If there is one thing British culture gets right, it’s music festivals. With approximately 800 to choose from in the UK each year, people travel far and wide just to experience a day in Victoria Park or a weekend at Worthy Farm.
Thankfully, after a tough couple of years navigating the pandemic, festivals are back in full force this year and the escapism they provide is needed now more than ever.
Last weekend I headed to the sleepy town of Kings Lynn in Norfolk for Houghton, a 10,000-person electronic music festival founded by DJ and artist Craig Richards.
For a small festival, Houghton’s reputation precedes it — though not for entirely all the right reasons. First launched in 2017, the festival has only run twice in five years, earning speculation that the grounds of Houghton Hall might be cursed; in 2019, it was cancelled due to stormy weather, then the pandemic struck and a mixture of lockdowns and issues with funding meant it was put on hold until 2022.
But, this year, nothing was stopping Richards and his team. The curse was lifted and what took place was nothing short of magical.
Surrounded by wild deer and well-manicured gardens, most of the festival takes place in the woodlands next to a large lake. With no map to guide you, the various stages have to be discovered in clearings and inside yurts by following the music. In the evening, visual projections light up the sky above the lake and reflect off the various sculptures scattered around the grounds: This is no ordinary muddy field with just a couple of loud speakers and a stage.
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The sublime location was accompanied by non-existent phone signal or wifi, forcing festivalgoers into a much-needed digital detox (though it did make things tricky if you lost your friends). Switching off and surrounding yourself with good music and great company made for lots of smiling sweaty faces in the crowds.
Houghton has a unique 24-hour music license meaning no matter how late, or how early, in the day, the faint sound of bass somewhere could be heard in the distance. The DJs played sets lasting up to six hours and the quality of the sound systems is unrivalled. Dancing as the sun set behind the trees around us, it was hard to believe not so long ago we were living through a live music drought — desperate to hear the thud of the speakers once more. Highlights included Shanti Celeste, Optimo and Joy Orbison, all big names in the electronic music world who seemed as excited to be there as the festivalgoers.
Nestled in the woodland and shut off from the outside world, Covid, the cost of living crisis, climate change, war and any other issues waiting in the outside world were temporarily erased from our minds. Festivals are escapism in its purest form and the perfect way to forget your worries, at least for the weekend.
The curse has been lifted and Houghton was worth the wait.
What to do
Take a morning yoga class in the Orchard
Though it may seem that festivals are about little more than drinking and dancing, many often have a strong wellness element to them and Houghton is no exception. For those wanting an active start to the morning, the Orchard offers complimentary yoga and movement classes throughout the weekend. Not only that, but there are life drawing sessions and meditation sound baths to join in with. There’s also a 15-person wood burner sauna on site and an array of masseuses, the perfect hangover remedy.
Explore the Sculpture Garden
Houghton Hall’s renowned sculpture garden is open exclusively for festivalgoers over the August weekend. Catch the mysterious Houghton train down to the garden and explore the one-of-a-kind sculptural works from artists such as; James Turrell, Rachel Whiteread, Richard Long, Stephen Cox and Anya Gallacio.
Where to eat
The Turntable & Napkin
Perched on the corner of the lake at Houghton Hall is a floating restaurant. Brought to you by Oscar Toma, Andrea Marini with Chef Hakan Ceren, this is no ordinary festival food. Whether you need a proper breakfast ahead of a full day of dancing or to line your stomach before hitting up the bar, The Turntable & Napkin restaurant serves incredible food with views to match. It isn’t often you can eat pan-fried scallops and wild mushroom risotto with some of the world’s best DJs playing in the background.
Where to stay
Glamping over camping
If the thought of camping is enough to put you off a festival, worry not. Houghton offers a range of accommodation options from camping to glamping and live-in vehicles. You can find pre-pitched tents the Tangerine Fields, Airstreams caravans available to rent in Boutique Camping, as well as Hearthworks yurts, portobello bell tents (for a boho experience) and Luxury Vintage Canvas Tents, all of which will guarantee a good nights sleep.