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The top festivals to visit in Wiltshire in 2017

Posted on 11th January 2017

People visit Wiltshire for the scenery, the beautiful landscapes, relaxing walks and the fascinating history of this quintessential county. But Wiltshire is also something of a secret gem of culture, and each year the region plays host to some fascinating events to stimulate the intellect and imagination, both local and touring from around the world. If you’re planning your Wiltshire cottage holidays and are wondering what’s on in the area this year, you’ll be delighted to find that Wiltshire hosts countless festivals to accommodate any interest, from art to trainspotting. Here are our top picks of the best festivals in Wiltshire for 2017.

Music

Orchestra

When we think of festivals, most of us immediately think of music, and luckily Wiltshire has much to offer for the music lover of every persuasion in its festivals for 2017. If you’re a connoisseur of classical and choral music, the Edington Festival of Music will enchant and inspire, as for one week the town’s fourteenth-century church is filled with some of the finest cathedral and collegiate choirs in the country taking part in the daily services. The Great British Proms also venture to Wiltshire in 2017, with a prom at Bowood House near Chippenham and Calne on the 6th August 2017. The National Symphony Orchestra will make their debut at Bowood, accompanied by the Brit-Award winning vocal ensemble, Only Men Aloud, soprano singer Philippa Healey, and a traditional piped band for an evening of classical favourites performed by only the finest musicians.

For folk music fans, the Chippenham Folk Festival is the perfect weekend of entertainment, running from the 26th until the 29th of May. This participatory festival promotes the best in English folk music with performances, street parades and workshops led by artists such as Cloudstreet and the Exmouth Shanty Men. This explosion of folkloric excitement is matched only by the Marlborough International Jazz Festival from the 14th to the 16th of July. One of the top events of its kind in the UK, the bands featured range from well-known touring artists such as Clare Teal to grassroots local artists like the Wiltshire Blues Sessions. A carnival atmosphere spreads over this corner of Wiltshire over the weekend, full of music, dance and laughter.

Whilst Larmer Tree Festival is taking a year off in 2017, there is no shortage of popular music festivals to explore this year. The globally renowned WOMAD Festival (World of Music, Arts and Dance) is back to Charlton Park for another year of what the Daily Telegraph calls an “annual unearthing of global gems”. Although the line-up is yet to be announced, big things can be expected of WOMAD, with 2016’s artists including George Clinton, Baaba Maal and Roots Manuva. Expect music from around the world over seven stages, along with poetry readings, comedy, interactive workshops, fairground rides and art installations. For something a little more low-key, Fieldview Festival from the 3rd to the 6th of August is the perfect choice. The festival describes itself as a “beautiful combination of top-notch, fun-filled, cutting edge music, locally sourced cuisine and delicious local brews”, and also offers interactive workshops and games, making it the perfect family festival.

Art

Ponten Pie’s Copacabana

Image Credit: Ponten Pie (Salisbury Festival)

If you’re looking for an experience that fuses the senses and comprises multiple art forms in one, Wiltshire’s many art festivals are set to inspire. Although there are several arts festivals in the area, the most notable of them all is Salisbury International Arts Festival. Running from the 26th of May to the 10th of June 2017, this is not one to be missed, as it is the final of their series of festivals that have been inspired by the points of the compass. In 2017, for Festival Director Toby Smith’s final year, the event looks towards the West and particularly the culture of French-Canadian province, Québec. The festival will feature an eclectic mixture of art exhibitions, classical music, folk, jazz, circus skills and dance performances, featuring artists as diverse as the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, dance troupe Ballet Black and Québecois folk group Lu Vent du Nord. Everything from the performances to the food and décor will make you feel as though you have been transported across the Atlantic into this bustling urban centre.

Literature

Literature

Home to such notable wordsmiths as poet Thomas Moore, Ian Fleming, William Golding and Sir Terry Pratchett, Wiltshire has been a hub of literary activity throughout history. It’s no surprise, then, that the area is home to one of the UK’s most notable annual literature festivals: Swindon Festival of Literature. For two weeks from the 2nd to 14th of May, the twenty-third Swindon Festival of Literature will bring together novelists, poets, philosophers, naturalists, adventurers and more, all speaking and reading on several topics to interest readers of every enthusiasm. The festival offers both guided walks and traditional lectures to create a dynamic event that draws visitors from around the world. It also features names such as Brian Blessed, Joanne Harris, Ken Livingstone and Yasmin Khan.

Food and drink

Wiltshire Food Festival

Image Credit: Gentlebird (Flickr)

If you’re a self-professed foodie, Wiltshire is set to wow with its extensive programme of festivals celebrating the food and drink from both global and local sources. After dry January, treat yourself to a tipple at the Devizes Festival of Winter Ales on the 24th and 25th of February, where you can sample bespoke local ales whilst enjoying live acoustic music and hot pies at this charming event. Around the 13th of May, Devizes takes a more culinary focus in the Devizes Food and Drink Festival. Although in the early stages of planning, past years suggest that visitors can expect street food from around the world, curries, antipasti and baked goods. Last year also saw some fun food-based activities such as the Devizes Food Festival Bake Off, the Chilli Chuckin’ Challenge and Crumpet Frisbee, so prepare for the unexpected!

In Swindon, one of the county’s favourite festivals is hosted at Blunsdon Station. The Real Ale and Cider Festival allows visitors to drink local ales and home-brewed ciders, as well as enjoying steam train rides aboard Wiltshire’s only standard gauge heritage railway. For something a little more niche, visit the Cheese and Chilli Festival, which tours several towns in Wiltshire on weekends from the 10th of June until the 20th of August. Here, enthusiasts can try out unique cheeses and fiery chillies from across the globe, whilst also participating in live demonstrations and enjoying bike stunt shows, crafts and live music. For a decidedly more traditional fare, visit the Melksham Food and River Festival from the 2nd to the 3rd of September for excellent local food and drink, plus some amazing aquatic activities and on the river such as canoeing and zip wires.

Sports

Castle Combe Circuit

Image Credit: Matt Buck (Wikimedia Commons)

With miles of stunning countryside, Wiltshire is the perfect location for sports and outdoor activities-based events, and there are plenty for visitors to enjoy. Both the Bradford on Avon Walking Festival from the 1st to the 3rd of September, and the Corsham Walking Festival, from the 9th to the 11th of June, are ideal for avid ramblers. Enjoy jaunts through beautiful landscapes with a group, from easy to demanding routes discovering the local wildlife and history with local experts.

For the more adventurous sports enthusiast, the Devizes to Westminster International Canoe Race makes for exhilarating viewing, with several competitions running from the 14th to the 17th of April, from singles to doubles, where records are challenged each year. Alternatively, for motorsports fans, the renowned Castle Combe Circuit is running its Summer Action Festival on the 22nd of July, where car owners are invited to participate in races, whether performance, classic, kit, modified or original. With club displays, drift demos, parades and more, car lovers will enjoy every second of this fantastic event.

Screen

 Film festival

Image Credit: Laura Lee Moreau (Visualhunt)

Film and TV buffs may be pleasantly surprised to find that there are several festivals in Wiltshire that celebrate all things screen. Two of the more unique events are the Banff Mountain Film Festival UK tour leg and Melksham Comic Con. The Banff Mountain Film Festival will appear in various locations including Bath, Swindon and Salisbury during February and March, showing some of the best adventure films from this internationally-renowned festival. Discover skydiving, extreme climbing, dog sledging and even a band of musicians playing in mid-air in these exhilarating screen showings. Aiming to “bring the fun, madness and intrigue of city-style conventions to a small-town, rural setting”, this festival was voted the third best UK convention by Conic Conventions in 2012, and will feature artists and writers such as Jack ‘Jackademus’ Lawrence and John-Paul Bove. Perfect for any comic book or superhero film fan.

Wiltshire’s top five most charming Christmas markets

Posted on 18th October 2016

Christmas is one of the most magical times to visit Wiltshire, as the ancient landscape becomes dusted in a smattering of frost and visitors flock to the county to experience the blissful retreat the countryside offers. You’ll feel like a character in a Dickensian novel spending the festive period in Wiltshire, from the cosy fireside of a Wiltshire holiday cottage to the bustling streets of historic Salisbury, lit with glowing lanterns. For many people, there is nothing more festive than a Christmas market. Given the rich history of local traditions in the area, Wiltshire is one of the best places to find captivating Christmas markets, and here are five of its best.

 Christmas Market

Wealth of Wiltshire Christmas Fayre

One of the largest Christmas events in the entire county each year is the Wealth of Wiltshire Christmas Fayre. Organised by the county council, the fayre is usually part of the A Legacy for Wiltshire programme, seeking to support local economy and businesses. This year’s Wealth of Wiltshire Christmas Fayre will be held on Thursday 1st of December 2016 in the Atrium, County Hall, Trowbridge. It will include everything from local craft and gift stalls to magic shows, local choirs and even Frozen princesses Elsa and Anna to keep the kids entertained.

Devizes market town lights up

Another popular Christmas event in Wiltshire is the Devizes Christmas Festival and Lantern Parade on the 25th of November 2016. This occasion attracts crowds of up to 3,000 people to the market town, where onlookers stare in wonder at a river of hundreds of stunning lanterns created by members of the local community. Everything from classic shapes to elephants, dragons and birds will grace the streets in gorgeous colours. Expect captivating street theatre masterpieces, handmade gifts, delicious dishes and live music topped off with an explosive fireworks display finale. And, of course, Father Christmas switches on the seasonal Christmas lights.

Salisbury Christmas market

From the 24th of November to the 18th of December, the breath-taking gothic location of the Guildhall Square in Salisbury will be home to one of the county’s biggest markets. The Salisbury Christmas Market offers an array of locally-made delicacies and foods to sample, all accompanied by delightful festive music played live around the site. The architecture of the area adds to the sense of grandiosity, in stunning contrast to over 100 decorated wooden chalets inspired by the finest traditions of European Christmas markets. Expect Gluhwein – or mulled wine, Bratwurst, Stollen and Lebkuchen (gingerbread) alongside many British specialities supporting the local economy.

Made in Bradford on Avon Christmas Market

If you’re looking for local handcrafts and creations, the Made in Bradford on Avon Christmas Market is the perfect choice. On the 12th of November in St. Margaret’s Hall, local artists will showcase their finest work, selling all manner of gifts and crafts. The event is run by the Bradford on Avon Community Arts Centre, which is home to over a hundred local creatives. Exquisite paintings, chic ceramics, woodwork, handmade jewellery, cakes and much more will be on offer. There’s even a raffle to get that lucky Christmas spirit spreading through the air!

Christmas Country Fair in aid of The Soldiers’ Charity

There really is something for everyone at the Lavington Community Hall’s Christmas Country Fair. On the 12th of November, hundreds of people will make the most of the free entry to this fantastic event and peruse stalls selling local crafts and produce: jewellery, textiles, glass crafts, Christmas decorations, cards, skincare, cakes, hats, bags, handmade wooden toys and much more. Some new stallholders this year along with many of your old favourites. A brilliant atmosphere plus delicious soup lunches, a raffle and tombola will make this a very fun event for all the family. Best of all, profits and donations all go to The Soldiers’ Charity, which offers valuable lifelong support to British Army veterans and their families.
There will also be Sunday markets hosted in Salisbury throughout November and December, and the weekly markets in towns such as Melksham and Corsham on Tuesdays, Trowbridge and Amesbury on Wednesdays, Devizes on Thursdays, Calne on Fridays, Chippenham and Marlborough on Saturdays. All of these local stalls are sure to get into the Christmas spirit throughout November and December. So wherever you are in Wiltshire this Christmas season, you’re sure to have a very merry time!

 

Swindon’s STEAM museum highlighting music in July

Posted on 24th June 2016

As part of the ongoing celebration in Swindon to mark the importance of the last 175 years of city history, music will take over the STEAM Museum of the Great Western Railway this July.

 Statue of Isambard Kingdom Brunel

In July, the museum will celebrate the architect of the Western Railway with the operatic salute: “Brunel: The Little Man in the Tall Hat”. It is a revival of a production originally performed a decade ago by a local youth opera. There will be two performances on 9-10 July at the museum.

The opera retells the life story of the Isambard Kingdom Brunel from the perspective of fictional Swindon-based family called the Beddows. They are a family of railway workers who help build and travel the rail system all the way to St Ives in Cornwall.

The 60-minute opera was originally commissioned for the Brunel 200 South-West celebrations and features 100 singers and performers. The 2006 performances of the production were described by national critics as “astounding”.

This July’s performance is offered as part this year’s Swindon175 celebrations. Tickets are available now from the Wyvern Theatre Box Office.

The museum is set for more great musical performances in July. The highly-acclaimed Wessex Male Choir will perform on 16 July. This summer concert will give visitors yet another reason to enjoy their visit to the museum. Concert admission includes access to STEAM’s permanent exhibition and displays. Visit the museum website for more information.

Located in a restored Grade II railway building, STEAM celebrates the Great Western railway. For visitors, they can learn the stories of the men and women who built, ran and used the railway. It is a perfect attraction for those enjoying a holiday cottage in Wiltshire.

Image Credit: Chris RubberDragon (flickr.com)

Summer Solstice returns to Stonehenge

Posted on 26th May 2016

As the Summer Solstice approaches, Stonehenge is preparing itself for the celebration.

 Sunrise at Stonehenge

The annual event, which marks when the sun reaches its highest point in the northern sky, has been celebrated at the Wiltshire site for thousands of years. Although its origins or true meaning are unknown, Stonehenge is seen as an ancient prehistoric site for worship and celebration.

The solstice takes place over 20-21 June and visitors can access the monument field from 7pm on Monday evening.

The sunset is expected to take place at 9:26pm and sunrise is scheduled for 4:52am the following morning with organisers expecting the attraction to be cleared by 8am. Last year, 40,000 people attended the solstice event, which involves a variety of pagan and Druid celebrations.

The staff at English Heritage – the management group of the Neolithic site – are asking that all visitors be respectful and orderly during the event. They are urging people to remember that Stonehenge is considered a sacred site.

As a result the staff are this year restricting the use of alcohol to reduce the risk for those attending and to protect the monument.

According to English Heritage, the Solstice car park will be open at 7pm on 20 June with last admissions at 6am and the car park will close at 12 noon on 21 June. There is a £15 parking fee for this year’s solstice celebrations, but for more information, please visit the English Heritage website.

Visitors heading on Wiltshire cottage holidays for the summer solstice celebrations are also expected to visit some of the other historic sites in the county such as the Old Sarum and the Salisbury Cathedral.

 

Gardeners’ Question Time to take place at Stonehenge

Posted on 12th May 2016

The popular Gardeners’ Question Time on BBC Radio 4 will host a broadcast from Wiltshire’s iconic Stonehenge later this month.

 Flowers near Stonehenge

The programme will record the episode on 24 May at the English Heritage Centre near Stonehenge near Amesbury. Tickets to the event cost £4.50. The radio programme – in which a panel of experts discuss horticulture – features top tips for local growing. At the Stonehenge event, attendees can enjoy discussions amongst moderator Eric Robson, Anne Swithinbank, Matthew Biggs, and Pippa Greenwood.

Swithinbank is a writer and regular panellist on the programme. She trained at the Royal Botanical Gardens and served as a Glasshouse supervisor in Surrey. Biggs, a professional gardener, has appeared on gardening television programmes on Channel 4 and ITV. The third member of the panel, Greenwood is a plant pathologist with an avid interest in growing vegetables in the UK.

Gardeners’ Question Time attracts more than 2 million listeners a week. The show is recorded all over the country and in a different location each week. Since its creation in 1947, producers estimate there have been answers provided for more than 30,000 gardening questions. Attending a recording is a fun affair as panellists hear and answer questions for the first time.

The warmer temperatures have helped Wiltshire bloom. The county’s various gardens and stately homes are opening to allow visitors to enjoy the flora as they take a cottage holiday in Wiltshire. After several recent discoveries, the English Heritage sites in Wiltshire also make the county a great place to visit at all times of the year.

Image Credit: Andrew_Writer (flickr.com)