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The Best British Festivals this October

by Adrian Mourby

The Best British Festivals this October

Traditionally summer is when the British go to festivals. Shortly after World War II Edinburgh’s International Arts Festival made August synonymous with a celebration of culture. Then in 1970 Glastonbury showed that pop festivals were also big business. Ever since, more and more festivals have been added into the national schedule. The UK festival season now begins in May and only begins to wind down at the end of September. During those five months Britain enjoys celebrations of literature, comedy, chamber music, rock, pop film, folk, food - and a whole lot more. There is a virtual circuit of the same writers, musicians and artists moving round the country. It’s like the UK’s version of Africa’s Great Migration. The guests of honour meet their fans, accept glasses of champagne and happily sign whatever is put in front of them. Who can honestly blame them?

However the British festival season is extending into Autumn, no longer dying when the first leaves turn brown. Nowadays there are festivals running through October and into November all over England, Wales and Scotland.

And it just so happens that there are plenty of excellent hotels near them if you fancy visiting. Most of these festivals include Friday and Saturday night events, so basing yourself in a comfortable hotel and enjoying culture in bite-size chunks seems the perfect way to pass an Autumn weekend to me.


Showing below are all 10 records in "The Best British Festivals this October"

The Feathers Hotel (Hotel)

Market Street, Woodstock

The Feathers Hotel, Market Street, Woodstock, Oxfordshire

The Oxford Chamber Music Festival

It’s apt that Oxford should stage an annual Chamber Music Festival as it has some of the best chamber music venues in the country. According to an Oxford diarist it was in the Sheldonian Theatre that Handel “and his lousy crew of foreign fiddlers” performed in 1733 and Haydn performed in the Holywell Music Room when he visited in 1791.

This wooden chapel-like building was constructed in 1742, making it the oldest freestanding music room in Europe. Today it is home to the Oxford Chamber Festival that runs from 27 September – 1 October this year, but there will also be bigger events at the Sheldonian Theatre with celebrity percussionist Evelyn Glennie pulling in the crowds. Music featured at both venues - and a few of Oxford’s churches and chapels - include pieces by Britten, Elgar, Schubert, Bach and Messiaen as well as new works by the festival’s Composer in Residence, P?teris Vasks from Latvia.

For somewhere to stay during the festival try the lovely Feathers Hotel in the Cotswold village of Woodstock which is just ten miles outside the city centre . Take the S3 bus route if you don’t want to get snarled up by Oxford’s parking problems. The hotel has a famous gin bar containing over 400 different distillations and hosts innovatory gin dinners that imaginatively match food and gin.

The Father is a redbrick former townhouse with 21 colourful bedrooms up a warren of old staircases. There’s also an attractive inner terrace for summer dining. By October though you’ll probably want to eat inside where Dominic Chapman (from BBC’s Great British Menu) is executive chef. Look out for the pile of teacups in the dining room like something out of the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. And, when you return from an evening of excellent chamber music, you really must call in at the bar for a gin nightcap or two. See if you can spot the certificate from the Guiness Book of Records confirming the maximum number of gin bottles in any British bar.

The Talland Bay Hotel, Porthallow, Looe, Cornwall

Looe Music Festival

The seemingly ageless Lulu headlines the Looe Music Festival this year, which takes place over the weekend of 29 September –1 October. The venue is a temporary stage constructed on East Looe Beach with a lovely, gaudy fairground nearby. In all a total of 90 acts will be heard over three nights here on the South Cornish coastline. One event not to miss is The Big Cornish Sing. Even f you’ve never tried singing in Kernewek Kemmyn before you are welcome to join in and the festival website (www.looemusic.co.uk) helpfully provides lyrics and a backing track so you can rehearse at home beforehand.?

The Talland Bay Hotel sits on cliffs just a three mile drive west of Looe. It offers guests seaview bedrooms and some luxury holiday cottages in the grounds plus a dog-friendly ethos. The house is full of artworks and the grounds are scattered with eccentric garden sculptures. On first sight it may remind you of the location used in BBCTV ‘s The Camomile Lawn. The atmosphere is bright and white - although there are some lavish splashes of décor here and there and a very calm, wood-panelled dining room. The restaurant is proud of its local dishes including Cornish duck, grilled lobster, and of course scallops, all extremely locally sourced. Add in clifftop walks and great beaches for swimming and Talland Bay is an ideal place to stay - even when Lulu has switched off her microphone and gone home.

Berkeley Suites (Hotel)

6 Berkeley Crescent, Bristol

Berkeley Suites, 6 Berkeley Crescent, Bristol

Bristol Festival of Literature

Bristol’s Festival of Literature is one of many UK arts events that run over the weekend 20-22 October. Launched in 2011, it deals with the business of writing rather than offering the opportunity to meet and worship famous authors. Writers, publishers, readers and editors come together in Bristol at venues like the South Bank Club to take part in masterclasses, showcases and discussions of how to get published. The organisers claim to love irrepressible creativity and dissenting voices of literature and call their festival ‘unputdownable’. Among the more public events is an evening devoted to “Unconventional Heroines” on Friday 20 October and a “Night of Crime” on 22 October.

To stay the night – or more than one night – try the Berkeley Suites ,which are based in a Georgian terraced house off Clifton’s elite Berkeley Square. They’re within walking distance - down vertiginous Park Street - of most of Bristol’s arts venues including Arnolfini, Watershed and Bristol Hippodrome. These five suites opened to the public in 2012 and offer a luxurious way to spend your literary weekend in Bristol.

The Arch London (Hotel)

50 Great Cumberland Place, Marble Arch, London

The Arch London, 50 Great Cumberland Place, London, London

London Piano Festival

The London Piano Festival which runs 5-18 October at King’s Place is only in its second year, but has put together an excellent sequence of solo recitals with concerts by the Argentinian virtuoso Nelson Goerner, the highly individual Lisa Smirnova and former winner of the Leeds International Piano Competition, Ilya Itin. Additionally the much-loved Melvyn Tan will premiere by a new work by Kevin Volans in his recital.

There is an underlying Russian theme this year with works by Rachmaninoff, Borodin, Shostakovich and Tchaikovsky in the programme. A brand-new commission for the “Two Piano Gala” is entitled RedMare and was composed especially for the festival by Russian composer Elena Langer.

The Hammersmith & Circle Line and the No 30 bus link Kings Place with The Arch Hotel in Great Cumberland Place. It’s only two and a half miles between the concert hall and the hotel, which means in London a minimum of 25 minutes by public transport or 50 minute walking (which takes you past Madame Tussaud’s and Regent’s Park).

The Arch is a family-owned modern hotel, skilfully constructed behind the facades of a number of neoclassical town houses in this typical West End street. It has a comfortable Martini Library and restaurant called Hunter 486 taking its name from the old dialling code for Marylebone. Here you can enjoy a “Best of British’ menu designed by Head Chef, Gary Durrant with his stylish take on classic fish and chips.

And when you’ve had enough of pianos and pianists, The Arch is also an ideal place to base yourself while shopping down Oxford Street.

New Hall Hotel & Spa (Hotel)

Walmley Road, Sutton Coldfield

New Hall Hotel & Spa, Walmley Road, Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands

Birmingham Comedy Festival

The Birmingham Comedy Festival runs for ten days at the beginning of October (this year from 6-15 October) and has been making Britain’s Second City laugh since 2001. In 2017 there will be over 60 performances by the likes of Matt Lucas, Phill Jupitus and the delightfully outrageous German stand up comedian Henning Wehn. Other acts feature Simon Amstell, Mrs Barbara Nice, Comedy Central's Impractical Jokers and Five Lesbians Eating a Quiche. Venues include the city’s Victorian Town Hall, its Alexandra Theatre and MAC (the Midlands Arts Centre).

By complete contrast, stay the night at New Hall Hotel, just 20 minutes north of the city centre. This fourteenth-century manor house was sympathetically converted into a hotel in 1988 and still has many oak-panelled mediaeval nooks and crannies as well as a Great Chamber where afternoon tea is served. There is even a moat that has to be crossed to gain access to reception. New Hall is hidden away from the M6 and sits in 26 acres of its own grounds which also contain a spa. Altogether it’s a most unexpected place to stay.

Jolyons At The Bay (Hotel)

Bute Crescent, Cardiff

Jolyons At The Bay, Bute Crescent, Cardiff

The Iris Prize Festival

The Iris Prize Festival is a six-day celebration of Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender film in the Welsh capital of Cardiff. This year it runs 10-15 October. Altogether 35 short films from across the world will compete for the LGBT Iris Prize at the Cineworld Cinema in Mary Ann Street. There will also be feature film presentations, parties, talks and a Producers Forum for those interested in the tricky business of how films get made. The festival culminates with the Iris Carnival, where the winner of the prestigious Iris Prize will be presented with £30,000.

Just over a mile away down Bute Street in a stately dockland town house sits Jolyons at the Bay. This hotel has a colourful feel to it with big leather sofas, slate floors and a wood-burning stove in the bar. It’s located immediately opposite Cardiff’s best-known modern building, the Wales Millennium Centre, home to Welsh National Opera. It’s also close to the shops of Mermaid Quay and Techniquest, both great places to spend the time between performances

Hart´s Hotel (Hotel)

Standard Hill, Park Row, Nottingham

Hart´s Hotel, Standard Hill, Nottingham, Nottinghamshire

Rockingham Festival

From 20-22 October 2017 the Rockingham Festival is back in Nottingham using its new venue, the Students’ Union Building of Trent University. Rockingham sets itself a very simple mission: to deliver three days of the finest melodic hard rock from around the world.

There are four acts on the Friday night - Kix, John Parr, Blanc Faces, and Maverick – then seven on the Saturday and eight on Sunday.

Harts Hotel sits just a mile away from the festival, a new-build boutique hotel constructed on the old ramparts of the Sheriff of Nottingham’s Castle. Although the lower gate house of the old castle still looks suitably mediaeval (albeit guarded by a rather elfin statue of Robin Hood ) , its upper wards were rebuilt as a ducal mansion in the seventeenth century and again as Nottingham Royal Infirmary in the nineteenth. That mansion is now a museum and the infirmary is now mainly given over to offices. However the old hospital’s Accident and Emergency wing has been converted into Hart’s own restaurant, standing separate from the hotel. There’s a good chance of a fine martini here after a night of heavy rock. Or maybe you could try the Champagne Sapphire cocktail made with Bombay Sapphire Gin. They also offer plenty of ales as well if your taste inclines that way.

Fawsley Hall (Hotel)

Fawsley, Daventry

Fawsley Hall, Fawsley, Daventry, Northamptonshire

Banbury Folk & Hobby Horse Festival

The Banbury Folk & Hobby Horse Festival started in 2000 as a one-day event but has grown into a full weekend event now, attracting major artists and folk enthusiasts from all over the country. This year it runs 6-8 October with the pedestrianised town centre of Banbury providing a great venue for the “Dance Sides” (Morris teams) and the Hobby Horses to perform on Saturday 7 October.

Major concerts take place at Banbury Town Hall with acoustic Concerts at the Banbury Cross Pub and “Meet the Artists” sessions planned to take place at the Methodist Hall. There are also Song Sessions at the Banbury Cricket Club This year the festival is headlined by Dunblane singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Dougie MacLean whose most famous composition is "The Gael" which became the pervasive undercurrent theme to the 1992 film The Last of the Mohicans.

Other performers include The Mighty Doonans, Paula Ryan and the Kevin O’Regan Band with Irish Dancers Katie Smith and Jessica Hutton. There are also song-writing workshops with Dave and Ann Reader and a “Spoons” workshop with Pat Smith & Ned Clamp. We are reliably informed that spoons will be provided.

Fawsley Hall sits 12 miles north of Banbury in a landscaped park created by the Knightley family whose forebear, lawyer Richard Knightley, bought the manor of Fawsley in 1416. His grandson Richard, knighted by Henry VII, built the first wing of the present house.

Despite turbulent times the Knightley family held Fawsley for over 500 years until the last Baronet died in 1938. The hall is now a grand historic hotel owned by Hand Picked Hotels and, of course it is claimed that Elizabeth I stayed here. Even if she didn’t she really should have.

The Witchery by the Castle (Pub with Rooms)

Castlehill, The Royal Mile, Edinburgh

The Witchery by the Castle, Castlehill, Edinburgh, City of Edinburgh

EH6 Festival

Edinburgh is famous for its international festival which helped put the arts centre stage after World War II, but cultural events don’t end after all the litter on the Royal Mile has been picked up and the Castle is restored to normal use. In the (now) picturesque port of Leith over the weekend of 21 – 22 October the EH6 Festival offers craft beer, food and music. Taking its name from Leith’s postcode, this event features festival more than 100 bands in a dozen different venues around the old port. There’ll be craft stalls, art exhibitions, food from across the world plus a beer market, children’s entertainment and a wide range of music from House to Gaelic. The idea behind the festival is, after all that business up at the Castle is over, and now it’s Leith’s turn!

Stay the Friday and Saturday nights at The Witchery close by Edinburgh’s castle, which is one of the most remarkable hotels in a city full of character. Actually stay any night there you can. With just eight bedrooms the Witchery is a triumph of design and panache. Under guidance of owner James Thompson, roll-top baths, ornate statuary, oak-panelling, tapestried walls and large red leather armchairs have been squeezed into this sixteenth-century former home in the castle walls. The redesign is eclectic, with an emphasis on indulgence and decadence.

The only problem is you may be reluctant to stir outside your room for the EH6 Festival. When you do be sure to book dinner at The Tower, Witchery’s sister restaurant which sits above the National Museum of Scotland and offers superb food and unexpectedly good views of the castle.

The Devonshire Arms Hotel & Spa (Hotel)

Bolton Abbey, Yorkshire Dales, Skipton

The Devonshire Arms Hotel & Spa, Bolton Abbey, Skipton, North Yorkshire

Ilkley Literature Festival

Yorkshire icon Alan Bennett opens the Ilkley Literature Festival on 29 September and it runs until 15 October 2017 with an impressive line-up of names that includes Shami Chakrabarti, Richard Dawkins, Simon Armitage, Fergal Keane, and Alan Hollinghurst.

The spa town of Ilkley has become the “Hay of the North” in recent years, with a similar mix of the literary personalities, serious writers and big Radio 4 names. There’s also a busy programmes of events for children and young people featuring Radio 1’s Greg James and Chris Smith plus many free events for families.

Five miles northwest along the Wharfe Valley lies the Devonshire Arms, one of a number of hotels by that name that owe their origin to one Duke of Devonshire or another. This one is the Bolton Abbey Devonshire Arms, an extensive and charming Grade II-listed ashlar stone building with seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth-century additions. Today it is of course a hotel and spa. Sitting on the 30,000-acre Bolton Abbey estate within the beautiful Yorkshire Dales National Park, this hotel also offers a Health Barn Spa, a brasserie and bar (also named after the Devonshires) and an award-winning restaurant.

Again the big problem will be stirring outside your hotel to absorb some culture. But hotels will always be there. Celebrity writers will not!


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