not only our show but just as importantly, all of the local shows up and down the country which do so much for the rural communities. Mental health through isolation has suffered hugely through the pandemic and these events provide a vital pressure relief for so many. It will be fantastic to welcome everyone to Ingliston again.
Did it offer an opportunity to rethink anything?
In 2021, we embarked on the Royal Highland Showcase. This was probably the most ambitious project undertaken by the Society, with generous support from the Scottish Government, when we decided to hold a behind closed doors event and livestream it to the world. People from over 100 countries logged in to watch 450 hours of competitions and content. It put Scottish agriculture on the world map and enhanced the status of the Society as a result.
Have there been any other major changes?
We’re continuing the livestream element for the first time as a result of the fantastic feedback. The food hall and shopping areas have had major revamps. For the first time, we have imposed a capacity limit of 50,000 on each day, partly in response to post Covid recovery and also in reaction to feedback regarding visitor experience. As a result, we may sell out on some of the days so the message is; if you plan to come along, please ensure you buy your ticket well in advance.
Now that it's 200, how do you make the show appealing to younger generations?
It’s always a challenge to balance flooding the show with new things against the comfort of knowing what you will see and where. Of paramount importance for the younger generation is that they have fun. As always, the animals are a big draw and that won’t change. In addition, the Discovery Centre, where our Royal Highland Education Trust team will be waiting to entertain and inform their visitors in an interactive way as to how their food is produced and where it comes from, is a must visit. A further point of interest this year is a brand new children‘s play zone in the Countryside area which we anticipate will be very busy.
What are the biggest draws?
We have installed a big wheel, the Ingliston Eye, to allow a panoramic view of the showground. The livestock in its various forms from cattle, sheep and goats through to horses and showjumping will be as popular as ever and for our members, the opportunity to finally see our brand new members pavilion at the heart of the showground will be the end of a long wait.
What is your favourite RHS moment, personally?
One of the highlights for me over the years has been the Grand Parade. I was chief steward of that for a few years and to be in the ring with the finest cattle and horses taking part was always a thrill – albeit I was always glad to see the last beast leave the ring to close another uneventful parade. For me overall, though, the highlight is seeing everyone coming together to celebrate everything that food, farming and rural life in Scotland has to offer. After a hiatus of two years, I can’t wait.
Wendy Barrie, manager of the Food for Thought Conference and Cookery Theatre
What’s your remit?
I created a timetable of dedicated award-winning chefs, who are giving their time to the RHASS to share their passion for Scottish produce. During the show I ensure the smooth running of the theatre: introducing or supporting and interviewing at each session depending on what’s required. I also run backstage, where a merry band of students assist the chefs in setting up and clearing up.
Tell us what your chefs will be doing
Well I have to keep some secrets up my sleeve but there will be game and mutton, pedigree beef and fine seafood along with berries and vegetables, spices and grains. They are an innovative and inspiring bunch.
Is there a large demographic of visitors that come to RHS purely for the food?
Yes. Exit polls from previous years have shown that visitors come from rural and urban regions, local and as far afield as USA, Scandinavia and the Med. Almost every visitor visits Scotland’s Larder and the Theatre at some point.
What are your favourite RHS moments?
The theatre keeps me very busy and sometimes chefs bring their partner on stage to help them. At one show, it was pure magic watching Carina and Victor Contini as a double act making fresh gnocchi. Billy from Buccleuch Arms brought a whole roe deer on stage once and the audience was riveted watching the butchery skills.