You cannot get too much of a good thing

3 September 2017
Ben Pentreath

I’m on the train back up to London – a dark evening, pouring rain – never good on a Sunday night at the best of times – and the weekend feels as if it’s spun by so fast. But so much fun.  We had Will and Brandon staying.  Friday night was manic.  The following morning I could hardly get out of bed – seriously.  But I did.  We started in Bridport, as usual – except, of course, this is the weekend of the great annual Bridport Hat Festival.  We couldn’t stay for the main event (as you will understand later), but even on the morning market things were getting… Hatty.

Here are the owners of our favourite stand of all time, whom Charlie & I have christened the famous £1 china lady (and gentleman) because nearly everything on their fabulous stand is china and costs £1. Well, strictly speaking, things like those fine platters may be more like £5, but you get my drift.  Whenever we are Bridport market we make an immediate beeline for the £1 china lady and rarely leave without a heavy bag of goodies.  Get there very early if you want to get there before us, would be my only words of advice.

Typical Market fare:

But this weekend, new signs were popping up:

No hat, but fantastic piping:

I have always been obsessed by the windows of Chantelle, the hairdresser, and for once have my camera to share my obsession.

The hat festival, for some reason, had begun with a mass keep fit in Bucky Doo Square at 9am with Luke Hayter Fitness. We were in Soulshine eating huge fry ups and nursing the most violent hangover I’d had in months, if not years, but in another world I suppose many readers of the blog would have joined me up there with Luke doing our crunches.  Anyway, we did catch a glimpse of Luke putting his stand to bed and I thought it only reasonable to share.

Charlie was wearing his pith helmet which later that morning was destroyed by Mavis. This is the last known photograph of his hat:

This remarkable hat was made of kitchen sponges.  Brilliant.  A sponge cake hat:

More hats arriving.

A boy after my own heart: All tied up.

Almost certainly on the evidence available the shortly-to-be-winner of the best hat competition. It revolved.

Although this was my favourite.

But we didn’t get to see the mass gathering of hats photograph at 1pm at Bucky Doo Square.

For those of you who enjoyed my recent Melplash Show blog, sit back and now enjoy the rest of the ride. We were going to the Dorset Show.  Melplash has the charm, but Dorchester has the seriousness; this is where the real competition happens.

Mainly my camera at this point becomes a celebration of faces.

The studied concentration of the sheep shearing semi finals:

Squashing the wool in to bales:

Getting ready for the grand parade:

The following photograph was taken at the moment that the tannoy announced that this remarkable herd (which we had also seen at Melplash, and which had won best in show there too) was being disbanded and sold off this autumn.  The face of pride, but of pain too: Just part of the remarkable line up of the grand parade – the largest entry of all animals into the Dorset show for years, apparently:

Charlie was of course keen to see the horticulture tent (no entries this year; watch this space for 2018).

At Dorchester, it appears Ron Benfield is the man to watch:

The heaviest marrow was beyond insane.  It completely ate Caddy’s heaviest marrow (which had made the journey to Dorchester after its prize winning moment at Melplash a week ago). 

This is Isla Galloway who had made the most perfect broccoli poodle you could have imagined. 

Probably my favourite exhibit of the whole show, in the SUPER HERO made from vegetable and plant material category. Miss Bethany Field you are the best.

Caddy – Third prize in Onions.  Congratulations!!!

But Ron Benfield was there too…. First.

Roses on display in the gardening tent:

My kind of sign:

Ferret racing: Terrier (and other breeds) racing:

The Rabbits and Cavies tent:

A Continental Giant was the biggest rabbit I have ever seen in my life:

Rabbit people:

Guinea-pig people (it turns out, Cavies are Guinea-pigs).  

It turns out, also, that Guinea-pig people look quite a lot like Guinea pigs.

Homecraft was an incredible tent.  

Scarecrows on arrival:

Wines and gins:


Junior baking:

The following categories are self-explanatory:

This was beautiful on every level:

Items worked in felt:


How on earth Grayson Perry hasn’t been commissioned to move the entire Homecraft tent contents straight to Tate Modern for a summer I don’t know. 


(I had to put this one in again):

Then we went to the beer tent and heard the best band we’ve heard in years – the New Forest Yokels. 

I haven’t seen so many smiles in years, either.

Junior showjumping about to start:

Best dressed competition:

Farm Produce:

To be honest, this lady was pretty worried about the prize-winning hay – she’d spotted some seeds in it.


Between tents:

Pig tent:

Sheep: A lovely sheep lady, just checking up that all her sheep were okay:

A Portland sheep:

The hours had flown by.  We tore ourselves away – we had to get home – our friend Kate was coming over for a drink.  As we left, the sheep shearers were celebrating victory, and settling in for what I can only imagine was a long and happy night.

There is something so deeply moving about these shows; I can’t even tell you.  The pride that goes into the displays; the sheer richness and diversity of the animals and birds; the hard, and often unrewarded effort that goes into husbandry of rare breeds, and of putting real food, not made in factories, but grown in our local fields, cared for by people with skill and knowledge and love, on our plates.

And then, the sense that we are watching a world that hangs perilously on the edge of a fast-moving, modernising, homogenising planet, where everything spins ever closer towards uniformity, mediocrity and sameness.

But I can’t help feeling the Dorchester show will be running in another 175 years.

29 comments on this post

I too loved the Dorchester Show, but I was shocked by how few entries there were in some of the horticulture classes. I may have to have a go next year!


That was wonderful! Thank-you. May it never end.

LOVE your blog. Have a fabulous weekend!

Diane Whytesays:

Thank you, Thank you, Thank you for taking me to my beloved Dorchester where I was evacuated to in 1939 to an incredibly loving family. I make a pilgrimage to Dorchester everytime I return to England and you have given me such pleasure being there for for a visit today, and I can keep going back, what delight.
I could even see the top of the church in the distance in one photograph.
I am so delighted, thank you.
Diane from New Zealand

Susan Ehrenkranzsays:

Love it all- every last photo!


indeed, dear ben, your second last sentence…homogenising/mediocrity/sameness, i am forever hopeful this will not be! am presently reading “the shepherd’s life”, so humble and huge. loved the spotted horse and all the critterz! and all the english faces! thank you for having such catholic taste, dear ben, and inviting us all on your adventures with your charlie. was disappointed not to see your mavis in the dog races.



Thank you – so enjoyed this (as always with your posts)

Isla Simpsonsays:

I agree, my favourite blog post Ben, such a corker! Who doesn’t love a broccoli poodle? Or the bearded guinea pig man? All captured with your usual wit and detail. Let us know if you get hold of those sacks!


Thanks so much for posting. Was full of good intentions to go there this Sunday but rain was a bit too heavy so I am glad I could see it on pictures at least 🙂


I taught school in Dorset thirty years ago and adore reading and looking at your posts. Thank you so much.

Carol Brynersays:

You and Dorchester are the cure for “what ails you!” I smiled and laughed all the way through your photos and comments. The world does need a lot more of this, that’s for sure. Thank you, Ben!


Dear Ben,
thank you for your many fantastic and funny photos from the Hat Festival ….. it is so crazy, I still have to laugh …..
Your favourite hat photo is also my favourite ….. so lovely people 🙂
What a shame for Charlies hat, but Mavis had fun with it, that’s the main thing. And the fabulous stand with China, I love blue & white, I’m jealous ! The Dorset Show,it is so very british, to enjoy all the snap photos ! We also visited 2013 such a Country Show in Suffolk with sheep shearing, dogs that herded sheep together, tractor and and and but the tent as at the Melplash Show
with all the vegetables, opened eggs, crazy animals made from vegetable …….. It’s amazing, I love it 🙂
Hoping such shows in all Great Britain are still be running in the next of 175 years ! Hoping all the best that such wonderful things of the life for us all go on forever !

Have a great week, Yours Birgit from Germany.

PS : Fantastic Royal News, Kate & William become their 3rd Baby,
how wonderful 🙂


Love these photos and the final paragraphs which express exactly what I was feeling as I looked at the images. My family always have a bit of a laugh at me because when I’m back in England I always have one or two agricultural shows I want to go to. Not the big uns like the Royal Bath & West, but smaller more local events. My favorite to date is the Wessex Heavy Horse Show held at the Gillingham Showground in September. Fantastic event, minimal corporate involvement and tons of fab horses, dogs and interesting, real people.

Randy Coxsays:

What hats! Looks like a fun time had by all!
Thanks for posting.


Love your animal, vegetable, mineral and people watching skills. Great entertainment and very instructive too. Thank you. Best wishes from Nicola.

Sally Leonardsays:

What a glorious post! Loved reading every word and gazing at your wonderful pics. LOVED the Hats and all you saw at the festival. So hope this way of life doesn’t disappear forever.


Wonderful blog as always Ben what a fun weekend you had. The hat festival must have been such a laugh what a nice community idea. Your photos and writing give so much pleasure you certainly enjoy life it is so kind of you to share. Your blog has become great joy in my life and Dorset has and always will be my favourite place.


Wow! This was one of your best, Ben! Thank you for the fantastic photos of this Show, beautiful and funny all at the same time.


Beautifully composed as always. Thank you.


Thank you so much for covering the Dorchester show as I really wanted to go but the weather was so horrible yesterday, so I really appreciate seeing it through your eyes, and those fabulous hats! It was a weekend of two halves weather wise!


Thank you Ben, looking at your photos makes me appreciate that local good is such an antidote to global wrongs. Fabulous as ever.


If you covet the Dorchester Agricultural Society sacks, I fancy the badge that says ‘Sheep Chairman’!! I do so hope you are right, Ben, and shows like this – plus the way of life they represent – will still be around many, many years from now.
I love your blogs and, travelling frequently from Cornwall to Sussex, I look at Dorset – its countryside,colours,sea and skies with even more pleasure and a better eye because of them. Thank you.

southern galsays:

As always a wonderful look into a world many of us will never experience.. thats what makes these posts so treasured

what a wonderful sojourn at the Fair today thru your eyes!


My goodness, you do have a sharp eye, Ben! Little escapes you and for that we are all immensely grateful. If not for your architecture gig you would do well as a professional photographer. You have more talent packed in your little finger than most of us possess in total. Thank you for being so generous in sharing.


The faces, the faces, the faces! Human and animal….thank you so much for giving us a small glimpse of a way of life that may be fading but will hopefully continue.

David Sanderssays:

Sorry, couldn’t wait for anyone to answer my query, regarding Bucky Doo Square. Did the usual ‘Google it’ search and found quite a lengthy answer; in short the most likely explanation seems to be that it was named after the no longer extant Borcardo Prison in Oxford, of which there was a lockup for in Bridport.

Rose Dwightsays:

Ben, you can’t imagine how much I appreciate and look forward to your blog. The flowers, your house, the people, Mavis, comings and goings in Dorset, your long walks, vegetables, handsome Charlie etc. just brings a huge smile to my face. No where in America would you find such diversity. Please don’t get tired of carrying your camera around and gathering words to express all the activities in your life. Thank you so much.

David Sanderssays:

What a cornucopia of fun and excitement, laced with more than a little eccentricity. Bring back the hat, I say. The gentleman in the floppy knitted hat, was certainly sporting a fetching little number. Your obsession with Chantelle’s salon may have something to do with its eerie resemblance to a scene from a 1960s sc-fi movie.

Would love to know the derivation of the naming of Bucky Doo Square.

Cheers, Ben – you certainly brought a smile to my face this morning.

Pierre B.says:

Your humor, Ben, equals your talent at showing life at its best moments. Surely many of your readers can’t wait 2018 to applaud at Charlies’s triumph.

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