Tag Archives: uk

Glastonbury for Dogs: Dogfest 2017

While a certain huge live music event was taking place elsewhere in the UK, I headed to Dogfest for a day, which was promoted as ‘the ultimate summer festival for dogs’ and that’s exactly what it felt like! I’m not sure if I could have enjoyed myself even more if I had been a pooch, but I certainly had an amazing day. What started out in a field behind Channel 4’s Supervet Prof. Noel Fitzpatrick’s Surrey practice (pictured below with his border terrier Keira) is now a huge event happening on two consecutive weekends, Dogfest North in Cheshire on 17 and 18 June and Dogfest South on 24 and 25 June 2017, which I attended, at Knebworth House near Stevenage, about half an hour north of London.

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Getting to the Festival (hitchhiking with dog lovers included!)

As the directions to get to the festival site looked pretty straightforward online, I hopped on a train and then the 44 bus from Stevenage bus station, asking the driver to drop me off at Manor Farm, the nearest stop along a country road. So far so good. It looked like a 10-15 minute walk, at most, and I quite enjoyed the idea of it, yet alas, despite GPS on the phone, I ended up following a road that took me further and further away from the venue, so confusing. I ended up trying to wave down other festival goers from the side of the road and was super lucky lovely dog owners John and Katherine let me hitch a ride with them and Jack Russell Dodger (see pic below) in the backseat. It still took us and seemingly quite a few of the other dog enthusiasts a number of wrong turns until we were finally on the right track, but when we eventually arrived, it was like getting off at the kind of playground any dog-loving adult would enjoy: dozens and dozens of dogs of all shapes and sizes with their owners in tow were making their way to the main entrance. I could barely contain myself, it made me so happy to see all the wagging tails and excited pooches pulling at their leads.

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Venue

The festival was spread out on a field behind Knebworth House, which was much larger than I expected, with many interesting stalls lined up around the edges of it. There were all sorts of accessories and nutrition for dogs on offer (including some useful looking dog cooling coats for hot weather), as well as holidays with dogs and health checks and grooming (weight management, ticks, canine massage etc.) and various stalls by dog and wildlife charities (even one for cats). I also spoke to Pete of Cold Feet Huskies, who had brought some of his dogs along and races them around the UK and further afield. I could have easily spent a couple more hours just taking a look at all of these. The food options were also quite varied (burgers, burritos, English fare, falafels, ice cream, proper coffee) including some good veggie choices.

Dog Activities

There were lots of great activities for the dogs to try including my favourite, the diving pool! There was a long queue all day for pooches to go for a swim in the tempting looking clean water as it was a pretty hot day. Some of the dogs were not quite sure if they really felt like giving it a go, but others couldn’t wait to jump into the waves, splashing the assembled audience with water left, right and centre. It was so much fun to watch and no doubt even more fun for the dogs who took apart. Other activities included learning to do agility with your dog, dog competitions, a ‘school for dogs’, hay races and a ‘temptation alley’.

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Dog Welfare

I was a little bit concerned about this before attending the event, but as far as I could see anything humanly possible had been done to make sure the dogs were all right. There was a first aid and show vet on site plus containers with fresh water spread around the field (which some of the smaller breeds quickly identified as ideal paddling pools), some tented areas with hay bales for owners to sit on and one particularly nice tent with tables, chairs and a bar at one end, so you could enjoy a nice glass of cool wine and your dog could rest in the shade right opposite the ‘super stage’ where Noel Fitzpatrick did his talks and live music performances were on all day. I was generally very impressed with how well the hundreds of dogs got on with each other. Hardly any barking (apart from excited yaps!) could be heard all day and the event clearly attracted responsible dog owners and well-adjusted pooches. If you have a puppy, attending Dogfest could be a good opportunity to socialise it in a friendly environment, all the puppies I met and petted looked very happy indeed, including little Anakin, the Chihuahua (pictured below).

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The Great Dog Walk

At 3pm hundreds of dog owners and their pooches gathered for the great dog walk in aid of The Humanimal Trust across the grounds of Knebworth House, either for a 2km or 4km stroll, and Noel Fitzpatrick brought his little border terrier Keira along for a short talk before it started. Once it was all go, the many happy smiley dogs dragging their owners across the field were a real sight to behold. Walkies on a giant scale!

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Unconditional Love

Having seen ‘The Supervet’ Prof. Noel Fitzpatrick only on TV before, it was great to hear him speak live about his own career and the lives of animals and people him and his team were able to make a difference to. Some of the dogs from the TV programme, who had meanwhile fully recovered, were also present, which was lovely to see. He also talked enthusiastically about his charity, the above mentioned The Humanimal Trust, which aims to “reduce, refine and replace animal experiments with reciprocity – which means that we only sponsor research that helps animals with naturally occurring disease, not through the use of experimental models.” It’s a ground-breaking idea to help humans AND animals, so both species win, not one at the expense of the other. Noel spoke about the huge amount of unconditional love being present in this field on this day and how our love for our pets can really make a difference to our own and other people’s lives.

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Pawmazing Day

All in all, it was a great day out for dogs and humans alike. My advice if you’re coming by car and are bringing your dog would be to either get there very early or in the afternoon in order to avoid the at times longish queues to get into the car park right beside the main entrance. If the weather is very hot, it might even be better to take a train and a cab (it cost only £6 for a single taxi trip from Stevenage rail station, which I should have opted for on the way there, too). And don’t worry if you haven’t got a dog, I don’t either as I travel too much and I still had an absolutely fabulous time. In fact, everyone was so friendly, I got chatting with quite a few dog owners and heard so many inspiring stories of rescues finding a forever home and friendships between dogs and humans, it was actually quite emotional. One of them was Blarney (see pic below) who was adopted from Ireland. It’s also a great opportunity for those looking at getting a dog to find out which breed or type of dog would be suitable for them, ideally of course a rescue dog, as there are so many of them waiting to be adopted in shelters around the country.

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Cuddle a Dog a Day

If you’d like to see a few more pictures and some videos of chocolate lab Dizzy diving into the pool, the dog and duck (herding) show as well as footage of the Great Dog Walk, do check out my Cuddle a Dog a Day Instagram account. I started it in April this year as my daily goal is to pet at least one dog a day (or any fluffy animal really) and it’s been a great way of documenting the cute dogs I meet (pictured below are Spanish rescue Killick and Pomerian Lola) and of connecting with other dog lovers from around the world. I follow back genuine dog/dog parent or other animal lovers’ accounts.

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Not all Dogs are so Lucky

Lastly, spare a thought and maybe a few pounds to abolish an altogether different event, the horrifying Yulin ‘festival’ in China, which is sadly happening again right now (despite millions of people signing petitions and protesting around the world) and involves the torture and slaughter of thousands of dogs and cats. No animal should ever have to suffer like this. Find out how you can help and maybe consider minimalising animal suffering in your own community by reducing or cutting out meat from your diet and learning about vegetarianism or veganism.

Disclaimer: Life is a Festival was provided with a complimentary ticket for the festival.

 

Meet the Festival Makers: Lou Wellby, Music Curator of FloVibe Festival

The tag line for the new FloVibe yoga and wellness festival taking place at Kelmarsh Hall near Northampton from 2-4 June 2017 is ‘where retreat meets festival’ and judging by the line-up, you could spend all your weekend learning new skills, getting pampered or partying in a relaxed atmosphere to some great live music. The above concept is nothing completely new, of course, but every festival has its unique story, focus and vibe, so I interviewed the event’s music curator, Lou Wellby, to find out more in order to make the best of the upcoming festival weekend.

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Life is a Festival: I’ve caught the yoga festival bug last summer when I attended Yoga Connects and Soul Circus and it’s so great to see Flovibe bursting onto the exciting emerging UK wellness festival scene this June. How did the festival come about and who is behind it?

Lou: Founder Jason Pooley created The House of Yoga in Putney which is a thriving community and local haven and he wanted to connect with other wellness communities and practitioners, to celebrate common ground and learn from one another. This developed into FloVibe Festival, bringing together yogis, musicians, sportsmen, movers & shakers to relax in nature, share ideas and let their wild side come through. Jason Pooley partnered with Matt Cooke (InFrame Media) and I came on board as Music Curator (I founded Jam Sandwich Live in 2011, hosting gigs for artists across the city).

Life is a Festival: FloVibe combines yoga and pilates with wellness and music, so there will be a lot of learning opportunities as well as a chance to relax and just party. What kind of experience do you want festival goers to have?

Lou: Exactly, the festival is about discovery, wellbeing, creativity and play. We wanted to create an experience where people could nourish themselves from the inside out and party with friends in nature – a weekend of discovery, without a week of recovery under the duvet! You can design your day to find your balance, between talks, classes, workshops, disco naps and letting loose to live music. We believe you can be wild and be well, there’s room to try new things, to restore, and to let loose.

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Life is a Festival: I had a look at the fab programme for the festival’s kids area and am sort of regretting being too old to take part in all the fun. What can festival families expect and are there any ways us grown-up kids join in a little bit, too?

Lou: Kids are very welcome, I think we can learn a lot from them about how to immerse yourself in the moment, in creating and in ‘being with’ yourself and others. Festival families will have their own camping area and can enjoy the beautiful lakeside setting together. Yoga, meditation, crafts and games for little ones – the festival is an opportunity to reconnect with your inner child, so yes, absolutely, grown up kids get involved too!

Life is a Festival: Have you got any suggestions for yoga newbies as well as experienced yogis, anything that we should definitely give a try, be it a class, food or treatment?

Lou: Oof that’s a tricky question…I’d say Acro Yoga (collaborative, balancing yoga) and SUP yoga (standing up / paddle board yoga) on the lake will bring a lot of laughter and fun to newbies, Yoga Nidra and Yin Yoga are lovely restorative practices for deep rest, especially after lots of dancing! I also tried Reflexology recently and LOVED it, go through the woods to see Georgie (Retreat 4 Your Feet), it is heavenly. The Bhangra Bus Cafe serves up healthy Indian vegetarian food, so nourishing. I could go on forever and as Music Curator I recommend ALL the music, of course!

FloVibe takes place for the first time from 2-4 June 2017, the line-up, tickets and teacher bios can all be found on the festival website. Camping is possible from Friday until Monday, but there are also day options available, if you’re short of time. Can’t wait to pitch my tent for a weekend of yoga, food and fun!

Disclaimer: All photography used in this blog post was provided by FloVibe festival.

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Where Yogis Come to Play: Yoga Connects Festival 2016

Yoga festivals have become hugely popular around the world in recent years, so it comes as no surprise that there are also more and more of them starting out in the UK. This summer was the second time Yoga Connects (14-17 July 2016) was held in the stunning surroundings of Stanford Hall, near Rugby, less than an hour on the train from Central London. It’s a boutique festival (only a few hundred people), which focuses on gathering yoga enthusiasts from around the UK and further afield and offers classes by top international teachers, shamanic ceremonies, a holistic area by the lake, SUP yoga (balancing on a surfboard in the water), gong baths, talks on mindfulness and wellbeing as well as live music in the evenings.

Yoga Connects yoga outside Stanford Hall

After setting up my tent, I headed straight to my first yoga session of the festival led by Emma Henry, who taught a lively jivamukti-style class with chanting elements to a live soundtrack of hypnotic grooves courtesy of Filter Coffee, it was time for the shamanic opening ceremony in the Warrior Tent led by Sally Griffin, one of the festival founders. This was followed by the most beautiful music by Peru-based healer and musician Misk’i Takiy, which I could still faintly hear when I was already snuggled up in my sleeping bag.

After a super early volunteer shift, I joined a class by London-based Anusara yoga teacher Katy Bateman in the Stanford Hall ballroom. Lying on my back, gazing at the painted ceiling of this special room made me incredibly grateful to be here this weekend. Katy’s class was really uplifting, grounding and intimate with only about 15 of us practising in the space – well, plus one adorable Jack Russell, Peaches, who had come along with one of the attending yogis.

The session which impressed me the most on Friday afternoon was by Yogi Ashokananda, an Indian-born expert yoga and meditation master. The many different breathing exercises were a timely reminder of the vast amount of knowledge passed on by our ancestors we can all build on if we are open to it. While travelling and festivals are a great adventure and outer journey which continue to inspire and energise me, the inner journey of getting to know ourselves is just as exciting a challenge and a fascinating, lifelong path to follow.

My favourite session all weekend was the charity yoga class in aid of Our Mala, a wonderful London-based non-profit founded by yoga teacher Emily Brett in 2011 and offering yoga and English classes plus additional support to refugees and asylum-seekers. The class was led by Dylan Werner, whose hang drum playing was the perfect intro to a beautifully paced and challenging class (his teaching was clear, humorous and inspiring) with a specially created soundscape by Amir of Rudimental as well some live gong playing by Martyn Cawthorne. It was one of the most peaceful yoga experiences I have had so far, surrounded by nature and practising alongside lots of friendly other yogis.

Yoga Connects Opening night music

I also joined a great Saturday morning class by Canadian-born UK-based vinyasa yoga flow specialist Mercedes Sieff and attended an inspiring mindfulness talk and guided meditation by Brett Moran in the lovely cushion-filled Zen Den tent. With so much calorie-burning and concentration-challenging activity going on, there was luckily enough veggie and vegan food to keep me going all weekend (incl. Caribbean stews, handmade sourdough pizza, brownies, smoothies and Routes Coffee with about five types of milk alternatives!) and I also made sure I had some me-time just lying in the grass with a book. The perfect yoga retreat!

Despite the fact that music was not as much of a priority as at most of the other summer festivals I usually attend, the line-up was wonderfully eclectic. Saturday night in the Warrior Tent started on a quiet note with Brooke Sharkey and Adam Beattie, whose atmospheric sound and musical storytelling had us all under their spell. They were followed by a set by talented indie four-piece Nonta and the final act of the night was 47Soul who had everyone dancing their flip-flops off with their contagious Middle Eastern sound. The following night it was time for the yoga rave! Before that, however, we got treated to an exquisite set played by Shirish Kumar on tabla and Bansuri-player Jason Kalidas and some songs by gifted spiritual singer Aiswarya. Next up were the very good Burnz, a multi-style musical project with a great vibe. Their sound also attracted a few revellers from the nearby motorcycle festival and one or two brave souls even joined in when the yoga mats got rolled out again for the yoga rave organised by Nine Lives. Way to go! As I heard some drumming from the fire circle outside, I ventured over for a bit and we sang some tribal chants dancing around the fire in the dark led by Antarma. Afterwards I returned to the Warrior Tent for another half hour of energetic dancing before retiring to the happy tent for the night.

Yoga Connects slackline fun

There were quite a few festival yogis with me on the train back to London on Sunday night and we were all in a playful, happy mood. It occurred to me then how special it is to get to spend a few days around so many positive thinkers and creative folks. The event felt very safe and relaxed, children and adults were playing and learning new things all the time (e.g. someone brought a slackline, which became the centre of all the non-scheduled activities) and many of the attendees were also yoga teachers with an enviable combined wealth of styles and knowledge. Another thing I really loved was the proximity of the camping area to the yoga tents and food stalls, so you could quickly pop back to your tent for your mat, some snacks or a little nap if needed. While a few of the organisational details (more showers, maybe creating a proper festival brochure, getting the plastic-free ethos and recycling policy across in a positive way, less gaps in the class schedule, additional food vendors etc.) may still need to be ironed out in future years, what makes a festival truly great is leaving enough space for spontaneity to unfold and just see what happens. So if you’re already a practising yogi or are new to it, it’s a great opportunity to expand your comfort zone, learn and play with some seriously inspiring people! ॐ

Southern Sounds in Suffolk: Maverick Festival 2015

This year was my third Maverick Festival (3-5 July 2015) and there are a lot of advantages to being a repeat festival goer. You know the camping spot that suits you best. You can make a beeline for your favourite food and coffee stalls, even blindfolded. You remembered to bring enough carrots to feed the many adorable, four-legged farm creatures. All of this makes it a really relaxed affair.

One problem it doesn’t solve, however, is your favourite musicians always clashing. The only solution to this issue is to either see a lot of half-sets, rushing between them all day or to simply go with the flow, see fewer acts, but maybe have a more enjoyable time in the process. With very few exceptions I mostly opted for the latter. Yet with 50+ fantastic live musicians hailing from the USA, Canada, Australia and, of course, this very island playing the Maverick stages this year catching even half of them was no small feat indeed.

Maverick 1So here are my top 5 reasons why Maverick 2015 was awesome again and in fact those exact same reasons are also why you should consider attending Maverick in 2016!

Small is beautiful
Die-hard Glastonbury fans might not agree, but there are many, many upsides to attending a small festival (some of which I already mentioned in the first few lines of this post). The best part for me is always feeling like being among like-minded people. At Maverick specifically, the audience is pretty knowledgeable about Americana music, which the artists seem to very much appreciate (e.g. see my recent interview with Don Gallardo). This also makes for inspired conversations between the sets, which are also great for getting new artist recommendations.

As in previous years I also very much enjoyed the friendly and idyllic venue, Easton Farm Park. Of course, as a non-meat-eater, it was impossible to ignore that while some of the farm animals were there for us to pet and engage with, others (not from this farm) had not been so lucky and were, literally, dinner. But the farm staff always do a great job keeping the facilities in good working order and take good care of the animals they look after. In fact, the veggie options seem to have increased this year and one of the coffee stalls even had organic soya milk on offer.

Maverick is also one of the most dog-friendly festivals I have been to, or shall I put it the other way around, it is where I have come across some of the friendliest dogs of any festival yet. To my delight, a cute puppy I had met last year was back again with her family in tow while another dog-loving family had got a second pooch in the meantime. Happy days.

Maverick 4It’s not about the big names…
This is an interesting one and, if I’m honest, I still fall for it myself sometimes. You glance at a festival website, scanning it for names you recognise and if failing to do so are thinking: is this event really worth my while? I hear you, so do I! Luckily the festivals reviewed on this blog have been pre-approved, so to speak, and all the legwork has been done, so you can relax and trust that you will have a great time. Reliably excellent again were quite a few artists this year, so here are just a couple to get you started if you are new to this sort of music: Chastity Brown (USA, video here), Andrew Duhon (USA), Case Hardin (UK), Luke Tuchscherer (UK), Don Gallardo (USA), Hannah Aldridge (USA) and Larkin Poe (USA) – each of them quite different in terms of musical styles, so enjoy sampling their work.

…it’s about discovering new (to you) artists
As most of the overseas musicians tend to play on these shores about once a year or even less often, I do like to focus on catching as many of them as I can at any festival I go to. Yet there are also lots of great UK-based Americana artists worth checking out. This year the bands that particularly caught my eye and who I had not seen live before were The Rosellys (UK), Anne McCue (OZ/USA), Gal Holiday and the Honky Tonk Review (USA) and Debbie Bond & Rick Asherson (USA).

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Join in and learn a new skill
Full disclosure: I really don’t like trying something new while lots of other people watch me do it. If this sounds like the kind of fun challenge you enjoy though, fantastic news. If you’re more like me and are a bit hesitant about these sort of situations, I suggest you go by the motto to try at least one thing at every festival that scares you (and I’m not talking about trying to retrieve your mobile phone that you dropped down the portaloo). Most festivals offer some sort of workshop to get you involved in one way or another. At Maverick 2015 you could try playing the banjo, ukulele (have tried this at Shrewsbury a few years ago, still waiting to be signed by a record label though), dobro (!) and the blues harmonica. Now guess which one I went for?

Exactly. The humble harmonica seemed like the perfect starter instrument for an hour-long workshop that could actually be put to good use at other festivals too. And Rick Asherson accompanied by blues singer/guitarist Debbie bond did an excellent job teaching a good dozen beginners to make pretty impressive “train sounds” (pats herself on the back) and even sort of play along to some basic blues melodies. It was a whole lot of fun and I have actually picked up my newly acquired harmonica at home a few times since returning from the festival. No complaints from the neighbours yet, so there you go, I faced my fear and it wasn’t all that bad. Go on, if I can do it, you can do it too!

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Stoke your wanderlust
Admittedly, another reason why I love listening to all the overseas artists is my love for travelling. Nothing makes me want to go to a place more than finding some awesome musicians, which often prompts me to research the area and music scene where they are from. Nashville and Austin have been duly visited in the past few years, but both New Orleans and Memphis, for instance, still remain to be explored. So is the whole state of Alabama, which I have yet to set foot in. The fact that Alabama Tourism has been sponsoring Maverick festival for the second time helped to once more bring over some fantastic musicians, such as Debbie Bond, Hannah Aldridge and Lisa Mills. They also have a nifty new website for anyone wanting to explore the Americana Music Triangle. The artists listed above should get you started in terms of music for your road trip.

So pencil in Maverick Festival for the first weekend in July next year and check out the tour dates for the above mentioned artists, as many of them are playing various towns and venues around the country in the coming weeks. See, there is no excuse for not listening to some great live music. Life is a festival!