A cool, dry day forecast, just right for going to the Fair. Union Fair to be precise (Union is a small town beyond Hope), and on Maine Wild Blueberry Festival Day, too…
En route we paused in pretty Camden (this one is, anyway) to take in the harbour views and to get some tourist info. A most helpful lady (her husband is English, from Gloucester) suggested some boat trips as well as a scenic drive from Camden to Rockport and was happy to chat for ages (we were early birds and the only customers). Along the harbourside, stalls touting windjammer trips vied for business.
We chose to press on to Union, a few miles inland, and we got there around 10am – a little trouble finding the fairground (no big signs advertising it for miles around; just a little notice before we got to the turning. We paid our entry fee, a reasonable $8 per adult with children free, and parked as directed (they’ve been running this for 50 years, so it’s flawlessly organised).
First to Pulling: 3,300 pounds and 3,400 pounds classes of horses. We sat in a barn on aluminium tiered seating and watched a tractor tow a sled piled with hefty concrete blocks and a ride-on mower drag a metal grid to smooth the earth floor. Was this it? Where were the horses? We didn’t quite get it.
Then a pair of mighty horses appeared at the far end of the barn, engines revving (so to speak), barely controlled by three men. They were hooked up to the sled and it was then a contest between an irresistible force and an immovable object. This first time, the sled won – it wouldn’t budge, despite straining equine muscles and sinews. (I think the problem was synchronisation, or the lack of it, as in a tug of war – the horses lunged forward at different times.)
There followed more ground-smoothing and realignment of the weighty sled. The next team of horses (pictured below) was the eventual winner, and an awe-inspiring sight. The sheer powerhouse horse-power was remarkable as they dragged the ton-and-a-bit load up the barn, round and back again, then up and down again within the five-minute time limit. They were allowed recovery breaks, and you could hear the laboured breathing from the far end of the barn. This was World’s Strongest Horse.
A little before 11 o’clock, we joined a rapidly-lengthening queue for free wild blueberry pie. Yes, all visitors were given a voucher (blue, of course) to receive their complimentary dessert served by this year’s Blueberry Queen. And not just the mini-muffin we perhaps expected, but a hunger-busting dish full of stewed berries with a slightly caramelised topping. We all loved it (not too sweet, but oozing fresh flavour), even if the girls’ appetites were insufficient for the task.
Then a wander around the grounds - part agricultural show, part fairground. We saw Belted Galloways (coloured like Oreo sandwich biscuits as the tourist info lady had said), Belgian (Antwerp) blue hens, immaculately trimmed sheep and pygmy goats.
A bit later, the fairground rides opened and we weighed up the different options: buy bracelets for unlimited rides for $18/person, or buy a block of 40 tickets for $30 and share them around (bearing in mind that a ride costs 3 or 4 tickets/person). We went for the latter, exactly sufficient for the dodgems, the Big Wheel, a mini-rollercoaster train ride and a ‘Fun House’ which turned out to be the one disappointment. (Perhaps it was supposed to shake or something, but it seemed to consist of walking along plain metal platforms apart from descending a slide at one point. Hannah claims she found it fun, anyway…)
We paused in a shady spot for candy floss and a drink, and found we had stumbled upon the Blueberry Spitting Contest; they were appealing for late entries. I was seriously toying with the idea (when would I next get the opportunity?), but it’s just as well I didn’t sign up – it turned out to be for children only…
Then, the highlight of the day and one of those serendipitous, fortuitous episodes that we could never have set out to build into our trip – we saw and met the Flying Wallendas! Why they should be appearing at a (nationally) obscure fair in Maine and performing for no additional cost to our entrance fee, I don’t know, but there they were. (There are several branches of the family performing today, but this group is headed by the family patriarch, Tino Wallenda.)
This is their rig – tomorrow’s shows will surely be cancelled if the promised thunderstorm arrives. Mathematicians will admire the perfect catenary curve (y=cosh x) in the centre. [N.B. there is no safety net - as is always the case with the Wallendas.]
JP the clown warmed up the show (down on terra firma), followed by some juggling with clubs, balls and finally fire. Apprenticeship in action; one new addition to the troupe (Trevor McNabb – non-family, and only been performing since February this year) who is not yet an accomplished juggler, but he goes out there every show and is learning on the job. Alex Wallenda is pretty good, though, faltering only on 5/6 balls.
They collected autographs from the whole team, including Olinka (Tino’s wife, who recalled performing for and meeting the Queen in the 1960s) and Aurelia. An ice cream to round off the day, then back home with another rich store of memories.
Peru is looming, and we’ll be there this time next week. Four full days left here in Maine, and the squeeze is on – what can we reasonably pack into the remaining time?