Chalk Valley History Festival by Lottie Sharland
Last Friday evening I hopped on a train from Waterloo after work and made my way back down to Wimborne for the weekend. There’s nothing better than escaping London on a Friday. A trip down to Dorset helps me unwind and relax and was well in order after a busy couple of weeks at work. My mum Ali owns the Squash Court shop and café and I love nothing more than to spend a sunny Saturday morning helping out; the cut flowers, seasonal food and general aura of charm create an atmosphere that makes me feel a million miles away from my office in central London.
After a morning in the shop and café an afternoon pottering in the house and picking seasonal vegetables for supper from the kitchen garden is the making of my perfect weekend.On this occasion though the main reason for my trip back was the Chalk Valley History Festival. For one week in June Chalk Valley is transported back in time in honour of their annual history festival. For those that don’t know it Chalk Valley is the most picturesque natural ‘bowl’ in Wiltshire, set amongst the rolling hills of the surrounding countryside it’s around a 25 minutes drive from Wimborne and after hearing rave reviews about it last year the history festival was in our calendar as a must attend for this year.
The festival is a true celebration of history, from talks from some of the countries leading historians, to professional re-enactments and even a 1945 Victory Party there’s quite literally something for everyone. My highlights included Clare Tomalin's talk on Samuel Pepys diary, an account of Churchill’s life by his grandson and MP Nicholas Soames and a fascinating immersive WW1 trench experience.
What really stood out for me at Chalk Valley was the passion; everyone taking part is truly passionate about his or her subject area, those involved in re-enactments stay on site all week and live as if they are their characters, most of the stewards are volunteers and the lecturers really know their stuff. Just wondering round the passion, and also diversity, is obvious. Those involved can’t wait to tell you about what they’re doing or what’s going on, in one tent you’ll find a mock up Tudor court and then around the corner be confronted by a battalion of 18th century soldiers. At one point I looked up to find a Viking climbing into a Spitfire.
There’s something very humbling about being surrounded by that level of knowledge and unashamed enthusiasm.
At the heart of the festival sits an old fashioned stripy big top tent that serves as the bar, it’s beautifully festooned with garlands of flowers and coloured lights and on Saturday evening after our talks had finished and we’d exhausted ourselves walking round we sat back on the grass with a drink in one hand, a Doodlebug salt beef burger in the other and simply soaked up the atmosphere. With the brass band in the background and the sun setting on the valley in front of us it was hard not to fell incredibly thankful; for beautiful countryside, the wealth of history that we have behind us and just for England. All we hear is negativity about our country, but hey, nothing’s perfect and sitting in that field on Saturday evening there wasn’t anywhere else in the world I would have rather been.