2016 Game Fair Ragley Hall, Warwickshire

As I wrote after last years Game Fair, the CLA (The Country Land and Business Association) had run the Game Fair since 1958, but due to a 21% decline in ticket sales since 2011, and therefore running at a loss for the last 3 years, they announced that it will no longer run the Game Fair.  However, the good news was that after the news, the Game Fair team were approached by new investors to put on the event without the CLA shackles and would continue in its traditional form but with particular focus on the core fieldsports elements, social and visitor experience.

You could say that it was a bit of a gamble, but it appeared that the whole industry rallied behind the event as exhibitors reported record-breaking Game Fair sales, not surprising with around 107,169 visitors enjoyed the three day festival which, from finding the correct car park, to leaving again was wonderfully well organised.

Stepping out of the Evoque press car after our nearly 3 hour early morning blast from Lancashire, we were greeted by the usual sound of shotgun shots echoing around the grounds, it’s pretty much a constant throughout the weekend.  More-so this year as it boasted the world’s longest ever shooting line at 585 meters!

After making our way to the press office to sign in and grab our official show guide, we thumbed through the 230 or-so pages to try and figure our itinerary, but in the end we did the usual, Muddy Madam wandered off to the arenas to watch the dog agilities and horse jumping whilst I wandered around the 100's exhibitors.

Arriving quite early meant that I could take plenty of photos before the thronging crowd appeared, so I made my way towards a collection of Land Rovers that I spied earlier.  Recognising that Land Rovers are still an important part of the country scene, the Game Fair team organised a 'Surrender your Defender' stand which, if you left your classic Series 1, 2 or 3, or early Defender for the crowds to ogle at for the duration of the show, you received a special package for 4 people of 3 nights camping & entrance to The Game Fair for the entire weekend, which was worth £300.

Amongst the collection, it was the Series IIa Lightweight that caught my attention for the rarity value, but I totally fell for the blue 101, just look at its stance with those 37-12.50-16's.  Granted, they may be slightly illegal in that they protrude from the bodywork by a couple of inches, but who cares!

4Site 4x4 Tyres had a Discovery 4 on show wearing a set of General Grabber AT's with just over 49k on them, and they still had plenty of tread left. It's probably just me, but when comparing them to BFG AT's, they don't look aggressive enough.  They’re the same tyre that's currently on Deux Smurf, but mine are wearing quite thin.

Honda was next door showing off their range of bikes, ATV's and lawnmowers, they also had a small arena in which you had the opportunity to take one of the ATV's over a skills course, even as early as this there was a queue, so I didn't bother.

Next to catch my attention was APB Trading, who had a good selection of expedition gear on show, from roof tents to, well everything really.  I think once I've done a little bit of off-road prep work to Deux Smurf, I'm going to look at some kind of roof tent and awning set up, as well as a rear drawer system, if funds allow.

Moving further along, Bentley had a couple of their cars on show including their all singing, all dancing Benteyga which if I’m honest, is possibly the ugliest car on the road.  I have absolutely no doubt it’ll be awesome on the road and quite good off-road, but it isn't pretty.  What was stunning however was their Continental convertible, I've been fortunate enough to drive a few of these and they really are inspirational - and fast!

Maxxis were on hand with a selection of 4x4’s showing off their array of off-road tyres, including a fantastic, yet intimidating racer. Incidentally, Maxxis, a Taiwanese company that started back in 1967 making bicycle tyres will be celebrating their 50th birthday next year.

Next to Maxxis was the off-road course organised by the Subaru and Isuzu team.  Never one to be deterred by a sign declaring ‘Invitation Only’, I asked the security guard if I could sneak in and take a couple of photos. Anyway, long story short, I was invited in for lunch and offered a drive on their off-road course.  With a selection of vehicles I opted for the XV for 2 reasons, the first is that they’re quite a rarity, and secondly, I’ve booked a press XV in September and I wanted to get an idea of what they’re like.

With constant gunfire, driving through the small forest was like we were playing war games, quite surreal.  The XV behaved as you would expect any Subaru to off-road, sure-footed and confident.  As my escort, Caroline, explained all about the XV's clever 4wd system, I failed miserably at getting it stuck.  I enjoyed my short stint in the XV, can't wait for next month when i get to play in one for a whole week..

After our free lunch, Muddy Madam and I wandered over to a few of the halls that are set up - a great variety of country paraphernalia, but nothing much of interest for me.

I left Muddy Madam at the main arena to watch the birds of prey and working horse displays and wandered off to explore more exhibitors.  Nene Overland had a huge presence as usual, as did Bespoke Carsboth showing off their skills at providing upgraded Land Rovers to suit your every whim.

By the way, as well as Subaru and Isuzu showing off their off-road capabilities, their stand also had the Isuzu AT35 pick up which is made by Arctic Trucks, I'll be reviewing this again soon, and Subaru’s new Levorg - a daft name, but this is the companies replacement for the Legacy.  

As I let my shotgun licence lapse last year, I decided to give the shooting section a miss, and as I’m not into fishing, I avoided that section too.  I had a great chat to Jackie from Seeland though, I have their Marsh jacket and trouser combo - clicky link - and a pair of their wellies which have all held up really well to an awful lot of abuse over the last 4 or 5 years.  

It was getting on a bit now, but the weather was holding up, though there were some dark clouds looming so I decided to join MM at the main arena to watch the horse jumping.  I’m not into horses, but it gave me the opportunity to both sit down for a while and use my new Pentax 70-200 F2.8 lens - damn that thing is heavy - but coupled to my Pentax K3-II it produces some pin sharp images.

After going our separate ways again, we finally I caught up at the grudge match between lurchers and terriers.  What happens is, you have a team of terriers and a team of lurchers that battle it out chasing a piece of cloth, and usually, because of the terriers short legs, they’re nimble enough to catch it first, but on this occasion, it was a lurchers that won the day. 

And that was it, it was 5.00pm and everyone was shutting shop which meant it was time to go home for another year.  There’s so much more going on that I haven’t mentioned, the airgun experience, cooking theatres, archery, shooting, casting and working dog competitions.  Have I mentioned the Falconry and ferret roadshows?  No, didn’t think I had.

In all honesty, the Game Fair is a brilliantly diverse day out for all the family, but to get the most out of it you’re better off staying over for 2 or 3 days either in a local guest house or booking a camp spot, prices are quite reasonable, which is probably what we’ll do next year.

For more information or to buy tickets for The Game Fair at Hatfield House in 2017, visit www.thegamefair.org.