Photos from the 2014 CLA Game Fair at Blenheim Palace


Tens of thousands of people passed through the gates of a hot and humid Blenheim Palace every day from 18 to 20 July for this year’s CLA Game Fair. It wasn’t always comfortable, but countrymen and women proved that they can survive, whatever the weather: as TV gardener Alan Titchmarsh commented, “Real men can wear tweed at 84 degrees.”

A scorching first day saw panama-topped crowds cram into sweltering marquees to eat, drink, shop and see whether UKIP leader Nigel Farage would anything noteworthy in the debate tent. Politicians from the big three parties, gearing up for next year’s general election, also set out their rural agenda. New products, plans and petitions were launched. Taxidermy lions lay down with stuffed spaniels, and shooting organisations discussed conservation with the RSPB.

Meanwhile, dogs splashed gratefully in the ponds and dog baths, and as quantities of cooling, cloudy cider were consumed with game burgers in the food court, clouds of a different, and altogether darker, kind began to gather on the horizon.

A spectacularly stormy night left the air a little clearer as the early birds arrived on site on the Saturday morning in search of good bacon and better bargains. However, fresh crowds and more clouds soon began to build, and sales of wellies, waterproofs and tweed picked up as the rain came down. With conditions lurching from scorching sunshine to thundery showers, Gunmakers’ Row briefly ran with mud, and people scurried from stand to stand faster than the gundogs in the trialing zone.

The latest fashions in country couture were being modeled in the catwalk marquee – from haute-hunt ball chic to racy, raptor-themed corsets, but the must-have look for most people leaving the fair on Saturday evening was without doubt mud-spattered legs. As the sun sank, temperatures dropped slightly and pizza ovens and barbecues were fired up as those remaining on site prepared to party and watch polo.

By Sunday the weather, like many of the people present, had lost its over-excited edge. The morning’s mud soon dried and the warm weather was perfect for ambling around the clay line, fly-casting demonstrations and dog displays overlooking the lake. Families visited and children painted pots, ogled otters and looked longingly at ice creams. Deals were done on duck calls and discounts negotiated on decoys. Four-by-fours rumbled around the woods and golf buggies buzzed around transporting last-minute purchases and flagging punters. Then, as the final visitors filed out and braced themselves for the inevitable traffic, marquee curtains came down one last time and the show drew to a close.