Work horses at Milfield set to be showcased in festival

Shire horses are to be celebrated at a new annual festival in Milfield, starting next year.
Shire horses are to be celebrated at a new annual festival in Milfield, starting next year.

THEY were once used to pull farming machinery in rural areas. Now, attempts to preserve the heritage of work horses is being boosted by a new annual festival to be staged in Milfield, near Wooler.

Milfield Heavy Horse Association has been offered a £29,700 lottery grant to hold an annual festival centred on different breeds of working horse, which will include demonstrations of the horses, educational displays, and stalls for local farmers and businesses.

It is hoped the enterprise will create an annual attraction that will raise awareness of the village, bring increased visitor numbers and promote tourism, and enable local businesses to promote and sell their products.

“Our overall reaction is we are absolutely astounded, really, really pleased,” said Milfield Heavy Horse Association company secretary Vivienne Cockburn.

“This project is an element of a bigger project where we are looking to have a dedicated centre for heavy horses and the idea for that is to preserve the heritage and allow people to generally have a hands-on experience with them. This project has really sprung from that because the horses originally lived in the village.”

Heavy horses, known as the Shire in England and Clydesdale in Scotland, were mostly used for driving carriages or carts in shipbuilding in cities, and pulling agricultural machinery on farms in rural areas.

The festival, which they hope to run annually from spring next year, will celebrate the traditional crafts which accompanied the working life of heavy horses, including, coach building and saddling.

She added: “We are trying to preserve the breed, which is 128 years old. Consequent to people cross-breeding them, they are actually a registered rare breed.”

The money is from Big Lottery Fund’s Village SOS scheme, which aims to inspire a rural revival across the UK and support rural communities that may be struggling with issues such as isolation, ageing populations, and the closure of local amenities.

Among the other organistaions to benefit are Belford Community Group, which will use £25,000 to open a heritage centre and provide guided tours of the village.

James Turner, Big Lottery Fund’s head of the North East region, said: “We are delighted to announce funding for some really innovative projects, which are testament to the strength and creativity that exists in rural communities.”