I usually think of festivals as a high summer activity, either lolling around on golden evenings drinking cold beer and slathering on the sun cream, or wading through mud and sweating inside a waterproof jacket when it’s far too warm to wear one. But when the regular festival season is over and the nights draw in, I’ve discovered another date to circle in your calendar: The Good Life Experience in Flintshire is a quirky and relaxed festival celebrating wholesome food, authentic music, rural crafts and all that’s great about the great outdoors.
The festival is set in the grounds of the Hawarden Estate, once the seat of William Gladstone and now home to Charlie Gladstone (great-great-Grandson of the 19th-century PM) and his wife Caroline, who together founded off-beat vintage emporium, Pedlars. However, despite the undeniably grand backdrop of not one, but two, castles overlooking the festival site, the vibe of the weekend is surprisingly down-to-earth. This is a festival that pivots around simple pleasures and extends a warm welcome to all, including families and four-legged friends.
Food is a big part of The Good Life Experience, with the intriguing twist that every cookery demonstration takes place over campfires. There’s something refreshingly do-able about seeing big-name food writers like Thomasina Myers, Tom Herbert and Anna Jones stripped back to basics and producing mouthwatering food over open flames. After sampling Anna’s scrummy sweet potato dhal recipe, we stumbled upon a free beer tasting by Beerbods which washed everything down very nicely!
It’s no secret I love trying new crafts, so this festival was such a treat for me. There are loads of different workshops to sign-up for, with everything from natural plant dying and raku pottery to leatherwork and Jennie Maizels’ sketchbook club. Top of my list was spoon carving, which I’ve wanted to try since last year’s festival. As soon as the festival opened we made a beeline for Single Malt Teapot and signed up for a restful (although at times painful!) couple of hours whittling our very own wooden spoons under the expert eye of expert woodsman Vic Phillips. I’m super-proud of my wonky spatula-like effort and left feeling inspired to invest in some knives and make sure my first hand-carved spoon definitely won’t be my last.
Ok, I have to admit that, on editing my photos of the weekend, at least 80% of them were of the hilarious ‘Incredibly Clever Canine Circus’, an hour-long dog training class led by Deborah from The Dog Nanny. Of course, I signed Finn up straight away and loved adding some funny new tricks to his repertoire. He was delighted to ring bells, balance beanbags and balance on my knee in exchange for several handfuls of chicken and the admiration of an adoring crowd (seriously, this dog was born to perform!)
Wherever you mosey around The Good Life Experience, the sound of something unusual catches your ear and draws you closer. One of the most heart-warming was the Ale House Wailers and Good Life Chorale, two hastily-formed choirs of festival-goers brought together by passionate community choir leaders, Sills and Stitch. After only a couple of rehearsals, their rousing performances and proud faces were enough to bring a small lump to my throat. In the tent nextdoor we stumbled across a reading by urban poet Kayo Chingonyi and I found myself mesmerised by the stories and rhythms of his voice. A little more polished, but no less charming, were the gents of the Flint Male Voice Choir, as well as the fun of the Friday night hoedown, which brought back memories of a rural childhood spent stripping the willow!
If you feel a yearning for the simple things (and own a very warm sleeping bag) The Good Life Experience Festival is the perfect antidote to the hustle and bustle of modern life. Early bird tickets for next year are on sale already and I guarantee you’ll have a wonderful weekend that makes you fall in love with autumn all over again.
[Photographs all © Bethan John for Decorator’s Notebook. We were invited to the festival as guests of the organisers, but the wonderful time we had there was very much our own.]