Ways With Words: Festivals of the City or the Countryside?
We drank coffee on Bermondsey Street and discussed city v. country life. Around us were Londoners leading their ordinary lives: emailing, phoning, reading and talking. Very appealing. So are we really city people? What would we miss about country living if we moved to the city?
We decided we like having a spacious farmhouse in Devon with room for crowds to come and stay; a large dining room for long, slow meals; a big kitchen with an open fire where I can bake and make; vegetable growing; a garden to potter around; leaves to gather; log piles to stack; compost heaps to maintain; and mostly lamp light and big fires for quiet evenings reading. In short we like to do nothing much.
On the other hand we do enjoy having lots to do in London and pack our days with activity: visiting galleries; exploring shops and streets; finding restaurants, parks; listening to music in cathedrals and watching the world from café terraces.
Embarrassingly we decided we need regular doses of both city and country, which is greedy, not very green and politically unsound.
We have always seen Ways With Words as the festivals of quiet, country places. We feel that going to beautiful, peaceful settings is part of the festival experience.
So at present visitors can choose to have festival life on the banks of Derwentwater in the Lake District and when not in Theatre by the Lake listening to Alastair Darling or Claire Tomalin can marvel at the mountains (or even climb them) and stroll amongst the daffodils. Words by the Water lasts for 10 days in March and thousands came to the Lake District just a month ago.
In July many book and idea enthusiasts will come to Ways With Words at Dartington Hall in Devon. They will be there partly to hear Michael Palin, Jung Chang, Tariq Ali, P.D.James, Hilary Mantel, Joan Bakewell, Julian Clary, Michael Holroyd – and about 100 other speakers, but they will also be there for the tranquil gardens of Dartington Hall; the walks by the River Dart and the soft hills of Devon.
November in Southwold is quite different: the waves crash on the shingle; the inland lighthouse flashes in the centre of the town; the colourful fishing boats deliver their catch to huts in the harbour. Besides leaving with bags full of books visitors often take boxes of fish home for their freezers and cases of Adnams wine. Life is slow and tranquil in Suffolk.
But now in May, our latest festival, Words in the Park, caters for the city side of our dual personalities, albeit in Holland Park which with its flower-filled gardens, trees and calm offers much tranquility. For three days (18-20 May) visitors can move from hearing Jeremy Paxman, Andrew Marr, Maureen Lipman, Sandi Toksvig, Bettany Hughes and many more, to sitting by flower beds in the park or stepping out into the bustle of the marvellous shops of Kensington High Street. Kensington Palace, with its newly designed gardens is just up the road. In fact there is so much to see and do I return to my original musing: town mouse or country mouse? A mix of both seems a good option.
Never say Ways With Words doesn’t offer variety and a richness of experience.
(Find out more about the range of Ways With Words experiences on our website: wayswithwords.co.uk To go on the Ways With Words mailing list phone: 01803 867373. For the latest news sign up for our e-newsletter through the website.)