Sunday was the last day of the Grand Annual Country Fair at Chatsworth and it rained, not just a fine drizzle but a downpour, that cascaded off the entrances to the  marquees, tumbled merrily down the helter-skelter and created lakes of the arenas.   


The weather had threatened to drown out the event.  The Ferrets stopped racing when their tunnels flooded.  The Tigers Freefall team got lost somewhere in the clouds.  The 50 balloons never took off at all, and when the aerobatics duo appeared out of the grey to risk their lives in rolling loops, barrel rolls, knife edge spins,  nobody cared.  Stallholders occupied the hours before they could pack up, staring disconsolately out from beneath dripping banners advertising The Countryside Alliance, Mike Dunn, Liberal Democrat MEP,  The Domestic Fowl Trust and Don Philpot, Daughter and Granddaughter, purveyor of gents moleskins and quilted handknit sweaters.  Only the Buxton Mountain Rescue were truly in their element. 


With paths becoming rivers of mud, fairgoers pulled peaked caps and Arkuba bush hats over their eyes and crowded tweed elbow to tweed elbow into steamy marquees, where they ate sausage rolls and prepared to be fascinated by the fabric sculptures and demonstrations of magic knives.


At least the dogs had fun.  The gundogs swum industriously back and forth across to the island where they searched with tongue-lolling enthusiasm for the cylindrical blue bags of bait that were hidden in the grass. And Cyril the Squirrel’s racing terriers were driven to a state of manic excitement by the conditions, though the final race disintegrated into chaos when all the dogs in the park joined in a frenzy of splashing, yapping and scampering, as the lure was propelled first one way and then  the other by Cyril, frantically hand pedalling an upturned bicycle wheel.  The terriers with their short legs could turn on a sixpence,  but the greyhounds overshot by miles and were last seen heading for the park gates and the larger collies, poodles and retrievers bounded along anywhere just enjoying the fun.



The Chatsworth fair celebrates the other side of Britain, the country side, where weather is a given and people just carry on.  So, in a grassy arena,  desolate except for groups of supporters on shooting sticks, the carriage drivers sat proud and erect awaiting their turns, while water dripped off their bowler hats, soaked into tweed and cavalry twill and ran off polished leather and white foam dropped from the champing muzzles of glistening black ponies.  At the other end of the showground, the Scottish dancers had donned capes and  continued to splash daintily in the mud to the dying skirl of the pipes. 


It was late in the afternoon with the weather fully established that the band of the Royal Welsh Guards entered the grand ring, splashing in step.  They had also put on  black capes, which with their dark helmets, made them look like the Derbyshire police force of 1901, out to sort out a spot of bother in t’park.  In a manoeuvre that looked more like synchronised swimming, they formed themselves into a semi-circle in front of the few faithful in the grandstand.  The Archdeacon of Chesterfield, summoned by the tempest, entered, wearing a creamy white woollen cassock, his face hidden under the large black umbrella which was held aloft by his assistant, the Reader of Edensor.  The thunder tumbled overhead on cue, as, with vowels like sodden fruit cake amplified over the hiss of falling water, he suggested with a somewhat forced ecclesiastical jollity, that the band play ‘All things bright and beautiful’.  I felt thankful it wasn’t  ‘For those in peril on the sea’.  The water had got into the tubas and made the drumskins flaccid, but within the grandstand beneath the celestial artillery and the rain-gun rattle of corrugated iron,  a few doughty Christian soldiers warbled on to save the Empire.