It’s the time of the year when Appleby normally sees thousands of visitors, but this year it’s expected to be a ghost town in comparison.

This weekend is traditionally the Appleby Horse Fair which sees the Gypsy and Traveller community arrive to sell their horses and meet up with others in their community.

This tradition has been on-going in the town for hundreds of years and has only once before been cancelled when foot and mouth broke out, the decision to stop the fair was made early in the Covid-19 pandemic.

Since then members of the community have kept to themselves to protect their families.

Supporting the cancellation and planning for a bigger and better fair next year, Billy Welch, known as the Shera Rom or Head Gypsy, has been involved with the fair all his life said: “The fair is cancelled and I will not be coming to open the gates.

“We have spread the word round our community and I hope people don’t show up.

“The current situation with Covid-19 is bad and I wouldn’t want any of my family put in danger or the chance of the settled community being put in any danger.

“Over the weeks there you will see people moving around the country. This is what we do, it’s our heritage.

“If you spot people parked up with their caravan chances are they’re a family isolating.

“We also have big families. If you see a group they’re most likely all one family staying together and keeping safe.

“We’re the best as social distancing, we have done it all our lives we keep to ourselves and mix with our own community, we’re not irresponsible. We have high-risk members of the community and we’re doing our best to keep each other safe.

“I couldn’t open fair hill while the virus is here, I couldn’t live with myself if anyone became ill. We’re no danger to the residents, so nobody needs to panic if they see the odd trailer we’re just migrating.”

As it stands the police are monitoring the situation and over the last week a couple of caravans have passed through but not stopped in the county.

A spokesman for the police said: “We and other members of the MASCG have been in regular contact with the Gypsy and Traveller community and are happy the message that the 2020 Fair is not going ahead appears to have been well-received and accepted as the only appropriate course of action.

“The health of everyone – Gypsies and Travellers and the settled community alike – must be the priority.

“We are working with other police forces around the country. We would urge anyone with first-hand information to contact the police.

“When such information is received it will be acted upon. Anyone who has information to report should contact police on 101.”