Fears that post-pandemic recovery for the Royal Highland Show could be hampered by the cost-of-living crisis have proved unfounded: organisers are confident it is going to be one of the biggest and best yet.

You know it is summer in Scotland when it is time for the Royal Highland Show. And this year the organisers are expecting the crowds to flock to the show. 

After the Covid hiatus, which saw a fallow year followed by a behind-closed-doors showcase, people were back on the Ingliston showground to the west of Edinburgh last year. 

“It’s all gearing up to be another great show,” says David Tennant, the show manager. 

“We’ve been really pleased with the support we’ve got from the industry this year. When we were talking about it at the tail end of 2022, we weren’t sure how things were going to pan out with the cost of living and everything, but we’ve been really pleased with how things have been going. 

“Our tickets are sold in advance and we are currently tracking ahead of last year. From a retention perspective, we have a 95 per cent retention for trade stands from last year. And similarly on sponsorships. So we’re going into this year really positively.”

The positive vibe is reflected in the colourful sheep artwork Flock to the Show (our cover stars) that has been touring Scotland to attract attention to the show and in particular one of its highlights. 

For the first time since 2003, Golden Shears is being held in Scotland. This international sheep-shearing contest will see national teams test their sheering and fleece handling skills in fast-paced competition. 

“We’ve got a full Scottish team who are raring to go and very, very excited about their prospects. Scotland are the current team champions for the machine sheering, so they’re keen to expand on that this year,” says Tennant. 

“I would encourage anyone to go and stick their head in because you get drawn in. It’s like when you watch the Olympics, and you end up watching a sport that you haven’t seen before. All of a sudden it’s four hours later and you’re still watching it.” 

Months of planning have been going into bringing all the elements of the Royal Highland Show (RHS) together. It showcases Scotland’s livestock, machinery and technical innovation, produce, equine displays, countryside pursuits and educational workshops. 

It is a magical combination of the things that are the lifeblood of those who work in the rural and agricultural sectors and the crowd-pleasing parts that draw in so many people with no farming connections. 

This powerful combination is big business. “We contribute £39.5 million to the Edinburgh economy, which puts us on par with Hogmanay,” says Tennant, who is managing the show for the first time, having previously been the competitions manager.

A report on the show’s economic impact for the Royal Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland (RHASS), the charity which organises the Royal Highland Show, was published last year.

At the time RHASS director of operations, Mark Currie, said: “The economic impact and reach of the Royal Highland Show is significant. Visitors and exhibitors come from far and wide to connect, be entertained, to sell and to buy, and it is widely acknowledged to be the best platform for rural Scottish businesses in the country.

“We are fortunate to have a loyal and engaged audience, and one that is only growing as the show evolves into a truly global event.”

Keeping the visitors engaged means improvements to existing facilities and extra attractions. This year there will be a new agricultural demonstration area.

“We already have a wonderful agricultural machinery area and the demonstration area will be giving those exhibitors an opportunity to show how their machines work and give them another platform to sell what they bring to the show,” explains Tennant.

“It’s also tied into our technical innovations competition, which is actually our oldest running competition.”

The RHASS Technical Innovation Awards are designed to recognise design and innovation that demonstrate a positive impact across the agricultural and rural sectors.

The awards in their earliest incarnation were known as the ‘New Implement’ awards. Today they recognise both new products (with the silver award) and then the benefits to customers after three years of commercial use (with the gold award). 

Tennant adds: “I think, for an example, the ‘newly invented plough’ was an early entry and now you have your self-driving tractors, so the demo area gives us a platform to promote those at the sharp end of innovation in the agri industry as well.”

Another innovation is the Royal Highland Hoolie, a celebration of Scottish music featuring Scottish traditional bands as well as Irish country bands. 

“Last year we had concerts for the first time during the show – part of a series of concerts in June,” says Tennant. 

“Following feedback, our key stakeholders felt it wasn’t really in keeping with what the show was about. So we’ve reworked it and the Hoolie is much more of a Scottish offering. 

“We’ve got Skippinish on Friday and Skerryvore on Saturday. So we’re very excited. We have our Young Farmers’ Highland Show Dance as well.” 

Although there are new elements in the RHS mix, the things that its adherents have come to expect – and love – are still there. 

The Countryside Area focuses on country sports, activities and rural skills. Set by a loch, you might come across honey, goats, chickens or mini tractors. “It’s got our Kids Zone, an area where the kids can let off some steam – and parents can have a seat.”

Tennant adds: “There’s going to be a new street food area, which we’re quite excited about but there will also be the various displays – gun dogs, fly fishing and that sort of thing.” 

With all the entertainment going on it can be easy to forget that so many people are at the show because it is a grand melting pot of Scotland’s agricultural and rural community. The amount of networking, informal learning, knowledge transfer and deal making that goes on is hard to quantify but should not be underestimated. 

There is something for everyone, and as Tennant says: “Come have a great varied day at the Royal Highland Show.” 

One way of grasping the breadth of what is on offer is to think about this year’s Flock to the Show. “There are a lot of sheep and lamb covered across the across the showground,” says Tennant. “We have butchers in the foodhall, Scotland’s Larder, trade stands like Quality Meat Scotland, all the supermarkets that will be promoting their produce to everyone.”

Then there are livestock competitions. “We have about 2,000 sheep on site for breed classes,” points out Tennant. “On the Sunday we have our sheep young handlers; so that’s kids from about five up to 16 and we have about 40 of them. It’s entertaining and it’s just great to encourage that younger generation who bring their animals to the show.”

Given he was previously responsible for the show’s competitions, Tennant’s answer is no great surprise when asked to name his personal highlights of the show. 

“I’m a bit biased, to be honest. So the heavy horse turnouts are one of my favourites. [They are held in] the main ring and actually standing under the grandstand when they come into the ring it really raises the hairs on the back of my neck.”

He’s also a fan of the showjumping. “We have our mini-major competition, with an older rider and a younger rider and they do a relay which is great fun. The Pony Club games is another one that’s really good. 

“Seeing everyone’s smiling faces and people enjoying their day when they come to the show; that’s really what gives me enjoyment from working here.” 

Ian Georgeson