The festival promised to offer a full assault on the senses, and it was. Visitors were able to watch our greatest living playwright and learn how to build a Roman road. There was a former Archbishop of Canterbury and a political party leader alongside some of the best-known and loved TV historians. There were demonstrations from the Tudor kitchen, stone age flint-knapping and a Cold War-era armoured brigade headquarters. Visitors could learn about the dark art of 19th century body-snatching, how to make wattle and daub, and learn how to make a Tudor salve and herbal cure. The head of the UK’s Armed Forces, the best-known shepherd in the land, and the most eminent international human rights lawyer in the UK were all speaking. There was Sword School, a vintage fairground, some of the country’s most brilliant, successful and eminent historians but also late-night storytelling around the fire with Dan Snow and Michael Wood, and fast and furious fun with the History Tellers.
And as with any English country festival, there was food – and historical fast food too – as well as drink, camping, glamping and live music every single day of the festival from 1920s flapper music to the ancient ballads of English folk music.
Those coming to the festival were able to see history, touch history, taste history and smell history too – and all in the stunning ancient downland of the Chalke Valley – a place of immense history in its own right.
The stellar list of historians and speakers at this year’s festival include: Tracy Borman, Sir Vince Cable, General Sir Nick Carter, Diana Cavendish, Niall Ferguson, Anne Glenconner, Sir Max Hastings, Charlie Higson, Tom Holland, Katja Hoyer, Cat Jarman, Hermione Lee, Professor Margaret Macmillan, Rana Mitter, Al Murray, Jim Naughtie, James Rebanks, Dominic Sandbrook, Dan Snow, Sir Tom Stoppard, Rowan Williams, Marina Wheeler and Michael Wood.
Due to government guidelines, there were restrictions on the number of tickets for sale at the festival this year. And there was no Chalke Valley History Festival for Schools, although the festival is producing a programme of curriculum-based films, ready for the start of the academic year this September, which will be entirely free for all teachers, pupils and schools. A special and separate online portal will be created for this.
All profits from the festival are ploughed back into the Chalke Valley History Trust, which operates to promote the enjoyment and better understanding of history for all ages but especially to school children.