After a really amazing summer holiday with my family, starting a new job, settling into a new school year, after school clubs etc etc, I was really looking forward to chill out and explore The Good Life Experience Festival with my Mummy friend Clara. After being offered the opportunity to review the Festival on behalf of Mam Cymru (thank you very much!), the plan was to make the most of it and travel up on the Friday and stay until Sunday. Unfortunately, my body had other ideas! I’ve been suffering from an awful cold and bug since Monday evening, which has now been diagnosed as gastroenteritis and a chest infection! I won’t share too many details but I’ll just say that my condition is not ‘portaloo friendly’, so I decided that travelling up for the Saturday was as much as I could do and the fact that I’m writing this proves that yes I did survive #MamPower!
For those of you who haven’t discovered The Good Life Experience, it’s an annual four-day Festival in September and held at the amazingly beautiful and peaceful Hawarden Estate in North Wales. This was the sixth edition of the Festival and having spoken to many ‘regulars’ at the event, I understand that this years festival was bigger than usual.
One of the founders is one of the coolest Welsh Mams out there, none other than Cerys Matthews who needs no introduction! Other members of the team are the Gladstone family who own this beautiful Estate. Their collective dream is to create (quote festival programme) ‘Britain’s best and most intimate festival of fun and discovery’.
Upon arrival in the car park, which was conveniently situated in the field across the road, there was none of the usual long queues to get in, it instantly felt welcoming, low key and chilled. I was really pleased that it was less than a 2-minute walk to the entrance, and then less than a 5-minute walk to the camping ground. Massive high five for this guys, another high five for providing so many portaloos, showers and water refill stations too!
Between the campsite and the festival field itself there was the stunning Hawarden Estate Farm Shop, selling lots of gorgeous Welsh products and other lovely stuff too. They had a deli, meat counter, coffee counter and had everything you needed for the weekend from breakfast packs to serving fresh porridge or hot breakfast pittas and lots of Welsh beers and gin (which unfortunately I wasn’t able to take advantage of this year!). I’ll certainly be making a trip back here during the year to get some tasty treats or the ‘Christmas cupboard!’ (no, its never too early!)
The Festival field itself was really welcoming and much smaller than I expected. It was the type of environment that makes you feel relaxed, not packed with dozens of stages and bars and food stalls, just lovely and open and chilled, exactly what the Dr ordered. Everything was close together, and as a result, lots of children and families stayed at the festival all day long and the kids were free to run and explore freely and there were lots of activities for them too; old-fashioned fairground rides to the trapeze to crafts and more.
There’s a great deal of focus on exploring in this festival, exploring heritage and culture and a great deal of that focus is on food, the spoken word and music and how these bring people together to enjoy and discover new things. It was refreshing to see how this festival really takes it back to basics and educates the festival goers rather than focusing on alcohol like most festivals do!
Hybu Cig Cymru/ Meat Promotion Wales had a stand near the entrance and we discovered that Cerys herself was on the way over to do an outdoor cookery demo to promote her new book ‘Where the Wild Cooks Go, which was being officially launched later in the day. During this session Cerys was making cawl on a Kotlich, an oudoor cauldron which hangs on a tripod. I was rather star struck when she first appeared, she is certainly one of my heroes, and she didn’t disappoint.
From the outset she got stuck in, chopping up the veg, educating us about the tradition of cawl, explaining the joy she gets from cooking from scratch for her family and her childhood memories of eating around the table. She also explained how the Hawarden Estate is infamous for battles between Llywelyn Fawr and the English, and sitting there amongst strangers from Wales and England and beyond, it shows how far we’ve come as a Nation and proved how proud Cerys is of her Welsh heritage and upbringing. I made the most of the opportunity to meet Cerys and her Mam as she continued to stir up the cawl! They were lovely, and so was the Welsh lamb cawl!
Later on myself and Clara walked around the makers row, the whittling green and the stalls, and it was lovely to see traditional crafts and expert makers at work creating all sorts of lovely pieces from jewellery to knives to copper pieces and wooden bowls, you could pay to join in and create a piece to take home, which is such a lovely idea.
Amongst the stallholders we met lots of lovely Welsh mams who were here to showcase their own homemade products and small businesses including Mabli Knits from Carmarthenshire and Bathing Beauty from Rhuthin. It was a feast for the eyes between and senses between the gorgeous skincare products to clothes and jewellery, from leather bags and shoes to homeware and art and much more. You could literally do a lot of damage to your credit card here, but also have some pride and comfort knowing that you are supporting these carefully picked businesses and crafters, there was none of the usual ‘tat’ or ‘tacky’ stalls here, it was all sustainable and high quality which I loved.
The Festival programme is full to the brim of talks and guest speakers. From inspirational talks by people like Dame Stella Rimmington, former Director General of MI5 to Helen Sharman, the first Briton in Space to talks about mental health and life coaching to stand up comedy, there was literally something here for everyone. We stumbled upon a talk by John Savage who was sharing his experience of the Joy Divison with Emma Warren. Baring in mind that this was a 2pm talk with kids running around, I didn’t really appreciate his constant swearing and the way he kept glamorizing drugs, I think this may have been more suitable later on in the evening!
A complete contrast and a very welcoming site was the river area on the Hawarden Estate, especially as the rather hot Ben Fogle was on site judging a hilarious and popular dog diving competition! Here, you could rent a canoe and paddle along at your own pace, take part in the wild swimming sessions or even the near by Fire Walking session, or you could simply just relax and hang out here like we did!
Near by was the wellness are with a row of tepees offering massages, reiki, reflexology, kinesiology, tai chi, yoga and more. Most of these were booked up in advance, but I loved the fact that it was in such a peaceful and private setting, I regret not booking a session in advance but you live and learn!
Later in the afternoon we attended Cerys’ book launch and we managed to get front row seats. I’m not just saying this, but this book ‘Where the Wild Cooks Go’ is amazing! It’s not your usual cookery book, its so much more than that, its another educational voyage of discovery, like the festival itself. This culinary voyage takes you around the world as you cook in your own kitchen. It’s sectioned into foods from 15 different countries, and as well as learning about the traditions and food culture in those countries, there are poems, stories & photos from Cerys’ adventures in those countries and as if that wasn’t enough, she’s created a musical playlist for you to listen to whilst cooking the recipes!
Unique, informative, inspiring and no nonsense, which is how I’d sum up Cerys herself and the Festival too. It’s out now and well worth the £25, myself and my Mother in Law have already made a plan to cook the cawl this week and I can’t wait to make the Jamaican Chickpea and Potato Curry and Middle Eastern Roast Rhubarb with Yoghurt with Elsi!
During the launch, Cerys talled about how many songs refer to food and how they go hand in hand, and one of my Festival highlights was listening to Cerys singing Sosban Fach – her voice is to die for!
On that note, I was pleased to see the ‘Pen Bar Lag’ tent, where there was an opportunity to enjoy Welsh music and poetry and even Welsh lessons too. I always get annoyed when Festivals in Wales have no Welsh language events. I hope this part of the festival develops and becomes integrated into the Festival as a whole as I think it would be brilliant to see bilingual signs, Welsh words on the brochures and marketing materials etc.
Going back to food, there were plenty of food stalls at the festival and you could also eat at the Hawarden Estate Café too of course, which may be more suitable for fussy kids! If you fancied a bit of a treat, there were evening banquets with famous chefs and as it was Clara’s 40th and my 39th (sorry Clara!) Clara had chosen to take us to the Welsh meat Feast with the amazing Chris Roberts from Caernarfon who has his own TV series on S4C.
This was rather special, and again an intimate experience, bringing strangers together around the tables to mingle and learn from each other and savour good honest local food. The food was fantastic, all Welsh meat and my highlight was the beef and also the roasted pumpkin with cheese which I had third helpings of!
We sat with friends from Machynlleth and a lovely police officer from London and his wife and I spent two hours talking about his community work in Grenwich and the frightening county lines which, as a parent, scares me to death. The evening did what it said on the tin, great food and great company and I learnt a lot and despite my illness I managed to enjoy it!
After the meal we went to the main stage, which was actually a covered and cosy marquee. I’m really glad we made it in time for Errol Linton, he was utterly amazing, as was Junior Senior – I would never have discovered these two had it not been for this amazingly curated festival, but I’ll be downloading their music now!
As we left the festival at midnight, we were delighted that the Farm shop and café were still open! A lemon and ginger tea was exactly what I needed before braving the tent. I suddenly realised that I am now middle aged, the fact that I was that excited about tea proved that my mad partying days at crazy festivals are a thing of the past! I am much more suited to an intimate and boutique festival like this where I did get to experience all the good things in life amongst like minded people. I can’t wait to return and yes, I will take Elsi with me next time as she will totally love it too. Diolch Cerys and the Gladstones!