Imagine a place so magical the stars would be jealous, where small canvas tents are dotted around like freckles on the landscape’s cheeks and festoon lighting hangs like illuminated droplets of water on gossamer casting an amber blanket of light over every bend, corner and smile-stained face. Imagine a place so carefree the moon rests over it as a perfect crescent, and underneath that moon children sit around log fires toasting marshmallows on the ends of sticks, then later into the night those same children’s laughs can be heard floating through the air as they play on a 1930’s vintage fairground that lights up the sky with hues of red and green and blue. Imagine a place so idillic fields stretch like a sea of green as far as the eye can see overlooked by the kind of castle you read of in fairytales, where night is as alive as day and the sound of banjos, trumpets and flutes fills the air. Imagine an unlikely family of 2000 strangers who are bought together by one thing… a love for the good life.
Now, would you believe me if I told you this place really existed? Well, it does, and you’ll find it tucked away in a sleepy village called Hawarden. Every September this charming village is bought to life by the legendary (and bloomin’ beautiful) Cerys Matthews, record industry and arts consultant Steve Abbott, and retailers, farmers and authors Charlie and Caroline Gladstone who put on a festival to rival all festivals. It may not be as big as your average festival, but believe me when I say this place oozes life and a heck of a lot of spirit. Unlike most festivals you will attend, this one is a celebration of music, food, books and the great outdoors, aptly named a ’boutique festival’. As you duck your head into each tent and then lift it when inside, you are surprised by an experience totally different to the last. From axe-throwing to butchery displays, poetry to comedy, camp-fire cooking to camp-fire sing-a-longs, the 1930’s fairground, bushcraft to leather work, knot-tying to stone carving, talks by explorers and beer served by experts, there is literally something for everyone; and don’t for one second think they have forgotten about the children – oh no – they have this covered too. Children have their own tent for eating in guarded by a sign proclaiming “No adults allowed – CHILDREN ONLY”, they have endless craft
classes, art classes, sing-a-longs, banjo lessons and marshmallow toasting around camp fires. However, their favourite thing to do was build their take on the Leaning Tower of Pisa using the humble hay bale and launch themselves fearlessly right from the very top into a pit of, yep, you guessed it, more hay! It was so lovely to see children being children and their smiles were infectious. Although I enjoyed the 2-day break from motherhood, it did make me wish I had taken our duo of little minions along with us too.
I honestly cannot tell you how magical this place was, but, as my fiancé put it, it was “like a tiny bubble in the middle of the countryside where nothing could go wrong; our own little slice of paradise”.
I think my favourite part of the whole weekend was listening to the incredible Cuban band, Revolucionarios Cubano, who injected some Latin soul into our lives; there wasn’t a single pair of feet that were still. They also had a tent of their own from which the sounds of Cuba could be heard and the most beautiful cocktails and beers were served. There was the coolest looking guy manning the tent, and when he wasn’t playing the maracas and drums along to the music, he could be found dipping his gigantic Cuban cigar into his tumbler of neat rum whilst showing off his best salsa moves. What a guy!
The most magical part of the festival was the Tincup Whiskey shack which had been set up in the middle of a tiny wood. At night, the lighting was incredible and created the most stunning ambience. Red, green, purple, blue – it was
truly stunning. Inside the shack was one of the coolest people I think I have ever laid eyes on. As he chatted away with his customers, I couldn’t help but stare! He built a unique rapport with every single person he spoke with and remembered things about them that anybody else would have forgotten. By the second day I had plucked up the courage to speak to him and what an incredibly kind and friendly guy he was. As if that wasn’t enough, he went buy the name of Flash Gordon – The Urban Dandy. Come onnn, does it get any cooler than that??
Now, onto the Gladstone’s themselves. As we drove down the ever-lasting driveway and through the gates of the Hawarden Estate, it was hard to imagine what kind of family would live somewhere as beautiful as this. At night, little squares of orange would glow from the huge castle shaped silhouette and you couldn’t help but think that behind the windows was a Lord and Lady sat in oversized, priceless leather armchairs, legs crossed, not a word said to each other, just the odd glance every now and again over half-moon shaped spectacles and a glass of vintage wine. How wrong we were. Charlie and Caroline Gladstone were the most down to earth and “normal” people you could imagine. They would often be found wondering around this beautiful festival they had been so instrumental in creating mingling with their guests. Had you not been told who they were, you would never have known they were the owners of such a beautiful stretch of land overlooked by the dreamiest most regal castle you could imagine.
The Bell Tents we stayed in were just wonderful, so unpretentious and charming, each lit with a different coloured lamp. Some people had gone to so much effort to turn them into their own little homes; we saw bunting of every variety, we saw tables and chairs, dog beds, barbecues and picnic blankets. It really felt like a little village in itself where neighbours chatted and borrowed supplies from each other. By night, when you had retired to your tent and were wrapped up in your sleeping bags and duvets, you could hear a hum floating in the atmosphere over the fields from the campfire sing-a-longs that went on well into the night. Anywhere else you’d find it annoying, but here it was relaxing and a lovely noise to fall asleep to.
I’ll leave you with some pictures we took now, but before I do, if there is one thing I advise you do in September 2016, it is to experience the good life at ‘The Good Life Experience’. I promise it will leave you wanting to come back year after after year; I know I will be.