Appleby Fair – “don’t come too close, too soon” - says Billy Welch

16 May 2024
Appleby Fair – “don’t come too close, too soon” - say’s Shera Rom Billy Welch

Billy Welch, Appleby Fair’s Shera Rom, has appealed to fair-goers to not arrive early, amid controversy over claims on social media that the grass verges on the local approach roads are being dug up to prevent camping.

In a message put out 21 days before the fair opens on Thursday 6th June, Billy, who sits on the Fair’s organising group, said that he was appealing to the Gypsy and Traveller community not to come too close, too soon, because early arrivals would put a strain on the local community and the local authorities who provide services.

“We all know that the number of stopping places has been shrinking each year, and there are not as many places to stay as there were, so it is important that we show consideration for residents of Appleby and the surrounding towns and villages,” said Billy, who leases Fair Hill – the traditional heart of the centuries old fair – from Appleby Town Council for the duration of the event held annually, deep in the rolling fells of Cumbria.

River Eden, Appleby 2022 (c) Bela Varadi

“The further out we stay, the more spread out we are, and the closer in we come, the greater the impact on the local communities,” added Billy.

“I know that horse-drawn families need to set off early so they are closer in for the last pull on to the fair, but for trailer caravans, please stay further out and keep your distance until the gates open.

“Please take care on the roads and travel safely.”

Appleby 2023 (c) Eszter Halasi

The appeal came on the same day as the final local public meeting about this year’s fair, which took place yesterday evening in Appleby Town. The Travellers’ Times understands that the meeting was one of the least contentious and most constructive final meetings that has ever been held – according to sources close to the Appleby Fair Multi Agency Co-ordinating Group (MASCG), who work to make the Fair a safe and enjoyable experience for residents and visitors.

So far, fair-goers seem to be heeding Billy Welch’s appeal not to come early. Billy Welch - alongside Bill Lloyd - are the two Gypsy and Traveller representatives on MASCG.

However, there were recent reports on fair-supporting Facebook groups of a group of Traveller families coming into conflict with a local farmer in the Appleby area (exact location unknown to the Travellers' Times), after a video posted onto a fair-supporting Facebook group, appeared to show the Travellers being blocked in by boulders.

Somehow, a tabloid journalist got hold of the video, and it was reported in the Daily Mail that these Travellers were early arrivals to the fair. A later report in the same newspaper claimed that at least some of the small group of Travellers had moved and were now camped on the verges - the un-bunded sections - near Kirby Stephen. 

Appleby 2022
Appleby 2022 (c) Bela Varadi

Last year was one of the biggest Appleby Fair’s ever, with over 50,000 people coming to enjoy the glorious weather and camp for the duration of the fair, or to visit for the day and park in one of the many car parks for the fair, which is about 2km from Appleby Town, which is one of the largest towns in that area, with a population of 2,500.

Kirkby Stephen, which is 12 miles to the South/East of Appleby by main road, is the next biggest town in that area and has a population of about half the size of Appleby. This main road route – the A685 north out of Kirkby Stephen and then turn left onto the A66 trunk road to Appleby Town – is probably one of the favourite approaches for Appleby for fair-goers, both motorised and horse-drawn - coming from the South, South West, and West. There are two other routes along quieter roads, however.

It is the former road – the A685 coming out of Kirkby Stephen – that is the centre of the controversy over the local council – Westmorland and Furness District Council – ditching and bunding the grass verges of the busy road to stop vehicles and horse drawn wagons pulling on and camping.

Videos and photos of the bunding shared on fair-supporting social media pages seemed to imply that the bunding stretched for miles, causing consternation and concern among Gypsies and Travellers either planning to go to this year’s fair, or who don’t regularly go, but hold the annual event dear to their hearts.

Ditching and bunding near Kirkby Stephen

Initially the council released the following statement in response to those concerns – and to also appease nearby local residents who weren’t too pleased either to see the grass verges being ripped up by mechanical diggers.

A spokesperson for Westmorland and Furness Council said,

“The council’s Highways Team has been reviewing options to address road safety concerns along the A685 approach to Appleby, during the Horse Fair, with the intention of preventing access to the highway verge in areas of particular risk. 

“As the previous methods used to prevent access to the highways verge* have presented challenges when seeking to relocate those that have infringed the control measures, a decision was taken to use bunding on a trial section of the A685, between Kirkby Stephen and Winton. This section includes a tight bend that creates particularly poor visibility of the verge for motorists travelling in both directions.”

“The council’s Highways Team intends to seed the area where bunding has been placed with grass and wild flowers to improve its appearance and reduce its impact on the biodiversity of the immediate vicinity.”

*The Travellers’ Times understands from sources close to MASCG, that the previous methods were wooden posts hammered into the verges every year to prevent vehicles pulling on, but these were often pulled out and moved to allow vehicles on.

Appleby Fair 2023 (c) Eszter Halasi

This statement did not satisfy the Travellers’ Times and we spoke to the council and were eventually provided with maps by the Council’s Highways Department, to show the extent of the bunding.

From those maps we then created the following google map which can be seen below. The extent of the bunding is marked out in blue.

A map of the southern and south easterly approaches to Appleby Fair. The bunding and ditching has been taking place in the area of the A685 marked in blue (screenshot TT)

A spokesperson for Westmorland and Furness Council’s Highways team told us:

“I have attached plans for you showing the area, the plans are from the Traffic Management Plan which is approved through MASCG and followed by the Highways Team in regards to the safe management of the Fair.

We will know its impact at the end of this year’s Fair, however I can confirm that no further extents will be implemented until designated stopping places have been sourced.

The Highways Authority have the powers to introduce such measures under S.66(2) of the Highways Act 1980 there is no requirement for this process to be approved at Committee or Cabinet Level, however the bunding was approved at the MASCG meeting around November/December time.

I must stress that this is no way an attempt to stop the fair, this is simply to try and restrict the amount of encampments which we have on the A685 specifically in an area where we believe there is risk and an area which was already posted.  There have been some serious incidents on this road and I am sure we all agree we don’t want there to be anymore.”

Appleby 2022 (c) Bela Varadi

Some Romany Gypsies and Travellers on their way to Appleby from the south/east are planning to avoid the A685 altogether and instead camp at Fell End near the Fat Lamb Hotel.

This is actually the designated camping ground for Kirkby Stephen, with toilet facilities and water, although it is just over five miles away to the south of the town centre and the nearest shops.

Fell End used to be a popular camping spot in the run up to the fair, but has fallen into disuse after the Fat Lamb started to close its bar in the run-up to Appleby Fair (it is also higher up than the A685 verges, and exposed to the sometimes chilly and windy Cumbrian early June weather) – but it may start to become popular again if the trial bunded approach to Kirkby Stephen succeeds in its purpose and is then stretched further along the A685.

However, the council says they are not going to extend the 'no camping' zones on some of the verges of the A685 until "suitable designated stopping places" have been found nearby. This will probably only happen if a local farmer agrees to allowing their land to be used for public camping. Some farmers do provide camping in the run-up to the fair in their fields - but these are normally private arrangements between the farmers and regular fair-goers, and rent is often charged. 

Appleby 2022
Appleby 2022 (c) Bela Varadi

According to MASCG:

As in previous years, there have been some minor changes to the provision of temporary stopping places for the 2024 Fair, which starts on Thursday 6 June.

Great Asby ceased to be a tolerated stopping place in 2023 and there is no change in 2024. No facilities will be provided and people who have previously used the area, or intend to use the greens within Great Asby will need to make alternative stopping arrangements.

In addition, there will be no water tap available at the Tynewillows stopping place in Alston. Anyone using the area will need to have their own water supply.

In a change to previous years, facilities at stopping places in South Lakeland will not be available until the morning of Tuesday 28 May. This includes Devil’s Bridge at Kirkby Lonsdale, Middleton Common, Rawthey Bridge at Cautley, Scrogg Bank at Sedbergh and Hodge Bridge at Barbon.

An updated list of all temporary stopping places is available at

Traffic Regulation Orders prohibiting roadside parking will also be in place at various locations along travelling routes to the Fair. Within the Eden area, roadside camping restrictions will be in place at Sandford Road End between the A66 and the railway bridge, along sections of the A685 between Kirkby Stephen and Brough and along much of Powis Lane, between the A66 and Long Marton Church.

TT News

*This report was amended on the 20/05/2024 to better reflect emerging information about early arrivals to the fair

(Lead photograph: Billy Welch at Appleby 2022 (c) Bela Varadi)