For many, the whole year revolves around the Royal Highland Show, so it's cancellation due to the Covid-19 pandemic has been a huge disappointment for all involved in agriculture.

In a normal year, it would be taking place now, providing the perfect surroundings to do business and catch up with acquaintances old and new. But it is so, so much more to Scotland’s livestock enthusiasts than a day out.

For many, the four-day event which, for exhibitors can mean almost a week away at the show, with a good month's preparation before hand, provides the ideal opportunity to showcase the best of their breeding stock to fellow breeders and the general public. It's also an ideal chance to view a potential stock sire or even buy a few foundation females, having discussed the various pros and cons of an individual breed or concept over a drammie or three ..

It’s also that time when many feel they can let their hair down. It’s the weekend, Christmas, holiday time all rolled in to one, and for many, it’s one great party from start to finish which is often so desperately needed when few are able to get away from the farm for any length of time.

The Scottish Farmer went to find out what the absence of this year’s Royal Highland Show means to several of Scotland’s top show enthusiasts….

Roderick and Amanda Runciman, North Country Cheviot exhibitors, Allanshaws, Galashiels

There is no doubt the quality of North Country Cheviots on display at the Royal Highland is second to none with champion winners regularly going on to lift top awards in the prestigious supreme sheep contest.

Therefore, it comes as no surprise to learn that the competition is steep from the outset – a fact that Roderick Runciman or Rocket as he is better known, is all too accustomed to.

No stranger to taking gold at the Ingliston event, or at indeed at other top Cheviot shows, Rocket and Amanda Runciman and young family of Lewis and Libby, have bagged the championship honours on five previous occasions and on what must be a record breaking four years on the trot. They also landed the inter-breed sheep honours in 2011, so it is a huge event in their farming calendar.

"There's nothing to beat the Highland, it's our summer holiday when we like to go and catch up with everyone we haven't seen for a whole year and have a guid blether," laughed Rocket. "The social side is absolutely fantastic. We wouldn't miss it for the world."

The competition is steep not just down the Cheviot lines though, but within the Runciman family too, as Rocket has young Lewis, who has just left school to work at home on the farm, hot on his heels for the silverware. The genetics are coming through too as the 17-year-old rugby enthusiast is not only a former champion sheep young handler at Royal Highland and several other events, he has also been known to win Northie championships in his own right!

With Lewis at home full time now, there will be more work done than ever this year, but you can be rest assured, the Runcimans are already gearing up for a bigger and better Highland Show in 2021.

Stewart and Lynsey Bett, commercial and Limousin cattle exhibitors, Stirling

Commercial cattle are a huge part of any agricultural show and there can be few more enthusiastic showmen than Stewart Bett, who has been exhibiting such animals at the Royal Highland for more than 30 years.

Add to that additional events throughout the length and breadth of the country, to include the Royal Welsh, Great Yorkshire, Keith and Ayr, and there are few that Stewart and his wife Lynsey and, over the past year, young Darcy, haven't attended in recent years.

It's the Highland that is undoubtedly one of their favourites too, having lifted the tri-colour twice – in 2010 and 2011, with animals owned in partnership with Craig Malone. Notably, both of these were bought at Caledonian Marts' potential show calf sale at Stirling in September, and of course both had particularly classy names – Miss Dynamite, bred by Shona Laird, landed the big one in 2010 and Pussy Galore, bred by Wilson Peters, did the exact same the next year at Ingliston.

"It's been the most successful partnership on record as we only ever shared those two animals," laughed Stewart, who as stockman for Ronald and David Dick's Ronick herd, also assisted in bringing out their Limousin champion, Ronick Velcro, at the Highland, in 2010.

But, while the celebrations at those two Highland Shows went on well into the small hours of the next morning, surprisingly, there was an even bigger party in 2015 at Ingliston, when Hugh Dunlop won the commercial championship at the same event with Doolally. Such was the hilarity, that much has since been forgotten, but then.... 'what goes on at the Highland show, stays at the Highland Show!'

What was unforgettable that night though was the DJ in attendance, and the fact so many people were singing and dancing on top of kists. "It was a helluva night," said Lynsey.

Well accustomed to the stresses and strains of preparing cattle for shows and sales when the couple not only take their entire herd (mostly two bought in calves from the previous year) to a show most weekends but also assist in bringing out the Dick family's Limousin entries, the loss of all such events is a huge miss to them.

Stewart who is originally from Abernethy, Perthshire, and was inspired by the late Gordon Aitken as a youngster added: "Everyday is the same now, compared to before when our weeks were always governed by what shows were on.

"We really miss the competitive side of the shows but also meeting up with so many people. Agricultural shows are a huge shop window for us as they not only help to keep the Ronick name to the fore, but also our commercial cattle," Stewart added.

Wight family, Blackface, Bluefaced Leicester, Scotch Mule and Texel exhibitors, Midlock, Crawford

Family is at the heart of most successful businesses and you'll not see many closer than the Wights of Midlock, who have a team of sibling show ring enthusiasts behind them from their farms.

There are three generations at the top of this sheep tree to include father Allan, son Allan and his son Ben, with Brian Gilchrist and Iain Clark, also at the forefront. But there are also so many others within the family who help out in the background.

No strangers to the silverware in any of the above sections – they have in fact scored a hat-trick of championships in the Bluefaced Leicester and Scotch Mules sections, and two supreme breed honours amongst the Blackies – strangely enough however, they have never been able to land that big one on the Saturday.

They have nevertheless had a fair crack at the whip, with three out for the supreme overall in 2018 when history is believed to have been made, winning three sheep section championships – with Blackface, Bluefaced Leicester and Scotch Mules – all in the same year.

Instead, the family, who run in excess of 3000 ewes, achieved their best result in the inter-breed amongst the Texels, when the stock ram, Douganhill Monarch, a tup that stood male champion at the 2015 Ingliston event and teamed up with the champion, a Glenside ewe from John Forsyth, to win the inter-breed pairs. Notably, the inter-breed sheep champion at last year's Royal Highland, a gimmer from Douganhill, had Monarch in her pedigree.

"The Highland Show is a fantastic place for catching up with people from the previous year and for getting the craic from producers in all breeds," said Allan junior.

"It's a great show for seeing some of the best livestock in the country and for finding out which stock tups have done the best," he added pointing out that while they all used to stay for the four-day event, he and his wife Karen are now 'of an age' that they go home most nights with Ben and Iain now left 'to man the ship' at Ingliston.

Jonnie and Christine Campbell, North Country Cheviot exhibitors, Bardnaclavan, Thurso

The Royal Highland Show has to be the best social event of the year for Scottish farmers with so many friendships made and rekindled year after year, after year, but how many can actually say they met their future husband/wife/partner at the four-day extravaganza?

Now, 2002 was a particularly big year at Ingliston, when it followed the previous cancellation of the Royal Highland in 2001 due to foot-and-mouth, but it was an even bigger occasion for former Border Leicester exhibitor and champion winner, Jonnie Campbell, all the way from Caithness.

He not only won the North Country Cheviot breed honours that year with a tup lamb, but also found his future wife whilst celebrating in 'Herdsmans'. The lucky/unlucky lady, Christine Keddie, all the way from Musselburgh, certainly had her work cut out for her though, as she was managing many of the staff at what was the Highland's most popular drinking establishment, and also had some extremely noisy Cheviot boys to man/woman handle ... one of whom just kept coming back for more ....

It has nevertheless proved a marriage made in heaven, as Jonnie and Christine wouldn't miss the Highland and neither would their two kids – Ross and Ailsa.

"There would be an utter riot if we told the kids we weren't going to the Highland and we would really miss it too. It's a great place to meet up with old pals," said Jonnie.

"We go down on the Monday night, with the Tuesday night being one of the best parties down the sheep lines, but we also like to go into Edinburgh to do a bit of sight seeing."

But while the family is one of the farthest travelled, they wouldn't change their circumstances for the world, and especially with Corona virus affecting Scotland's 'overstocked' areas most.

"Christine's parents moved up here a few years ago and so too has her sister, so we're the lucky ones especially when there have been so few cases up here. We probably could have a show up here, but we'd have to keep everyone else away," joked Jonnie.

Brian and Michael Yates, dairy cattle exhibitors, East Logan, Castle Douglas

There are always families who regularly produce the star performers at any show or sale, and while Brian and Michael Yates are no strangers to the limelight in the dairy lines, it is quite often the fairer sex at East Logan, who help to keep them right!

While the father and son duo have brought out three champion winners in their own right, to include two Holsteins and a red and white, they have also assisted in the show preparation of the two times Jersey winner, Bluegrass Vindication Harp, for Northern Ireland breeders, the Fleming family, John Henning and Keith Agnew.

It is nevertheless Brian's wife, Sheila and more recently, Michael's better half, Emma, who are often sorting out the boys in the background.

It was Sheila and Caroline Lawrie, Sandyford, Monkton, who founded their Eastford herd with the red and white heifer, Dilandy Debonair Tabitha Red. This big milky cow not only won the section championship at Ingliston in 2014 but also went on to be crowned supreme dairy – the first time a red and white had ever won the inter-breed honours at the Highland.

And, it was Emma and Michael who assisted in bringing out the 2016 and 2017 Jersey champion.

"The Highland Show is never the biggest show of dairy cattle but it is always one of the best to win," said Michael.

"We always like to win our 'national show' and it's a great time to get away and catch up with friends."

In saying that, there is a huge amount of work that has to be done, just to get away for the week when they leave on the Tuesday morning.

"I can't believe how far ahead we are with the work this year compared to normal when we'd be preparing cattle up to a fortnight before the show.

"The actual show is the easy bit, it's all the washing, halter training, clipping and getting the diet right before the show that takes the time," added Michael.

However, with a new member to the family arriving earlier this month, it's maybe just as well there is no Highland this year, as the young couple were never entirely sure if they would be able to attend in the first place.

So, while there will be several 'virtual' kist parties this year, the Yates family have their own celebrations and a head wetting for the newest arrival after Emma gave birth to Austin David Yates – a wee brother for two-year-old Alice.

MacPherson family, former Galloway exhibitors and now Simmental breeders, Blackford, Croy

Most people will view Ingliston as home to the Royal Highland Show with the airport site having hosted the event for 59 years, but some of the real veteran showmen and women remember the good times when it toured Scotland.

Billy MacPherson recollects going to the first Highland Show after the War, in Inverness, when the King and Queen attended in 1948 and he was just nine years old.

Eight years later he was working for Reid Walker, Ben Alder, and was showing his Galloway cattle only to come last in every class!

"It was a tremendous learning curve and after that I kept quiet and just listened to everything Hugh Gall, Bertie McMillan and Alan Wylie – the top men in the breed then – had to say," said Billy.

It worked a treat too as two years later when the Highland Show was staged in Ayr and there were 100 Galloways entered, Billy was back showing for Ben Alder with a vengeance and won the cow class and came second amongst the young bulls.

That was one of Billy's most memorable days which was made even more momentous when the late Willie Young insisted he accompanied him to the breed party.

Ironically, 45 years later, Billy won Willie's prestigious accolade – The Sir William Young Award – presented every year at the Highland Show for pedigree breeding and services to livestock industry in Scotland.

But while Galloway cattle were very much part of the veteran's youth, it's Simmentals that he and his daughter Anne are renowned for now, having won the breed title the first year exhibiting at the Highland in 1996 – when Billy was also judging the Salers – with Wellhouse Dictator? That was the first year the Simmental won the inter-breed groups of four too, with the quartet including Dictator and a home-bred Blackford heifer.

The family has also bred a Highland champion in Blackford Galaxy, which lifted the reserve honours and beefbreeder championship in 2017, and went one step further the following year, to land the supreme under for his new owners, the Barlow family's Denizes herd.

But it's not just the cattle that lures the Macphersons down to Ingliston every year – Billy was hugely involved in Young Farmers in the 1980s both as a coach for the tug of war competitions. He coached the winning team, Inverness YFC to victory in 1982 and 1983 and thereafter was often master judge for YFC stockjudging sections.

The entertainment has always been fantastic too whether it be alcohol induced or sheer talent. Billy has tremendous memories of the concerts staged the night before the judging outside the Herdsman's and some amazing singing and accordion playing.

Anne is very much following in her father's footsteps too, winning The John Miller Trophy stocksmans award – an accolade which goes round the various sections and is presented to the person promoting good will – in 2005, and of course landing several honours with her own Charolais.

In contrast to most cattle folks, she adores the grand parade too.

"A lot of people dread the parade but I just love taking part in it whether I'm leading an animal that's been first or fifth. The Highland Show is a huge event and renowned for the quality of stock on parade, so to lead an animal round and be part of that spectacle is a fantastic feeling – I love the camaraderie of it all," added Anne.

Dochy and Sylvia Ormiston, Highland cattle and pony exhibitors, Balmoral Estate, Ballater

Exhibiting livestock or any type of animal might not be the most lucrative career to follow, but it's one which most of us wouldn't change for the world and that includes Dochy and Sylvia Ormiston who have enjoyed either showing or judging at the Royal Highland Show for more than 40 years.

Infact, the couple owe the four-day extravaganza huge gratitude/condemnation as they met at the Ingliston event in the 1980s and since then have missed only a select few.

Dochy, who is the fourth generation of Ormistons to be involved with Highland ponies at Scotland's Royal, has nevertheless turned over the big job to his better half, as he is now responsible for Her Majesty The Queen's Balmoral Highland cattle fold, which has secured numerous awards over the years to include breed champion with the yellow bull, Oobery Doobery and reserve twice with the black Smurf bull. He's also brought out several female and junior winners.

Sylvia has also had her fair share of the silverware amongst the ponies, lifting the reserve male honours in 2011 with a yearling colt and junior male in 2017 with a three-year-old. And, there are a kist full of Highland rosettes from numerous classes over the years and especially amongst the working harness section with different ponies.

One year, Sylvia brought out a mare and foal in the harness, with the foal going on to win four years later as an adult. Notably, he was the foal born on the Countryfile programme and surprisingly enough was christened Adam!

The couple also own the 2018 Highland Show champion, Danny Boy of Croila which notched up the supreme honours that year under Shona Halford. He was bred by Dochy's father, the late Cameron Ormiston and is on loan to Shona.

Needless to say there have been numerous celebrations for both at Ingliston where the couple take their annual holiday as it is also a great chance to catch up with friends and family far and wide.

In fact, after years of having luxury accommodation – in the back of the trailer as they were only lucky enough to get into the hotel once, despite showing cattle and ponies every year after – the couple eventually took the plunge and bought their own caravan just before the lockdown.

Only problem is, there is no Highland or any other show to attend this year. There could nevertheless be a cracking good kist party in the Balmoral caravan later this year though ... On second thoughts maybe not, after one so called romantic night away in it – in the back garden – as Dochy lasted just two hours when he realised they'd forgotten to pack the tea bags and headed back home, 50m away!