Gathering festival review

Setting the Scene

It was with great excitement that the team welcomed our speakers on the eve of Gathering. Coming from far and wide, from Cornwall to The Lake District, with children and with camper vans, they arrived in time for a tour of Wild Ken Hill before a warm supper at the farm and a bell tent.

Not only was is it terrific for us to meet the authors we had been speaking to, but each seemed delighted to finally meet one another and share their respective experiences around their life and work.

The Day

Saturday 17th September and the first ever Gathering festival began with a healthy honk from skeins of Pink-footed Geese in the pre-dawn light, before a crisp, autumn sun compensated for the fresh north wind that chose to blow in off the sea. Bolstered by warm croissants from Sidings Bakery and hot coffee our early attendees packed in to listen to author and environmentalist Tony Juniper chair an outstanding session on Nature Recovery in Action. The tone of the session was forward thinking and inspiring – the audience Q and A included Community enthusiasts, Guardian journalists, climate Masters students and the President of the Country Land & Business Association.

As the day progressed over 500 people came to Gathering, tuning in to the broad programme on offer across the three stretch tents. Writers were in conversation and reading and one panel explored the complexity of the nature writing genre itself, amused that they never knew in which section their book might find itself in the bookshop! Sophie Pavelle recounted stories on her species journey, whilst Wainwright Prize shortlist Nicola Chester told of her life of Place, Protest and Belonging, bringing some to tears, and Benedict Macdonald wow-ed audiences with his lucidly-told perspectives on how to restore nature to the UK.

A film on The Future of Food introduced progressive topics such as lab-grown meat and vertical farming, which led into an afternoon’s session on Farming with Nature. All whilst other attendees were basking in Gong Baths, making natural dyes with Jenn Monahan or learning the art of wild wreath making with Katie Haydn-Slater.

As one author commented: “farmers and landowners were there, alongside naturalists and writers, teachers and health professionals, and many others. The whole event made me feel part of a vibrant movement for changing our relationship with land and nature”. A better accolade for Gathering would be hard to find.

The Evening

When the brilliant curlew expert Mary Colwell suggested that ‘David Gray’ might like to join in at Gathering, we thought it couldn’t be the David Gray – but it was. What an extraordinary gift to have such an acclaimed musician come and share his deeply personal journey of inspiration drawn from the natural world. Having met Mary because of a random donation he made to her online Curlew Fieldworker Toolkit page, the two have become firm friends in their passion for Curlew recovery and David spoke of the attachment to nature experienced through the Curlew’s song.

We were fortunate to hear David play and sing several nature-inspired songs until, for no apparent reason, his electric piano failed and he dramatically finished his encore a capella to the delight of one and all. As if moved by the bravura, the Pink-footed Geese honked good night on their journey to The Wash and Lee Schofield showed his talent beyond his latest book Wild Fell and sang with his guitar a number of his songs.

If Gathering came to life because of the serendipity of Dom and Ruth meeting and their joint vision to celebrate the natural world through diverse touchpoints, it has to be said it was a full 12 hour day! It was genuinely incredible to hear the work and journeys of so many creatives and practitioners and feel inspired anew to link it back to the work we do here. A huge thank you to our speakers, partners, and everyone who came on the day and took part in it all. It made our day to have you here.