By Morwenna Kearns
It was hot last weekend. Hot enough for my tent to be uninhabitable before it was even fully pegged down, hot enough for sweat to render sunblock useless before I'd finished applying it, hot enough for foot-stomping bands to play to what must have looked like empty fields, the crowd huddled in any shade they could get along the hedge boundaries.
It was hot in the National Forest – a vast area spanning 200 square miles from Leicestershire to Derbyshire to Staffordshire, home to over 20,000 people, designed to re-green a former coal mining region. In the first 20 years of the initiative, tree cover doubled from a meagre six per cent to a more leafy twelve.
Under those trees it was far more chilled. Though there was plenty going on elsewhere, the woods were the setting for the most delightful and spectacular elements of Timber, a new music and arts festival (July 6th to 8th 2018). Bands and DJs played sets in double-decker wooden stages under a canopy of trees, children built their own wooden playgrounds and families sat around a shaded campfire to hear stories and music. The theme of the forest and its heritage, both natural and industrial, ran through the three-day festival, with the event's highlights tying the entertainment together.
Tree and Wood, a performance by artist and producer Jony Easterby, took place under the trees each evening after dark and I could have watched it every time. Lit by fire and innovative projections, performers told stories of people, industry and trees through movement and folk song. Stuart Maconie gave a fittingly warm keynote lecture in a sweltering marquee, talking about his role as the president of the Ramblers and his aim to make the walkers' charity more inclusive and active in improving Brits' right to wander. The previous day, the tent accommodated football fans for the England match (who countered an overheated projector with good humour) – a change of pace from the funny and insightful fireside chats with The Old Ways author Robert Macfarlane and wildlife sound pioneer Chris Watson (who claimed he'd once been asked by a client for an actual clip of a sabre-toothed tiger; he sent them a recording of his dog).
On the music stages, folk and grown-up alt rock were well represented – This Is The Kit, Hope & Social, Jennifer Reid, Brooke Bentham – but most people could discover something new and to their liking, and awesome. HMS Morris were cool and funny; Lion was powerful and heart-rending; Perhaps Contraption were loud and joyous; Jane Weaver (above) was simply wonderful. We wanted to dance to all of them, but it was just too hot.
Luckily Timber was not solely a music festival; activities across the site catered for adults and children with practical skills (straw-bale construction, woodcrafts) rubbing shoulders with mindfulness (stone balancing, yoga) and educational sessions (bees, a birdlife panel). And, of course, beer – supplied by the National Forest's own Tollgate Brewery.
As with any festival, inaugural or otherwise, there were snafus. Issues with public transport access to the site (an advertised shuttle bus from the nearest railway station turned out to be a taxi, and only for people who had pre-booked seats with their festival tickets) seemed at odds with Timber's ethos of environmental action. For an ordinary festival, I wouldn't expect provision of that kind, but at Timber sustainability was one of its core values.
Luckily there was enough going on to relieve the stress: Radio 3's Slow Radio shed was an oasis, while people reclined in hammocks, reading books borrowed from the forest library, nearby. Museum of the Moon by Luke Jerram (above) – a scale model of Earth's lunar satellite, accompanied with an eerie sound composition – attracted people just to sit and look, and the immersive virtual reality experience In the Eyes of the Animal (below) was perfect for its woodland setting. After dark, a path was lit up by pa-BOOM's incredible Fire Garden.
An adaptation of The Lost Words: Seek, Find, Speak (top photo) was an interactive theatre production but wasn't scary (the 'I' word generally sends me running in the other direction); rather a gentle midsummer trail aimed at children but magical for grown-ups too. The whole festival site was also incredibly clean and safe, for this veteran of Glastonbury and Reading.
More (and more free) activities for child-free adults would have been welcome, but perhaps these went on after bedtime. Hot, yet chilled out, I was in bed as the forest went to sleep.
Be the first to hear about dates and early bird tickets for Timber 2019 via www.timberfestival.org.uk.
Photo credits: 1. Timber/Andrew Allcock; 2. Timber/Chris Payne; 3. Clearly/Karin de Figueiredo; 4. Timber/Andrew Allcock; 5. Clearly/Karin de Figueiredo