Anchors away! The Wye Valley River Festival has been officially launched, with an exciting and ground-breaking programme which invites communities and visitors to celebrate nature, culture, landscape and life along the River Wye.
This year’s inaugural festival in the stunning Wye Valley Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) is spearheaded by the Wye Valley AONB Partnership with artistic direction from Desperate Men Outdoor Arts Company. Ideas have flowed in thick and fast from communities along the river and at The Shire Hall in Monmouth on Monday February 24, it was time to set sail, unfurling the full programme at an event attended by tourism representatives and members of the community groups and other interest groups involved.
Wye Valley AONB Officer Andrew Blake said:
“This unique festival will enable people to experience landscape conservation as never before as art dares to pose questions of environmental concern. Walks, talks, debates and an imaginative collaboration of artists, communities and conservation experts will enable everyone to enjoy the spectacular Wye Valley and lend their voice to the conversation about the future of this precious countryside.”
Two weeks of riverside revelry start in Hereford on May 3, with a river carnival with a theatrical twist. Events flow on downstream as Wye Valley communities contribute to the lively and inspirational programme. A narrative thread linking events together will see the river itself put ‘on trial’ on May 9 and 10 in the 16th Century courtroom of the Shire Hall in Monmouth, in a thrilling new theatrical production created and performed by artists and the community in collaboration with Desperate Men and supported by the Arts Council of Wales and Arts Council England. It sees ‘Ratty’, the water-vole, other Wye Valley creatures, conservationists, experts, river folk and members of the public brought to appear before the Grand Assizes for an audit of the river, its communities and its future. The festival reaches its finale in Chepstow on May 18, with a flotilla, massed choir, brass bands, fire and flame and illuminations.
The festival involves communities along the river and showcases the best regional talent as well as the area’s natural beauty and heritage. Organisers have attended more than 50 meetings and consulted with 450 individuals and groups up and down the Wye Valley, leading to the formation of RAFTs (River Action Festival Teams) to plan and produce events in their own communities, working where appropriate with professional artists and other people representing groups such as walkers, rafters, museums and churches.
Local businesses are also encouraged to get involved to help support and promote the festival and individuals are invited to volunteer their skills and knowledge.
Artists and communities along the WyeRiver are presenting a series of events, which include, on May 4, a celebration on the riverside at Ross-on-Wye with a dash theatrical nonsense – including the Hedgehog Festival and Project Wild Thing. From May 5 to 9 at Lydbrook and Symonds Yat there will be a traditional fete and guided walks and, as festivities flow on through the area, on May 11 Llandogo stages a fantastic Fire and Flame spectacular with bonfires, torches, processions, illuminated canoes, flaming sculptures and skulduggery. On May 17 the former bustling riverside port of Brockweir turns back the clock 200 years to the heyday of river trade and Tintern Abbey hosts a day of music, readings and reminiscence by local people and performers.
This new initiative of the Wye Valley AONB aims to be fun and informative and also to stimulate serious debate about topical and environmental issues affecting the river and valley landscape. Desperate Men, one of the UK’s most versatile and inventive outdoor arts companies, specialise in mischievous, warm-hearted work which invites audiences to ask serious questions about the world. In 2012 the company co-produced the Battle for the Winds, a region wide celebration across the South West celebrating the opening of the Olympic and Paralympic sailing events and culminating in a spectacular finale in Weymouth watched by an audience of 8,000 people.
The Wye Valley River Festival is intended to be a biennial event, building on the success of this inaugural event. The Festival in 2014 has gained funding from the AONB Sustainable Development Fund, a Welsh Government initiative in the Wye Valley AONB; Arts Council of Wales, supported by the Welsh Government and the Heritage Lottery Fund; Arts Council England; adventa, Monmouthshire’s Rural Development Plan for Wales which is funded by the Welsh Government and the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development; and in-kind support from The Shire Hall, Monmouth and National Theatre Wales along with contributions from numerous volunteers and various communities along the Wye Valley.