This wonderful annual event is held in the Chalke Valley, just outside Salisbury in Wiltshire. It is the ideal festival for the Slow Traveller: quirky, fun, informative and in beautiful surroundings which are off the beaten track. If you are planning to visit, here we answer all of your questions about the practicalities.
What is the Chalke Valley History Festival?
Started in 2011 as a fundraiser for the local cricket club, the History Festival has grown to a large outdoor event held in the rural village of Broadchalke. It runs Monday - Sunday for a week in June and has the biggest names from the worlds of UK history, literature, politics, academia and more, who all attend to give a talk and often sign books. As well as the seated talks, there is a whole festival of living historians who set up camp, don their period clothes and educate and entertain visitors, whether its through staging battles, guided walks, open air talks, building, cooking and creating, or just chatting to the people who pass by.
Where is the Chalke Valley History Festival?
The festival is held at Church Bottom, Church Farm, Bury Lane, Wiltshire SP5 5DP
It is easy to find when the festival is on, as there are plenty of signs from Salisbury, on all of the main roads, and once you get into the village.
How to get to the Chalke Valley History Festival?
Most visitors drive to the festival, and there is a large car park with attendants to guide you where to park and to direct traffic.
You can catch a bus from Salisbury and ask to be let out at The Queens Head in Broadchalke, giving you a short walk to the festival. You need the 29 bus from Blue Boar Row - tickets are £9 for unlimited travel in the day if you use the app, £9.20 if you pay the driver.
The nearest train station is Salisbury and you can catch a bus or taxi (approx £25) to the festival. If you are travelling from London, there is a direct train from Waterloo every 30 minutes or so. The journey takes 90 minutes and can cost as little as £12 if you book in advance.
What is there to do at the Chalke Valley History Festival?
Although the focus of the event is the seated talks, which have to be pre-booked as they sell out quickly, there are plenty of other talks on offer to which people can just show up once they have an entrance ticket. These are in the open air and can be watched while sitting on the grass. Famous historians also do their podcasts live from the outdoor stages which are always interesting to listen to.
There are talks and plays just for kids - the History Tellers are very popular and always make people laugh while getting their historical point across. The interactive historical re-enactments with Dan Snow are also great for kids.
There are regular demonstrations of battles, cookery, farming - anything to do with the past really.
When is the best time to visit the Chalke Valley History Festival?
The festival usually runs from a Monday - Sunday. The weekdays tend to be quieter, and at the start of the week you will find groups of school kids visiting the living history displays and occasionally the talks.
The school groups are all well behaved as they are so absorbed in their activities. The other visitors are usually retired people. Particularly at the start of the week, it is a peaceful and rarefied atmosphere.
The weekend is when the families arrive. The site can get busy, but never overwhelming and although there may be longer queues for the food stalls, there is no feeling of the site being too crowded.
What is there to eat at the Chalke Valley History Festival?
There are plenty of options with a whole area dedicated to food stalls, which include snacks like ice cream, coffee, and cakes to full meals which include Indian, Thai, Mexican, Greek, and more.
Fine dining is available in the restaurant tent which is run by top caterer Victoria Blashford-Snell. There is a NAAFI, a tea room and a pub. Covered picnic areas are on offer too, for those who want to bring in their own food.
Where to stay when visiting the Chalke Valley History Festival?
To make the most of your time there, staying on site means you can stay for the late evening storytelling, music and drinks in the bar. The festival has a temporary campsite where you can pitch your own tent or stay in bell tents for some glamping. I spoke to people who were camping who said that it was lovely; the sunsets over the hills were incredible and that the campsite was very quiet. They also said that a little shop visits in the mornings, so you can buy the basics like bread and milk.
You could also try Chalke Valley Camping who have luxury bell tents around a lake, and for 2022 will have two geodomes.
If camping isn't for you, then try some independently owned holiday accommodation in the nearest town of Salisbury. It is just a 20 minute drive or 30 minute bus journey to the festival, and gives you the option of visiting Salisbury too - the Cathedral, Stonehenge, Old Sarum and many more places.
What else is there to do in the Chalke Valley?
The Chalke Valley stretches from Shaftesbury to Salisbury and is populated with some beautiful villages. It is a rural, peaceful place and very unspoilt. You can visit the second smallest church in the country, see where author William Golding lived and is buried, the church in Bishopstone which still has bullet holes from the Civil War and the homes where Cecil Beaton lived. The village of Broadchalke also has the lovely Watercress Beds where you can visit and buy watercress direct from the farm.
What else is there to do for history lovers in the area?
If you want to extend your stay in the area before or after the festival, there are plenty of other sites in under a 25 mile radius for the historical visitor.
World War II and Military History
Looking to go further afield? Try these day trips from Salisbury