Big sigh. It’s nearly upon us; the Bank Holiday weekend that officially closes summer. The annual holiday’s a distant memory, tans are fading and with August’s autumnal rain so far summoning an early exit from any more sunshine, it seems we’re entering the year’s last chapter in sullen mood.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. Indeed, as I write, the sun is shining, the sky is clear, and there’s a gentle breeze taking the edge off the blossoming warmth that suggests there’s more to come. And with an optimistic glint, we have a recommendation to see out the season in style, and one which embraces the best of the British summer, to boot.
Set among 7000 acres of delightful New Forest countryside, with the River Avon running right through the middle, Somerley is one of England’s great country estates still lived in by the family that built it back in the early 19th century. And here, in the estate’s charming Walled Garden, is a festival that celebrates all of those things that make up summer in the English countryside.
Founded in 2010 by fellow beer festival enthusiasts, James Somerton and Simon Roundell, the Somerley Beer and Music Festival has matured over the years into a cracking couple of days of real ales, beers and ciders all from local and micro-breweries, set against a backdrop of live music and fun family activities.
It’s a country fair for the 21st century. Think Wilderness meets Bestival meets CAMRA’s finest at London’s Olympia, with a Hampshire twist. When it comes to the music, you might not find any chart-toppers headlining but the line-up is no less entertaining, with sets from groups such as Peach and the Prairie Dogs and The Orange Circus Band, and audience favourites The Funk Bunnies opening the event on Friday night.
To keep you going through the weekend, there’s a host of sumptuous offerings that more than pimp the traditional fete fare. Gone are the token hotdog stands and greasy catering vans, in come event superstars Cantina el Burrito, Frisky Avocado and The Good Food Company, among others. There are some cracking local producers, too, such as the New Forest Scotch Egg company and Glastonbury Dairy. And there are wine and Pimms tents to be had, just in case beer’s not your thing.
But it’s not lost that country fete feel at its heart, with traditional garden games such as nail the nail, not to mention ferret racing and face painting – and this being a beer festival, there’s a yard of ale competition, naturally.
With over 150 ales and ciders to sample, it’s testament to the appeal of this event that it’s being ear-marked by many an award-winning and artisanal brewery and beer producer, from the Cotswolds to Colchester. And from a one-day event at its inception, it’s developed into a weekend-long ride with options for camping and glamping so that no craft ale may remain untested.
It’s something that will doubtless make it onto the festival round-ups for years to come, the Somerley Beer and Music Festival will soon become as much an institution as the Bank Holiday itself.
The 7th Somerley Beer and Music Festival takes place at Somerley, near Ringwood, on Friday 25th and Saturday 26th August 2017. This year the festival opens on the Friday night and organisers are offering an extended camping opportunity to cover the entire weekend. For further details and to book tickets please go to www.somerleybeerfestival.com.