Making a spectacle of yourself can be a lifelong love affair.
It began one hot summer’s afternoon in 1974, when I heard, with frustrated longing, the siren sounds of Windsor Free Festival through the windows of my school. Thereafter, festivals and I were an item. By 1979, I was driving my girlfriend and border terrier to live the dream at Glastonbury; then, going to one of the UK’s few music festivals felt idealistic and exhilaratingly anarchic. We lived on the charity of Hare Krishnas, who were generous with their macrobiotic rice in return for vague promises to visit their temple.
Since then, in the words of Fatboy Slim, ‘we’ve come a long, long way together’ festivals and I. They have become an important part of the global music business and I’ve kept the romance alive by running my own. Nationally, Glastonbury is as much part of the Season as Wimbledon or Royal Ascot; locally, they’ve been grafted onto the calendar of village fêtes and county shows—a modern escape from care.
Although live music remains the dominant draw, the festival experience has subdivided into myriad sub-genres. The Hay Festival has spawned a library of literary progeny; others celebrate everything from marmalade to fake cigarettes. Primitive living has given way to glamping: a weekend at Glastonbury’s Camp Kerala can set you back £8,000. Or you can buy a two-person festival camping kit for £49.99 on Amazon. However you do it, nothing beats the sense of freedom and expectation as you set off in a VW campervan for a weekend of hedonism.
Joe Gibbs runs the Belladrum Tartan Heart Festival at his home in Inverness-shire, which takes place on August 6–8, 2015 (www.tartanheartfestival.co.uk)
Up Helly Aa, January 27
Shetland’s boisterous fire festival marks the end of midwinter when 1,000 ‘Vikings’ march through Lerwick, hurling their flam- ing torches into a replica longship. You may even see the Northern Lights. Stay in the 16th-century Busta House Hotel in Brae (www.bustahouse.com; 01806 522506).
The World’s Original Marmalade Awards, February 28–March 1
A countrywide peel of church bells—‘Oranges and lemons, say the bells of St Clements,’ according to the rhyme—will herald the 10th festival celebrating Paddington Bear’s favourite comestible
at founder Jane Hasell-McCosh’s family home, Dalemain, in Cumbria. A highlight is the Marmalashes, a bitterly fought contest between British and Australian makers. Stay at Hipping Hall (www.hippinghall.com; 01524 271187).
Cheltenham National Hunt Festival, March 10–13
The jump-racing Olympics with compulsory Guinness drinking. Every race is special, from the primeval roar at the start of the first on Tuesday to the cross-country race on Wednesday—get into the thick of it by leaving the paddock early to reach the centre of the course—to hunt-racing’s blue riband, the Foxhunters, on Friday. If you can stick the pace, make a week of it and rent a Cotswold cottage (020-8935; www.character-cottages.co.uk).
Charleston, May 15–25
Books and ideas are celebrated at the Bloomsbury Group’s East Sussex home. It’s intimate, but punches above its weight —this year, Ian McEwen revealed his new novel and the Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, wrote a poem to mark its 25th anniversary. Base yourself at the Georgian Hall Court Farm B&B (01323 811496; www.hallcourtfarm.co.uk).
Aldeburgh, Suffolk, June 12–28
Founded by Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears as a modest ‘few concerts thrown by friends’, it’s become one of Europe’s leading music festivals offering opera, concert and chamber music, contemporary art, walks and lectures on the Suffolk coast. Stay in an apartment at Snape Maltings (01728 688303; www.snapemaltings.co.uk).
Chalke Valley History Festival, June 22–28
History is brought alive in the Wiltshire valley from Roman re-enactments to Second World War talks by leading historians. The idyllic campsite is so civilised, it features a fully equipped kitchen and indoor showers.
Burton Agnes Jazz and Blues Festival, July 3–5
Bands play in and around the Elizabethan Burton Agnes Hall in East Yorkshire. Aficionados say it has more of a garden-party feel than a festival; there are hot showers for campers and the owner, keen saxophonist Simon Cunliffe-Lister, even loses his own show.
Latitude, July 16–19
Think of friendly Latitude in Suffolk as Glastonbury for those who aren’t keen on the scale of the Somerset extravaganza. It’s as much about theatre, comedy and off-beat events as it is the bands. Stay at The Stables, a boutique B&B on the Henham Park estate (07939 566714; www.stablesathenhampark.com).
Port Eliot, July 30–August 2
Part laidback literary event, part upmarket pop concert, activities range from swimming in the estuary of the Earl of St German’s Cornish estate to sunrise yoga. Accommodation is in the form of Airstream caravans, safari tents and beautiful wooden gypsy bowtop caravans.
Festival of British Eventing, August 7–9
Organised by Mark and Peter Phillips, this is one of the best-packaged equestrian events. The national Novice, Intermediate and Open horse trials titles are decided over a thrilling cross-country course in the spectator-lined bowl in front of the Princess Royal’s home at Gatcombe Park, Gloucestershire. Camping— definitely not glamping— is available for those who want real immersion.
Wilderness, August 6–9
It’s all about gastronomy and music at Lord Rotherwick’s Cornbury Park in Oxfordshire. Stay in a tipi or yurt in the boutique camping area; barrow boys will be on hand to take your luggage. Fancy dress is encouraged.
Two Moors Festival, October 15–25
Founded by John and Penny Adie in 2001 to cheer up a West Country blighted by foot-and-mouth disease, this increasingly high-profile classical-music festival takes place in the evocative churches of Exmoor and Dartmoor and welcomes walkers, dogs, boots and all. Rent a cottage on Exmoor (0117 318 0763; www.thebestofexmoor.co.uk) or Dartmoor (01364 621466; www.exclusivelydartmoor.co.uk).
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