We finally managed to get to the Chalke Valley History Festival at the beginning of July (once again too much life has taken over and writing has very much been on the back burner). It started in 2012 so is still relatively new in the summer festival line-up. Chalke Valley itself is an area of outstanding natural beauty stretching from Salisbury, Wiltshire in the east to Shaftsbury, Dorset in the west.
It is breathtakingly beautiful (even under leaden skies in torrential rain…) and despite being on our doorstep, we have never visited the area. Usually very peaceful, during the festival the skies are alive with vintage aircraft while on land there are battle reenactments from Danes v Saxons to an incredible WWII battle with one side up high on the hillside with tanks, artillery and infantry while the enemy was in the valley below. So, instead of taking the Tribe to a hip music festival, I take them to a history festival ….
We had decided to camp as it had been sold to me as ‘one of the most beautiful camp sites in England’; it was also to be our first time camping since our glorious wild camping in the Middle East. As we drove towards to site the heavens opened and heavy rain bucketed down. Meanwhile in the valley itself, the rain fell as hail, churning the saturated ground into mud. Glorious. By the time we arrived at the site, the sun had reappeared and we could see the festival just below us with the striking site of old aircraft flying low across the valley. The tent up and the Tribe were dressed as war evacuees (Saturday = 1940s theme) with labels around their neck and the Eldest as a land girl.
Everyone was in wellies.
The camp site was just a beautiful 10 minute walk to the festival itself, along hedgerow lined lanes.
As we hadn’t booked any talks for the Saturday, we just wandered about enjoying the spectacle and atmosphere as we passed Celtic Tribesmen, Vikings, soldiers from the American War of Independence and both WWI and WWII. There was so much going on and visually it was fantastic!
My favourite pop up talk from the first day. Was about Maurice Wilson, an eccentric Englishman, who attempted to climb Everest in 1934, despite having no climbing experience. A war hero and sporadic cross dresser, the story was brilliantly told by a pair called The History Tellers – Mr Abs and Mr Alex – Mr Alex at one point becoming Mount Everest by draping a sheet over himself. An extraordinary story with plenty of twists and turns, about a brave, if somewhat naive, adventurer.
The campsite was, as I was promised, quite perfect and later, we had supper with a clear view of the valley and festival below, beneath a gradually darkening sky. I think that I have been persuaded to camp again!
Sunday we had booked to see Christopher Lloyd and ‘The Complete Works of Shakespeare’ – in an hour. Utterly compelling, very funny and rather terrifying parallels to the world we live in today; this was just over a week since the EU referendum and there were a few similarities suggested between Julius Caesar and the shenanigans within the Conservative party. Even Father of the Tribe thoroughly enjoyed this, despite a certain amount of muttering beforehand!
We watched air displays, battles
and I waited in vain to hear Dan Snow at his pop up talk – he was stuck in the huge traffic jams getting into the site due to the quagmire of mud in the car park.
However, I know someone who did manage to go to his Reflections on the Somme – his thoughts and perspectives on the battle and the 100th anniversary commemoration in France – and she said that it was excellent and insightful.
We stayed later than we thought we would and were one of the last to leave the campsite. I would thoroughly recommend a visit. It is extremely family friendly and we all loved it; just remember to bring your wellies!