If You Build It... A New Festival For Nidderdale

04th June 2014
I think I saw him.

For the past five minutes, I’d been pacing the top Wath road just as it sweeps, picture postcard perfect, down towards Gouthwaite Reservoir. There is a copse of pines, trunks bent a little by wind. Amongst them a cuckoo had been calling. I had been on a run – a pre-summer get my lazy bones back into shape. Sweating and wheezy after the long climb up the dale, I was just starting the happy downward return when... ‘cuckoo...cuckoo’. The unmistakeable call of a bird I’d always longed to see. And he was right there, somewhere in one of a handful of trees.

For the past year, Katy Penn of Nidderdale Plus, Iain Mann of the Nidderdale AONB and I have been planning a literary festival. The idea is a simple one. There are lots of literary festivals in the UK, but no annual festival which focus just on nature writing. And we think there should be. And so ‘NiddFest’ was born. It will be a weekend summer festival, with talks and events for adults and children, set in Upper Nidderdale.

There’ll be lots of fun stuff like butterfly safaris, wild swimming and maybe some bird watching from a hot air balloon. Already we have sounded out some of the UK’s leading writers and they are keen to come. We’ll open out the festival to garden writing too, and have had a great response from well known writers and presenters.

But 2015 is a long way off and we thought it’d be fun to have a taster event. So, with the support of Harrogate Borough Council, Knaresborough Lions and other local bodies, we have arranged for the UK’s leading poet, Carol Ann Duffy to come to Nidderdale on July 19 to put on a performance of her classic fairy tale – the Princess’ Blankets. Accompanied by John Sampson, this will be a lovely event for all the family. To mark this event, we have set up a poetry competition, for children in the HG postcode. Winners will be given their prizes by Carol Ann Duffy, after her performance.

If you build it, they will come. So that is what has been happening. Little by little, NiddFest is starting to become a reality. It had been on my mind all the time I had run up to the top Wath Road.
Of course, the minute I stopped, the cuckoo fell silent. Now there was only the descending song of chaffinches. They flew among the branches. Another, larger shape came past them and as I turned, it was already over the road and away towards the reservoir. From behind, this bird had the shape of a kestrel and the looping flight of a thrush.

I think it was a cuckoo. I’m not 100% sure. I wish I’d seen it straight on and looked into its yellow-ringed eye. Until then, like the opening day of NiddFest 2015, it is still something a little magical and far away.

But we are building it. And, with a fair wind, they will come.


Photo comment By Pete Thompson: Hi Kit. What a great idea. I'm a 'nature' poet myself and am constantly bemoaning the fact that there are no dedicate platforms for nature literature. Hope this comes off - I'll be coming.

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