Hawarden is gearing up to hosting this year's fifth edition of the Good Life Experience with the eclectic festival returning in September. Jamie Bowman spoke to organiser Cerys Matthews about what to expect from the unique events which keeps getting bigger and bigger.

HAWARDEN'S acclaimed festival The Good Life Experience returns for its fifth year this September with its organisers promising the event's biggest party yet.

Intended to be a celebration of artists and artisans, debates and discovery, action and adventure, rock and roll revelry and relaxation, the Good Life Experience takes place in the glorious, unusual and historic setting of Hawarden Estate against the backdrop of two castles on the grounds of the former British Prime Minister William Gladstone's country seat.

The festival was founded by Cerys Mathews MBE, founding member of multi-million selling Welsh band Catatonia, and award winning DJ, Cerys' husband Steven Abbott and Charlie and Caroline Gladstone, decensdents of the former Prime Minister and owners of Hawarden's award winning pub The Glynne Arms and the Hawarden Estate Farm Shop.

Over September 14, 15, and 16, the Good Life Experience will invite a host of entertainers, artists, creations, makers and thinkers to Hawarden to share their knowledge, skills or performance. The eclectic 2018 line-up includes iconic DJs Trevor Nelson and Norman Jay MBE, brave adventurer Ben Fogle, poet Hannah Jane Walker and pioneering grower Alice Holden, with musical acts including Gwenno, The Go Team, Bill Ryder-Jones and Boy Azooga providing the sounds.

“It was an ongoing discussion about 'the search for the Good Life' that led the four of us to create a festival with a difference," explains Cerys. "Our focus is on music, art, food, culture and nature. It's a festival for every generation with an emphasis on discovery, exploration and adventure – a combination of The Great British Bake Off, meets Bear Grylls meets The Tube. It’s about passion, making memories and getting back to nature. To learn something new is what life’s all about. Once you stagnate you’re not living life to the full. The festival invites people to reconnect with life and reconnect with nature."

Cerys' enthusiasm for the festival and the lifestyle it encourages echoes the same eclectic vision she displays on her award winning radio show on 6music where you can expect to hear everything from music from Miles Davis, Childish Gambino and The White Stripes to discussions with forager and mushroom expert Roger Phillips.

"Because it's a boutique festival of around 5,000 we can really hand craft it," continues Cerys. "It's got nothing to do with mass marketing and algorithms and is hand curated by all of us from people who we meet in our work and who we think people will want to spend time with.

"There are a lot of festivals about, but we seem to have really captured something. I often wonder why we love festivals so much but then going back into history we always did. Going back you had the saints' days and the ancient pagan festivals like May Day and All Hallows' Eve and if you don't have dates like this in your diary than life can pass you by in a whir of to do lists."

One truly immersive activity, in every sense, comes from the festival’s brand new Lake area, complete with Victorian boathouse and picturesque landscaped grounds. Artist, educator and outdoor swimmer Vivienne Rickman-Poole, recently listed as one of Britain’s most inspiring adventurers and who lives in the mountains of Snowdonia will lead small group swims in the Hawarden Estate’s tranquil lake, with each 20-minute swim immediately followed by a session where swimmers will use their experience as inspiration to create – be it a drawing, a poem, or some other form of expression through art. As an ambassador for the Outdoor Swimming Society, Vivienne knows first-hand all the elements for a pleasurable, inspiring swim – so there’ll be a lakeside fire, with marshmallows and tea to banish even the smallest hint of a post-splash chill. There’ll also be activities like fire walking, axe throwing, canoeing and rambling across the unspoilt grounds of the estate.

"Why we set it up in the first place was I always felt there wasn't a festival like the one I wanted to go to," laughs Cerys, 49. "There were no events that had the onus on nature or reconnecting with the type of physical activities which we wanted to introduce to a new generation.

"Modern life means we are all very sophisticated and children put do us all to shame when it comes to gadgets but we need to enable them with the more practical and basic things we have at the festival. There was definitely

room in the diary for a festival that catered for the curious minded and was for people with a variety of interests and not just food or music or craft. There'll be something there for anyone of your friends and family and the onus is on people rather than profit."

The last few months have been particularly busy for Cerys after she joined Radio 2 as the host of a new live blues show each Monday with DJ promising to play tracks by blues legends like Memphis Minnie, John Lee Hooker, Lightnin' Hopkins, Jo Ann Kelly and Peter Green, as well as bands like the Rolling Stones, the Groundhogs, White Stripes and Black Keys.

"I've been a fan of blues, folk and jazz from all over the world since I was a child,2 she says. "My dad would play Bob Dylan and through him I quickly gathered that he was a musicologist who was influenced by all this old stuff. I started collecting music on 78s and I never thought in a million years that one day I would be privileged enough to pick music for an hour on a mainstream radio station. I would have been like 'no bloody way!'

"I'm still finding my feet because I've been doing my 6 music show for ten years and it is a very different beast - because it's three hours long I can take more risks. The Monday slot is a bit different with a more mainstream audience but I also want to make sure blues collectors like me are happy. It's a work in progress and I'm looking forward to seeing what works best."

According to its founders, The Good Life Experience is all about rediscovering simple pleasures, re-energising and reinvigorating that desire for inspiration. It’s part of the festival’s ethos that you should leave recharged but not drained – and that includes your wallet: to make sure their time at the Good Life Experience is a stress-free as possible, most activities are free at point of entry and under-12s don’t have to pay to attend the festival at all.

"We don't make a profit from the festival," adds Cerys. "We just want to wash our faces in terms of an income and it is important to us that is accessible to everyone no matter their income. We try and keep the quality up and the prices down and value for money is a priority."

One added bonus of the Good Life Experience has been the weather over the last few years with Hawarden experiencing blue skies and sunny afternoons in contrast to the the stereotypical UK festival environment.

"We went through the weather reports for the last few decades and looked at the graphs as to when we'd have the best chance for it to be dry," laughs Cerys.

"It makes it special that it kicks off the autumnal season - it's like a last bash of the summer before we batten down the hatches."

For more information and ticktets go to: www.thegoodlifeexperience.co.uk/buy-tickets/