Having moved to the region waaaaay back at the end of 1995, I find myself in the completely unforgivable position of having lived 15 minutes drive from the Guyra Lamb & Potato Festival for the vast majority of my adult life and having never been.
I could argue that I was often on holiday in Newcastle during January or that I’m not the most ardent fan of lamb, but it all amounts to just never having made the effort to badger a parent or sibling into joining me.
With this week marking my last week in the New England before I head back to school, I wasn’t going to let the opportunity pass me by again. Maybe being cooped up in a village of fifty for the last six months has something to do with it, but I finally took the plunge and headed across last weekend.
What is the Guyra Lamb and Potato Festival?
The festival is – surprise surprise – about celebrating two local staples that have put Guyra onto the map. The New England region is famous across the nation for the quality of its lamb, and Guyra’s potatoes aren’t exactly unknown either.
When your town rugby league team are called the ‘Super Spuds’, it’s safe to say that potatoes are a big part of life in this sleepy New England town with its many cafes and boutiques.
The festival itself isn’t an exorbitant affair. In fact, the festival only takes up a few hundred metres of grassy real estate along the side of the New England Highway that bisects the town and contributes so much to its economy. Along this stretch are a variety of stalls selling handicrafts and local produce, live entertainment, and the restaurant serving up some delicious food made with locally grown lamb and potatoes.
It’s a small festival and unlikely to consume much of your afternoon, but it’s one worth stopping in for if you’re passing through or live nearby.
The majority of the stalls at the Lamb & Potato Festival are those selling goods both locally made or brought in from farther afield. Everything from cookies and fresh fruit to as seen on tv products next to garage sale style boxes of dog-eared paperbacks.
The festival itself only takes up a smallish stretch alongside the highway, but cutting across the railroad tracks takes you into Guyra’s main street where you can find a broader assortment of local boutiques as well as supermarkets and cafes.
It has to be said that there’s not a whole lot to be done at the festival if shopping isn’t your thing.
Live music takes place in a marquee beside the food service area and offers up a pleasant backdrop as you eat your lamburger or potato bake, with a variety of local artists serving up a mix of country music, oldies, and folk.
A modest children’s playground by the restrooms offers a nice diversion for children (and parents wanting a reprieve from their complaining about being bored), but the big draw for kids is going to be the opportunity to ride the ‘train’ along a 2km stretch of the long unused Main North Line.
For $2 a child (or $4 an adult) you can clamber aboard the makeshift train and enjoy a 20 minute tour of a stretch of rail that hasn’t been used since the line was cut at Armidale a few decades ago. It’s not thrill a minute stuff, but if the weather is nice it’s a pleasant enough way to take in a bit of the town and learn a little about the town’s history in the process.
As mentioned earlier, there’s quite a few stalls selling local produce where you can pick up some fruit or cookies, but the real drawcard is going to be the festival’s famous lamb and potato delicacies.
The lamburgers seem to be a source of controversy each year, with locals debating the merits of each year’s offerings on Facebook. This year’s, for what it’s worth, were apparently not up to scratch.
Forewarned with that knowledge, I instead helped myself to a lamb and gravy roll that went some way towards dispelling my belief that lamb tastes like feet. My sister had a small serving of a delicious looking potato bake (she wouldn’t share, the bitch); while my mother had an egg & bacon roll.
The menu also offers up more decadent fare (such as a serve of roast lamb with baked potatoes and veggies on the side), desserts (pavlova, mud cake, and fruit salad), and other savoury delights such as jacket potatoes. With prices ranging from $3 for a cup of chips to $15 or so for a heartier meal, it’s certainly an affordable alternative to stopping in at McDonalds or KFC farther down the highway.
Worth a Visit?
I had fun in my ninety odd minutes visiting the festival. Unless you’re a hardcore shopper, that’s about all the time you’ll need to see everything, grab a bite, and ride the train.
It’s not the kind of festival you could spend a full day at, let alone a few days in a row. Compared to an agricultural show (the Aussie equivalent to a county fair) it’s a tame affair, but it’s worth a look if you’ve an appreciation of lamb and/or potato and the way they taste when mixed.
The festival typically takes place in the final weeks of January each year, but check their website to be sure.
Have you ever been to Guyra’s flagship festival?
Does your own country town perhaps have a festival of its own that you’d recommend?