Exciting NiddFest to celebrate nature in writing

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By Graham Chalmers

Some festivals thrive on their sheer size, others survive on star names but a select few are built on a single brilliant idea.

Such is a new event set to be launched in the Dales this summer, writes Graham Chalmers.

With titles such H is for Hawk and Landmarks by, respectively, Helen MacDonald and Robert McFarlane riding high in the bestsellers list, there’s never been a better time to launch NiddFest.

Focusing on the link between literature and landscape, this new family-friendly celebration of nature in writing is the brainchild of a small team of book lovers based in Pateley Bridge.

The festival’s director, Kit Peel, a published writer himself, is optimistic NiddFest’s mix of the great outdoors and some of the UK’s finest writers will attract audiences from across Yorkshire and beyond.

He said: “To my knowledge, there is no ongoing literary festival in the world right now focusing on nature writing.

“Given the popularity of this genre in recent years, it seemed something we should be addressing. We’ve really enjoyed putting it together”

Working with the local area’s main conservation area, the Nidderdale Area of Natural Beauty (ANOB), NiddFest will run from July 24-26 and will offer a unique programme of talks and outdoor events designed to make the most of the beautiful scenery of Upper Nidderdale.

But, had it not been for the support of Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy, NiddFest might not even be happening.

Her presence at a ‘taster’ event last summer in conjunction with the Harrogate Advertiser Series helped make the NiddFest children’s poetry competition a big hit at the first attempt.

NiddFest organiser Katy Penn, partnership manager at Nidderdale Plus, said: “The success of the visit by the Poet Laureate and the enthusiastic response to the writing contest encouraged us to develop the idea of a whole weekend of events.

“We’re really thrilled that Carol Ann Duffy will be joining us again this summer but as the NiddFest patron.”

The idea behind NiddFest isn’t merely a literary one. The aim is to attract a family audience to enjoy literature in a fun way in the beauty of the outdoors.

Highlights of the inaugural year will include:

l An intimate opening night of words, wine and music hosted by Carol Ann Duffy and national poet of Wales, Gillian Clarke.

l A talk and tasting session with TV chef and forager Valentine Warner.

l Award-winning garden writer Jackie Bennett talking on the gardens which shaped some of the world’s greatest writers.

l Leading nature writer Mark Cocker on mankind’s relationship with birds followed by a real-life safari into the moorland of the Dales.

l Katharine Norbury on her river-themed novel by the banks of the River Nidd.

With sprite and fairy trails and two days of bug hunts lined up, not to forget the return of the schools’ poetry competition, albeit in a Yorkshire-wide form, NiddFest has all the makings of a literary festival set to carve out its own niche.

Organiser Megan Peel, wife of Kit, said she hoped the way NiddFest was using its surroundings would help attract a family audience.

“NiddFest has been born from our twin passions for nature and books – two things which in our busy modern lives we can sometimes struggle to find the time to enjoy.

“We hope the festival will inspire whole families to get out into the great outdoors and discover a new love for writing and reading about nature.”

NiddFest runs from July 24-26.

For more information, visit www.niddfest.com