Back to Blighty #1 – Chalke Valley History Festival

Greetings readers, followers, visitors!  I am back from my break.  I hope you have all had a lovely July.

Among the reasons why I was compelled to take a break from blogging was the fact that we six Picts went back to Britain for almost a month.  I am, therefore, going to be bombarding you with lots of posts and pictures from our time in England and Scotland.  Brace yourselves!

We arrived at Heathrow at the very tail-end of a Thursday evening, exhausted and frazzzled, but on Saturday morning we were off on our very first venture of the trip: a day at the Chalke Valley History Festival.  We had been to the Festival a few years before (I think it was in its second year of existence) and had been very impressed so we were keen to return and see how it had developed.

Set in farmland in Broad Chalke, Wiltshire, the Festival had certainly had room to expand and it now covered a vastly larger site than it had on our previous visit.  Encampments for reenactors from diverse eras of history stretched to the horizon while the central arena was covered in marquees which hosted a massive variety of events.  Military history still very much dominated the festival programme which in some ways is a pity – since it is my least favourite branch of history – but there was plenty to see and do just among the free activities and events let alone the wealth of ticketed events.

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The number of historic aeroplanes and vehicles on site was impressive.  As well as seeing a Spitfire and a Blenheim in flight, my kids also got to touch a Spitfire and a Hurricane.  Such museum pieces are usually off limits at other venues so to be able to get up close to such iconic planes was a great opportunity.  They also enjoyed all the Second World War era tanks, armoured vehicles and cars.  My boys are not stereotypical boys in respect of having an interest in vehicles but somehow in this context, and in being able to get up close to them, they were quite taken with all the vehicles on show.

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We attended a few ticketed events.  The previous evening, Mr Pict, his father and our oldest son went along to hear Tom Holland discuss his forthcoming book about the Roman Emperors.  Holland did not skimp on salacious tittle-tattle so our poor 12 year old was subjected to a squirmy talk on Roman perversions.  Much more age appropriate was the talk he and his 8 year old brother attended with their grandmother on the Saturday, a talk by one of the researcher-writers of the ‘Horrible Histories’ TV series.  My mother-in-law was not impressed by the lack of interactivity or structure of that talk but the boys loved all the gross details and came away having absorbed quite a bit of information so it was still a success.  The final thing Mr Pict and I did at the festival was attend a talk by Sebastian Faulks and Alex Preston about writing fiction set in the World Wars, the research and ethics involved, the balance between fact and creativity.  The two authors had an easy-going, friendly rapport with each other that then extended to the audience and both were accomplished at delivering anecdotes so it made for a very engaging talk.

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My highlight of the day, however, was a more informal talk by one of the Roman reenactors.  He was a chap fulfilling the role of an army field doctor.  As we gathered around his tent, he talked us through the equipment used and the knowledge possessed by Roman field surgeons.  Despite Mr Pict being a Roman nerd, we came away from that talk having learned a great deal about the extent of ancient knowledge and understanding of anatomy and healing methods.  The kids loved it for the gore, including amputated limbs liberally scattered on the grass.

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The reenactments generally were fun.  Aside from it being quite amusing to wander around and see a Viking deep in conversation with an SS officer or a Roman, a Saxon and some Georgian gents dining on bacon butties together, their encampments and reenactment events were great fun.  We watched a battle between Napoleonic troops complete with smoking guns and banging canon, saw a troop of Roman legionaries march into camp past serried rows of portaloos, saw American WW2 troops relaxing beside their vehicles, saw Russian soldiers cooking lunch and American colonial troops munching theirs.  Maybe it is because I am a nerd too but there is a definite charm to anyone who is so fully committed to their geeky obsession and the degree of their knowledge was impressive and admirable.  A small band of faux German soldiers – surely not the most popular gig – talked to my husband and sons about the authentic (though obviously deactivated) weapons they had out on display and even let them handle them.  Best of all, some British army reenactors put my kids through an army training course which they enjoyed so much that two of them did it twice.  They had to scramble across an assault course, learn how to use a (wooden) gun to charge at their enemy, learn how to activate and throw grenades, translate and send Morse Code messages, hone their observational skills and handle a rifle.  At the end of this series of training exercises, each was presented with a certificate.  They were so chuffed with themselves.

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We had a fantastic time at the Chalke Valley History Festival.  Should you ever find yourself in Wiltshire or Dorset in late June, I highly recommend checking it out.  We certainly hope to return some time – and hopefully there will be more social history incorporated into the programme by then.

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7 thoughts on “Back to Blighty #1 – Chalke Valley History Festival

  1. Sounds like a great event – military history aside!! I love the sound of that Roman field surgeon, that would go down very well with us but it all sounds great. Glad you have put this on my radar Laura. Looking forward to seeing what else you got up to on your holiday!!

    • Thanks, Joy. I think you and your family would love the Festival. I hope you manage to go some time. It’s the end of June so still in English school term time (we could go before as Scottish schools get out in June and American schools do too) but it does run into the weekend which permits families to attend. I highly recommend it.

      Of course, I am also encouraging you to attend because then I can visit again vicariously through your blog.

      We crammed a lot into our return trip to Britain so there will be many more posts to come.

      • I will definitely be keeping a note of it Laura – sounds like the perfect weekend trip for us!! We are off to Dorset tomorrow, might be good to spy out the land in advance!!

  2. You had such fun and VERY informative vacation, Laura. From the their looks at your photographs, the kids were so happy and so informed. Now this is the kind of history learning that I want too including the gore. 🙂

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