Waking to snowfall and clear skies, Nidderdale lives up to its nickname – Little Switzerland. The air has a fresh, almost alpine taste to it. The sounds of morning, which usually echo across the steep sides of the dale, are muffled. I keep bees, and on mornings like this they often break from their winter huddle and venture out into sunshine. And so they were, in drowsy ones and twos. I check their stores and crouch by the hives to watch them departing.
Most of the winter at NiddFest is spent booking speakers for the forthcoming festival and securing funding. On most funding forms, we are asked what the aims of the festival are. For a festival which was born out of a very clear vision, it it struck me that we’ve never really shared this on our website. This isn’t a manifesto – far from it. Just a little explanation of why we began NiddFest and our hopes for its future.
The festival was born out of a coming together of people in Nidderdale who share a love of books and nature. There are lots of literary festivals in the UK, but not an ongoing one which specifically focuses on nature writing. And we thought there should be. Why? Well apart from the fact that we all love these books, there are three reasons. First – the natural world is in a precarious state. In the UK at least, a 2013 RSPB report found that 60% of species are in decline. Second – recent studies by the RSPB and National Trust show that the UK’s children are less connected to nature than ever before, with only one in five 8-12yr olds agreeing with a range of statements like ‘being outdoors makes me happy’. Third – nature writing is increasingly popular, with books like H is For Hawk and The Shepherd’s Life topping bestseller lists.
And while NiddFest was never intended to be a campaigning festival, we hope to provide the stage on which others can come, debate and share ideas. To broaden the conversation, our focus is not just on traditional nature writing, but rather all forms of writing with a link to nature. As such, the festival has poetry, garden writing, fiction and non-fiction for adults and children.
So here are our three ambitions for NiddFest:
1. A weekend that brings together some of the UK’s finest writers, whose writing is all influenced by nature and link their talks to outdoor events in the beautiful landscape of Upper Nidderdale.
2. A fun and engaging festival for all ages and backgrounds.
3. To champion and support existing nature writing in the UK and inspire a new generation of writers and nature-lovers through the festival, the NiddFest poetry prize and lots of outreach work.
I hope that with the 2014 and 2015 festivals we have started along this path, and will continue to grow with each passing year. It’s a leap of faith starting a festival, but we have been helped along the way through Heritage Lottery Funding, a team of wonderful volunteers, and the support of Carol Ann Duffy who offered to be our patron.
Which takes me back to a snowy morning in Nidderdale, crouching next to bee hives, watching them take flight. These creatures have existed for as long as there have been flowers. And yet they remain a mystery unto themselves. Any old beekeeper will tell you that they continue to be surprised and challenged by their bees. Not everyone can sit by a hive and watch them first hand, but the magic of bees can live on a page just as vividly. And in some ways this is what we hope to show at NiddFest. Books can make nature come to life and visa versa. Each one is better with the other.
We look forward to seeing you at NiddFest 2016. Until then, I leave you with The Bee Carol, from Carol Ann Duffy’s book ‘The Bees’. Of all her poems linked to these vital, endangered creatures, this wintry song is a favourite.
The Bee Carol
Silently on Christmas Eve,
the turn of midnight’s key;
all the garden locked in ice –
a silver frieze –
except the winter cluster of the bees.
Flightless now and shivering,
around their Queen they cling;
every bee a gift of heat;
she will not freeze
within the winter cluster of the bees.
Bring me for my Christmas gift
a single golden jar;
let me taste the sweetness there,
but honey leave
to feed the winter cluster of the bees.
Come with me on Christmas Eve
to see the silent hive –
trembling stars cloistered above –
and then believe,
bless the winter cluster of the bees.