The Best Of British Summer Festivals

What’s happened to us? Each summer, more and more festivals spring up all over the country. What’s more, they display an amazing level of diversity and originality. Here Lola Borg from Reader’s Digest picked out some of the best:

The Magic Loungeabout, Skipton, North Yorkshire

This upmarket festival experience is set in the grounds of the magnificent Broughton Hall. One of the new breed of small ’boutique’ events, it promises an experience for the discerning festival-goer that includes decent loos, no queues, and even papers and breakfast delivered straight to your tent.

From July 27–29. Weekend camping tickets from £112.

HowTheLightGetsIn, Hay-on-Wye, Wales

‘There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in,’ warbled Leonard Cohen in his song Anthem, the inspiration for the title. Nailing the myth that the UK has irretrievably dumbed down, this is ten days and 350-odd events for those who want creative thinking, debates and highbrow ideas (‘cerebral stuff by day and partying by night,’ they say).

Running alongside the Hay Literary Festival and ten minutes away in the town centre, it’s organised by charity The Institute of Art and Ideas. Speakers this year include director Richard Eyre and MPs Diane Abbott and David Blunkett, but they also feature unknowns who have ‘something interesting to say’. The ultimate aim, say organisers, is to ‘make sure you leave with something more than just a hangover’. We’ll drink to that.

From May 31–June 10. Individual events start from around £4.

Brighton Festival, Sussex

It’s the third biggest arts festival in the world after Edinburgh and Adelaide, and the unusual aspect of this one is the guest director.

Last year it was Aung San Suu Kyi (who admittedly couldn’t be that hands-on because she was under house arrest in Burma at the time). This summer it’s thesp Vanessa Redgrave, so the festival won’t just have an actorly feel but a very right-on one, too. She’s taking as her theme a poem by Seamus Heaney, ‘Republic of Conscience’, about those who don’t have a voice.

But that shouldn’t spoil the fun. Three weeks of arts, film, comedy, music and street events are on the cards. Brighton commission really innovative artistic works—sound sculptures, for example—and prices for ticketed events are kept low. Look out this year for the huge street sculpture Waterlitz by Generic Vapeur, a ‘massive, massive, massive spectacle’ (they say) on the seafront. Let’s hope the sun shines.

From May 5–27. Many events are free, but see for individual ticketed events (most are kept at £10 or under)

Hop Farm, Tonbridge, Kent

There are too many music festivals to choose from—last year the Daily Telegraph gave their line-up of ‘The 100 Best’. So how to pick? Well, it helps if it’s on your doorstep, of course. If not, the quirky angle on this one is that there’s no branding, no sponsorship and no VIPs, so every festival-goer has the same experience.

Run by Vince Power, ex-owner of the Mean Fiddler music venues, he has no bother luring in the class acts. So expect to see hoary old rock giants—and what’s wrong  with that? Last year, Prince played for hours on end, and previous artists have included The Eagles, Morrissey, Lou Reed and Bryan Ferry. People you’ve heard of, in other words. And it’s all set in 400 acres of lovely, rolling countryside.

From June 29–July 1

Latitude, Henham Park, Suffolk for individual ticketed events)

Yes, a multi-arts festival for those who don’t get off on muddy fields! Festival organiser Melvin Benn conceived this as ‘a live version of the review section of our Sunday broadsheet paper—but all in one place,’ and regulars murmur that it’s the ‘Radio 4 of festivals’.

This year, there are 18 stages devoted to literature, poetry, dance and theatre, as well as film and comedy. Expect big names tempted by the proximity to London and the laid-back, unpretentious vibe (Bon Iver, Elbow and Paul Weller have confirmed). It’s got bigger over the last few years, so the younger crowd tend to head to the End of the Road festival in Dorset, but it’s always good for older types or families with moody teenagers.
From July 12–15. Weekend camping £177, day camping £77

Edinburgh International Book Festival

OK, so the city is more famous for its International Festival or the Fringe, but the book festival is a calm, cerebral oasis in the midst of the hoopla that is Edinburgh in August.

Set around lovely Charlotte Square with its deckchairs and cafes, it’s a literary conflab with the lure of top names—everyone from Edna O’Brien and Caitlin Moran to our very own A N Wilson, by way of any Booker Prize winner you care to name. For the first time this year, within the book festival is the Edinburgh Writers’ Conference—five days with Scotland’s leading scribblers.

From August 11–27. Many events are free (see for individual ticketed events)

Buxton Festival Fringe, Derbyshire
Always fantasised about giving up the day job in the tax office to do stand up? Like Edinburgh, this is an ‘un-juried’ event, which means anyone can take part, however potentially diabolical the act.

It’s kept cheap enough to encourage all comers (though it gets big names, too). Most interesting is what Festival Chair Stephanie Billen describes as the “wonderful catch-all of ‘Other Events’, which can be almost anything”—and this year includes close-up magic, a flower festival and the Buxton Military Tattoo. Cultural and buzzy, it’s been described as ‘Edinburgh as it was 50 years ago,’ and is now one of the acknowledged stops in the run-up to its more famous uncle. On Fringe Sunday (July 8) performers give tasters of future performances.
From July 4-22.

Abergavenny Food Festival, Monmouthshire, South Wales

Described as both the ‘Cannes’ and the ‘Glastonbury’ of food festivals, so take your pick. Either way, this is the one for those who like their nosh.

or one weekend in September, this little Welsh town swells its population to 30,000 and bursts with some 200 stalls selling everything from sushi to salami, alongside regional specialities.

There are lectures and master-classes — names from previous years have included Anthony Bourdain and Clarissa Dickson Wright—and it has a reputation for catching rising foodie stars. Added to the mix are lots of tables for impromptu food sampling, and a ‘chillaxing’ area set near the battered remains of Abergavenney’s 12th-century castle. What’s not to love?

From September 15–16.

The May issue of Reader’s Digest is out on 21st April

 [pictures credit: Arkadyevna;  spiritquest; charmingman; Donald Judge]
Miss B

Miss B

Miss B is a Belle About Town who likes to bring a little bit of style into every aspect of her life. An experienced journalist with over a decade in the industry she turned to the web to fill a gap for tech-savvy stylish women who want the best life has to offer at their fingertips. She loves a decadent cocktail bar, a beautifully cut dress, the perfect pair of heels, quality over quantity and is partial to Asian-fusion food, enjoys holidaying in the sun and shopping breaks to New York. But her first love is of course London!


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