PICTURE the scene - a group of young women are stood in front of a bow top gypsy caravan, brightly coloured with gold embellishment, the horse drawn vehicle symbolises hundreds of years of traveller tradition.

Nearby, horses are being paraded through the streets, while their owners negotiate the best price.

It is a scene that has unfolded at Appleby since the 17th century, with thousands of travellers from across the UK, including many from the North-East, gathering in the picturesque Cumbrian town for the annual horse fair.

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Yet the women, dressed in skimpy florescent clothing, high heels and, I suspect, numerous coats of fake tan, look like they are heading for a night out in Ibiza.

When I walked past them on Saturday, sporting jeans, boots and a sensible pink cagoule, I felt like a party-goer who failed to check the dress code on my invite.

And, if I needed further convincing that my nostalgic preconceptions were slightly misinformed, one of them quipped “Does anyone have 3G?”

Welcome to Appleby Horse Fair where new and old can be found in equal measure. For every rustic horse and trap that passes, a plush Range Rover is not far behind.

At Fair Hill, named after the traditional festival, stalls sell everything from equestrian wear, saddles and trinkets, to elaborate wedding cakes.

The previous day, the fair was basked in sunshine and the horses were ridden into the River Eden for a wash. It is a sight that is synonymous with Appleby Horse Fair – the largest gathering of the gypsy and traveller community in the country.

It has not been without its problems and, this year, pubs and off licences restricted their opening hours to help kerb anti-social behaviour. There have also been complaints about animal cruelty and the rubbish left by travellers, at Appleby and in the towns and villages they reside en-route.

At Startforth Park, on the outskirts of Barnard Castle, intimidated residents protested when travellers set up camp on land belonging to Deerbolt Young Offender’s Institute at the end of May.

A barrier and security staff are now in place to prevent a repeat of this when the fair concludes on Wednesday, June 11,

However, seasoned Appleby attendee Stephen Hash, from the south coast, believes it is unfair to tar all travellers with the same brush.

“It is like football,” said Mr Hash.

“You get some bad apples who spoil it for everyone else. I have been coming here since I was a kid. It is all about the horses for us, as well as being a chance to catch up with friends.

“It has changed a lot over the years though. It is too commercial now but it is and always has been a family event.”