Early autumn is a funny time of year. Whilst I love the crisp chill in the air and the ‘back to school’ feeling that still has me searching out new hobbies, there’s also the ominous knowledge that September is the gateway to short days and long dark nights.
But, for the last two years, I’ve had the pleasure of one last summery knees-up to look forward to: The Good Life Experience festival which happens in mid-September just across the border in North Wales. It’s a small but perfectly-formed festival celebrating everything that’s great about the outdoors, traditional crafts, campfire cooking, music, talks and a host of simple pleasures designed to bring people together. It’s eclectic, joyful, big-hearted and I’ve come away with wonderful memories and a warm fuzzy feeling inside.
The curation of the festival is at once both weirdly offbeat yet, somehow, makes perfect sense. The musical line-up in the main tent is put together by the festival’s joint founder Cerys Matthews and spanned everything from 12-piece gypsy brass band Fanfare Ciocârlia whipping up the crowd at 200 beats per minute (and goodness knows how many decibels) to the regal gents of the Flint Male Voice Choir. My hands-down musical highlight were Gordie Mackeeman and his Rhythm Boys who had everyone entranced by their blistering blend of Celtic-inspired fiddle tunes and crazy leg dancing.
After the music and drinking of the night before (courtesy of the Black Cow Saloon, Tincup Whisky Shack, Gin Palace) the daytime was a calmer affair taking in workshops, outdoor cookery demonstrations, a dog show and talks from the likes of Ben Fogle, Jeremy Vine and Michael Morpurgo. Food is a big part of The Good Life Experience, starting with Roger Philips’s mushroom foraging walk through the surrounding woodland on Saturday morning. Relaxed demonstrations showed how to cook almost anything on a campfire, from sourdough bagels by Tom Herbert to Welsh shrimp by Bill Granger, with visitors sitting on long wooden benches in the sunshine and woodsmoke whisping through the air.
It’s no secret that I’m a craft-lover at heart and the festival had so many wonderful things to try. There were activities pitched for everyone: spoon carving, leather work, axe skills, raku pottery, flower crown making and even creative writing. One of my favourite things was the lindy-hop dance class by Swing Patrol – my swing dance friends back in Bristol had better look out for my new ‘crocodile’ and ‘kangaroo’ moves breaking out on the dance floor in the coming weeks!
This festival is family (and dog!) friendly and it was clear to see how much the children were enjoying themselves learning how to climb trees, make sausages and exploring the free vintage fairground. Although I have a sneaking suspicion it will be the memory of mass straw bale fights which will have them begging their parents to take them again next year!
The Good Life Experience festival is held on a beautiful site on the Hawarden Estate, former home of Prime Minister William Gladstone and now owned by his great-great grandson Charlie Gladstone (also the force behind vintage lifestyle brand, Pedlars). This year, we wandered further afield, through the bell tent campsite nestled under the ruins of Hawarden Castle down to a beautiful lake filled with water lilies where, on Sunday, the local coracle racing enthusiasts held a regatta… did I mention this festival is varied?!
[Photographs: Bethan John for Decorator’s Notebook and Amy Cutmore for HomeShoppingSpy. We attended the festival as guests of the organisers, but the wonderful time we had was entirely our own.]