Given that writing is about life, and life takes places in a location, it’s actually more surprising than more word events don’t focus on the where. Even more rare is a literary soiree that embraces the ‘where’ outside – nature, environment, and landscape. The Wealden Literary Festival is a celebration of the outdoors, the natural world and the earth beneath our feet. Describing themselves as ‘a rootling of roots and a stomp across the landscapes we are part of’ it is a weekend exploring the relationship between person and place, offering talks, workshops, walks, art installations, craft stalls, local food, activities and more that aim to encourage people to reflect more on the relationship with their surroundings, explore the rhythms and patterns of place, and be inspired by their experience.
Taking place at over 18th – 19th June 2016 in the beautiful and enchanting Boldshaves Gardens, Kent, where guests will be able to explore over 100 acres of surrounding woodland and farmland. This it’s first year, and the process from idea to fruition has been something of an organic one for founders and directors Andrew and Laura Willen.
Having been London dwellers for many years, they would ‘constantly plot our escape from the confines of the city to explore some of the countless wonderful places across Britain, often armed with little more than a sleeping bag, a book and a chocolate bar or two.’
This gave them a taste of not only the extraordinary diversity of the country’s landscapes but also the fragility of those landscapes, partly caused by the detachment from our surroundings. The modern lifestyle of a top floor flat, where you don’t know your neighbours, buying packaged food that does not resemble how it may have left the ground, glued to technology all indicate a growing separation between us and our surroundings.
As a result, they’ve invited down a whole host of authors who in recent years who have written inspiring books about the natural world, our sense of place and the ways in which nature can enrich our lives.
As Andrew explains ‘The idea behind the festival therefore is to celebrate not just the written word but also the subject matter of those books, i.e. the actual, living world around us. Given the everyday importance of the natural world in all our lives, we hope that the festival might appeal to people regardless of whether they are avid readers or not.’
The two days are jam packed with a programme of events, talks, readings, and conversations. Apt for the location, Philip Walling will be telling the story of wool, money, farming and the soil as he discusses his book Counting Sheep: A Celebration of the Pastoral Heritage of Britain. There’s Patrick Barkham who walked the coastlines of Britain for his book Coastlines: The Story of our Shore, and Miriam Darlington & Charles Foster in conversation about their experiences with wild animals. Esther Woolfson will read from
Field Notes from a Hidden City, proving that nature isn’t only something that happens in rural locations, whilst Cynan Jones and Tom Bullough reflect upon the role of place and nature in fiction.
One concern of Andrew and Laura is the lack of access to nature for young people and those from more disadvantaged backgrounds. As a result, they’ve made accessibility key, with a range of activities appealing to young people, and tickets starting at only £5. Practicing what they preach, they have engaged with the local community and been working with nearby schools, universities, bookshops, galleries, businesses, artists, authors, farmers, producers and more to bring the festival alive.
Whether you’re a fan of words or the world, it’s definitely worth exploring the local landscape this weekend, engaging with the community and heading down to the Wealden Literary Festival.
It might even be sunny.