TOPSHAM — We happened to go to the Topsham Fair last year when my husband had to work and I was looking for a fun outing to counter the sadness of not having a weekend with him. I have to admit that I wasn’t terribly excited to go to a crowded, loud, overstimulating fair that I had to pay for on a very hot day in August.

But I ended up having so much fun. We intended to stay for a couple of hours, but that somehow turned into five! And, my girls have been talking about it ever since, eagerly anticipating the return of the fair this year. Again, I have to admit, I’m excited for it again, too.

I grew up going to various fairs and carnivals, but this was something entirely different. It was like the agricultural elements of the Common Ground Fair combined with the St. John’s Bazaar Carnival, but all in one place and with such a sweet local flavor.

We drove up to the dirt lot outside the fair gate past where we’d been to the Topsham Winter Farmers Market on the edge of the fair grounds, and easily found parking. Then, the friendly ticket taker asked if this was our first time at the fair. My girls piped up that it was and he enthusiastically gave us maps and tickets and wished us a great day at the fair.

Our first destination was the pulling ring where we watched oxen pull heavy loads of bricks while being prodded by their owners. It was quite impressive. We caught the tail end of this before seeing the pony show where well-decorated ponies with lovely plaited tails were paraded around the ring. This was the perfect shady spot to enjoy the picnic we’d brought along.

From there, we’d heard there was a “Preschool Penny Scramble” in one of the nearby show rings. I had no idea what this was, but I had two preschoolers, so we headed that way. This might have been my favorite part of the day. A tractor spread a thick layer of sawdust over an array of prizes and then kids were invited to dig through the dust for treasures. One of my daughters hit the jackpot, finding a T-shirt, a pencil and two coins. The T-shirt features a tractor pull picture on it and is more of a dress than a shirt, but became a favorite night gown.

The rides didn’t open until noon, so we had a bit more time to kill and decided to peek into Old McDonald’s Farm. While we’ve been to plenty of farms locally, this was particularly sweet. We fed baby chicks and got to hold the world’s softest bunnies.

Just as we were leaving the barn, we spotted a small tractor-pulled train made of old oil barrels. The pick-up spot was in a little gazebo where Painted Dog Studio, a local Brunswick art studio that offers classes for kids, had make and take crafts. My girls made some very cute sparkly chickens out of folded paper plates, stripy pipe cleaners, fun ribbons, and of course, googly eyes. We still have them!

Soon it was their turn for the train, which made a loop around the horse trailers, giving a neat tour of the fancy horses getting ready for the shows that day.

Finally, it was time to head over to the rides. Along the way, we poked our heads into the Exhibition Hall to see a whimsical display of everything from No. 1 zucchini to a blue ribbon crocheted doily. There were judges at the back table preparing for the latest contest – this one for the best pickle. I was disappointed that we’d missed the chocolate chip cookie contest – maybe this year.

We now entered the magical world of rides of every sort. My first priority was the Ferris wheel, as I was eager to look out over Topsham and across the river to Brunswick. It was worth it – and we didn’t have to wait long at all. The views from the top were remarkable – and provided a cool breeze on a hot afternoon. In fact, that ended up being true for most rides.

There was so much to do that it didn’t seem that any of the areas were over crowded. And, we went on “Children’s Day,” too, when children of military families under 16 get in for half price – and it was a Sunday. Other favorites were the carousel, the old-timey cars, and the bumblebees, which took a bit of learning to figure out how to make them go up and down, but once we did, they were great fun.

One great thing about the fair is that your admission includes unlimited rides, so you don’t have to worry about tickets. There is, however, an assortment of games you can play that you have to pay for. Instead, we opted for a short pony ride. This was a big hit. The ponies were just the right size and walked around a small ring. This was my girls’ first time on a horse, so the scale of things was quite comfortable – and the helmets were pink!

Several hours into our day at this point, we were a bit overheated and found our way to a Hawaiian ice stand amidst the rows of stalls selling funnel cakes, kettle corn and hot dogs, among other delights. Our icy Pina Colada, grape, and cherry cones were delightful. We took them into the shade on one of the picnic tables by the main stage just in time to watch a magic show.

We had heard an assortment of music coming from this direction all day – everything from country to bluegrass to rock-n-roll. Again, the crowd was small, so my girls both had a chance to go up on stage to make colored silks come out of a hat by waving the magic wand, and to shake a magic salt shaker to make the cloths disappear. Afterwards, the magician made balloon hats for the girls, impressing us with his quick twisting skills.

Finally, we stopped at the 4-H tent to see what they were doing there. They had a variety of displays showing how to spin wool and make other camp crafts. We opted to make a potato planter. This involved scooping out a half of a potato, filling it with a little dirt and some grass seeds. We took these home and they sprouted up in no time. But, I have to warn you that after a bit they started to rot and there is nothing stinkier than a stinky potato!

I really can’t stress what a delightful day we had and I can’t wait to go again this year. My girls were so thrilled with the whole experience that they came home and made books describing every part, complete with a fair map and some fantastic pictures.

There are different events each day and a couple of special days including Tuesday’s Senior Citizen’s Day, where admission is only $3, and Sunday’s Children’s Day with half off the usual admission price of $10 for children of military families. Or, if you’re lucky enough to have small kids less than 36 inches tall, they get in for free.

Have a great day at the fair!