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7802186834_71c870ac7c_bNot all festivals are the same. Over just one weekend this August we’ve found three great little events, each with its own unique flavour. If you fancy sampling festival life on the edge, why not explore one? All take place over the weekend of August 8-9 2015.

Wilderness, Cornbury Park, Oxfordshire 
This five-year old treat (Best New Festival 2011) has had time to establish itself as reliable destination for those who expect excellent music but also want to exercise their bodies and minds. When you’re not watching Björk, Ben Howard, George Clinton, Roisin Murphy, Nick Mulvey, Nils Frahm or Ibibio Sound Machine, stroll around the beautiful site to find world-class outdoor theatre, talks and debates, challenging practical activities like yurt-building and chances to make the most of the wonderful countryside with horse riding, boating and foraging. There’s a lakeside spa to unwind in afterwards, and they also like to raise the bar for festival food, with long-table banquets from leading chefs including Raymond Blanc. It’s the thinking family’s weekend break.
Thursday-Sunday. Weekend adult camping tickets start at £188

Forgotten Fields, Eridge Park, nr Tunbridge Wells
The Kendal Calling magic moves south to an idyllic Sussex deer park which also happens to be handy for both London and Brighton. This new festival has a capacity of just 4,000, so consider it the northern festival phenomenon’s more intimate alternative. There will be five stages of music, carefully curated to keep the connoisseurs happy while ensuring maximum fun, include Kendall regular Tim Burgess’s Tim Peaks musical diner. Artist for 2015 include Basement Jaxx, Super Furry Animals, The Levellers, De La Soul, Public Service Broadcasting, The Horrors, Augustines and British Sea Power. Also on offer are a Gypsy Disco, cinema, real ale and quirky site art. Laid back hipsters of the South East unite!
Friday – Sunday. Weekend adult camping tickets cost £99, with subsidised transport available

Supernormal, Braziers Park School of Integrative Social Research, Ipsden 
Still not far enough out there? How about a tiny experimental DIY Arts and Music festival from Braziers International Artists Workshops, which aims to provide “a critique of entertainment, spectacle and intrigue”? Attractions for the 1,000 ticket holders will include a maze and zine workshops. The music is so cutting edge, they’re still programming it, but expect experimental sounds including doom metal, improvised rock, ambient dubstep, disturbing psychedelia and all points between, plus a musical Church of Chaos and artworks and impromptu al-fresco performances throughout the stunning 17th-century Oxfordshire estate. Among musicians already confirmed are Trembling Bells and AR Kane, and Charles Hayward will present his ‘begin anywhere’ piano sequence. This one will blow your mind.
Friday – Sunday. Weekend adult camping tickets cost £80

Let us know which one you choose, and share your experiences.

Circus Cocktails - The Toffee AppleThere’s nothing quite like the circus. This festival of the weird and wonderful is a step into a whole new world and out of the daily routine of normal life. So when I heard a local bar was putting on a circus-themed evening and serving up new cocktails just for the occasion, you can imagine what an adventurous night of cocktail drinking it was going to stir up.

The appeal of the circus lies in the impact and shock factor of the performance, so your cocktail is going to have to do a lot of shouting to live up to the attention. Two of my local bar’s cocktails pulled out the stops and deliver ed that touch of wow factor.

First up was the Gypsy; a tart, bourbon-soaked tall drink with a lemon punch. It’s a simple looking cocktail, with its only real dazzle being a thin twirl of lemon peel that floats near the top.

Yet on the nose the Gypsy’s packed with lemon skin sourness and a savoury note, capturing more pith than peel. Followed through on the palette are sour boiled lemon sweets and a run of rewarding bourbon, and this gives the cocktail excellent balance. That’s where the wow factor comes in: the match of a simple bourbon – Jack Daniel’s no.7 in this case – with that zesty sting.

The second to impress was a simple cocktail that defines easy drinking. Named after the Toffee Apple, thecocktail smelt juicy and ultra-sweet on the nose and was served in a martini glass. Four slices of ripe apple were chunked onto the side and a rim of antique-looking brown sugar laced about the top edge of the glass. The liquid – an almost pineapple green – looked smooth and clean.

On the palette it was (thankfully) less sweet, instead opting for the fresh and ripe British cooking-apple character. It was as juicy as suggested on the nose and utterly mouth-watering. Full and yet easy-drinking too. A cracking cocktail, based on shaking Licor 43 well with manzana verde apple liqueur.

One things these cocktails prove is that the best drinks take inspiration from those special experiences we have, like the circus. Next time you mix up a cocktail, don’t be afraid to try something new – or, if you’re ordering from a bar, ask what experiments the bartender’s been having. You might discover something amazing.


Written by Ben Franks, www.benfrankswine.com, @Writer_Franks

Photography by Niamh Harkett

Edited by Laura Thompson 

Wild Cucumber Grape and Elderflower CaprianhaSoak up the sun and put your feet up at home or abroad. Here’s two truly fantastic cocktails to enjoy in one of Britain’s warmest summers on record.

One of the most popular concoctions when the weather’s good is the gin and tonic, a classic renowned for its refreshing and light taste that makes the most of natural herbal character. We can do one better than that.

Meet the Wild Cucumber cocktail. Hendrick’s gin – a luxurious and flavoursome spirit – is combined with cucumber and elderflower that work to bring out the flavours and cleanliness of the spirit. As refreshing on the eye as chilled cloudy lemonade, it’s as light as the gin and tonic but with a smooth, squash-like texture.

Mixed gently and served in a martini glass, it’s definitely one to look out for. If you don’t have time to infuse gin with cucumber yourself, then try buying one of the ready-infused spirits like Gordon’s Cucumber gin.

If you don’t fancy gin so much, there’s an alternative perfect for you. Going the sweeter route rather than herbal, my local bar’s Grape and Elderflower Caipirinha is a super choice. Unlike the classic mojito, the Cairpirinha favours the sugar Brazilian spirit Cachaca instead of rum.

This spirit choice leads to a slightly juicier cocktail where the lime is pleasantly sweet, with grape juice notes cutting through the citrus. The Cachaca’s sugar origins also brings through a caramel-like length, which combines with the alcohol and makes the cocktail both warm and refreshing.

Even if you’re a lover of mojitos, it might be worth ordering a Caipirinha the next time you’re at your local bar… you may discover a new personal favourite.


Written by Ben Franks, www.benfrankswine.com, @Writer_Franks

Photography by Niamh Harkett

Edited by Laura Thompson 


Elderflower and Lemon Mojito It’s simply no argument that the most famous cocktail in bars around the world is the mojito. In fact, according to a 2014 report, the mojito is the most popular cocktail in Britain. Originating from Cuba, the original recipe is a refreshing and sweet drink consisting of white rum, sugar, lime juice, sparkling water and mint. Traditionally, it’s served in a highball glass.

However, a local bar is going against the trend to bring its customers a mojito with a characterful twist. Two luxurious takes on the classic cocktail, the Lemon & Elderflower Citrus Mojito and The Thomas Mojito Royale, are being snapped up by punters who love the classic.

Their citrus mojito simply trades lime juice for lemon peel and more zest, creating a fresh and clear mojito with an extra zesty punch. The result is a refreshing, pleasurable cocktail that suits the summer months almost as perfectly as the original recipe. If you’re a fan of elderflower, the classic G&T, or lemonade, you’ll love this.

But with The Thomas Mojito Royale something extra special has happened with the classic mojito. It trades sparkling water for the biscuity lees flavours of excellent high-end champagne; it moves away from clean white rum to full and dark Brugal Extra Viejo rum; finally, the addition of Chase elderflower liqueur instead of lime juice is the “cherry on top” luxury finish.

Served in a tumbler glass rather than the classic highball, it’s also a cocktail that reflects its new full body on the palette. The Thomas Mojito Royale is still as refreshing as the classic but you get so much more flavour. The experience – as a whole – is far more fulfilling.

Again serve with mint and crushed ice; stir well. A perfect cocktail for the champagne admirer and cocktail connoisseur.


Written by Ben Franks, www.benfrankswine.com, @Writer_Franks

Photography by Niamh Harkett

Edited by Laura Thompson 



open airIt’s not really summer unless you spend at least one evening watching theater in the open air. A quick look at your local newspaper or listings magazine will almost certainly reveal at the very least an opportunity to watch an am-dram company presenting a Shakespeare staple in your local park. But some communities do a lot better than that, so we take a look at just three of the very finest outdoor theatres in the country.

Holkham Hall Gardens, Wells-next-the-Sea
Norfolk’s beautiful Holkham Estate regularly hosts a mixed programme of impressive outdoor theatre in its gorgeous walled gardens. This year the assortment of one-off presentations starts on 22 July with Oscar Wilde’s popular comedy The Importance of Being Earnest presented by students at London’s prestigious Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, and ends with a musical Robin Hood from Cambridge Touring Theatre on 26 August. A highlight is bound to be Chapterhouse Theatre’s The Secret Garden on 12 August, which features magical puppets and a real ‘secret’ garden!
Adult tickets £13-15, see holkham.co.uk for full programme

Brighton Open Air Theatre (BOAT)
The newest of our picks has only just opened in Brighton’s Dyke Road Park. A real community enterprise, and the creative legacy of local immersive theatre pioneer, the late Adrian Bunting, it’s an impressive grass amphitheatre with a programme of theatre, spoken word and open-air cinema that started in May and runs into September. Among the many live delights still to come this year are a promising collaboration with local comedy heroes The Treason Show on Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor, a two-part epic dramatisation of Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend from local company Two Bins, and Roman comedy The Eunuch from the promisingly-named new ‘DAFT’ theatre company.
Check brightonopenairtheatre.co.uk for dates and prices for the whole season

Minack Theatre, Penzance
This dramatic Cornish venue, cut into the granite cliffs of Porthcurno, is in a setting arguably too beautiful not to be distracting, but they do their best to hold their own against the stunning seascapes with a lively programme of dramas, musicals and opera from both local amateurs and some impressive touring companies. This year, between 13 July and 25 September, they’re offering an epic The Grapes of Wrath (which they promise can only be enhanced by “anything the elements might throw at it”) from regulars Shattered Windscreen, and a visit from the Shakespeare’s Globe on tour with their Much Ado About Nothing. A Winchester College production of King Lear is likely to be one of the few open-air productions this summer to be hoping for storms…
A full programme, with tickets starting at £4.50 can be found at minack.com

What’s your experience of outdoor theatre?

A boy with a toy trumpet in front of a street band. Columbia Market, London, UKBritain’s performers and music-lovers will take to the city streets on 18 July 2015 for the first ever National Busking Day. UK cities from Belfast to York will join London in encouraging performers to use traditional busking spaces including railway stations, shopping centres and parks. A full-on party in London’s Trafalgar Square will be the hub, and feature a line-up of specially chosen singers, dancers and physical theatre performers from the UK, Europe and across the world. Promoted by London Mayor Boris Johnson and with backers including Westminster Council, PRS for Music and Ticketmaster, the day is intended to encourage all UK cities to value and support our vibrant array of talented street performers. Busking and street performance have played an important role in the careers of many successful artists, such as Ed Sheeran, Passenger, Frank Turner and Eddie Izzard. BBC Radio DJ Bob Harris said: ‘Busking is an important part of our musical history and culture, a time honoured way for young musicians to hone their skills, learn to be brave and get their music across to people.’ In London the day also serves to launch ‘Busk in London’, a festival of busking across three consecutive weekends in July and August. This is a showpiece of the Busk in London scheme, launched in March to make street performance easier in the capital and promoting a helpful Busker’s Code devised by performers, councils, businesses and the police. It also launches this year’s annual busking competition, Gigs, which gives talented youngsters aged 11-25 a chance to perform in a high-profile London location, get their music heard and hone their performance skills. Now London’s biggest free music festival, the Gigs competition transforms iconic public spaces into stages which this year will host competitors’ gigs between 18 July and 8 August, with a Grand Final at Westfield Stratford City on Sunday 6 September. Mayor Boris Johnson said: ‘One of the things that make London such a vibrant city is the casual way you can encounter a wonderful piece of music or dance or even magic on the streets. It’s this spirit of creativity that makes our city so welcoming.’ Other focal points across the country on National Busking day will include Brighton Pavilion Gardens, Castle Street in Edinburgh, the Sage in Gateshead, Buchanan Street in Glasgow, Liverpool One and Dreamland in Margate. Edinburgh Council’s Culture leader, Councillor Richard Lewis said: ‘Edinburgh’s buskers and street performers are vital to the buzzing outdoor atmosphere during August and all year round’. For more details including National Busking Day times and venues across the UK and how you can join in, visit buskinlondon.com.

5897417273_98a54bfd96_oThere is a new essential to add to your list when packing to go to a festival, or on a camping trip – a carbon monoxide detector. Many people now have them in their homes but rarely do you see people packing them for their festivals.

It sounds like the idea of a hypochondriac but this is deadly serious. The gas is poisonous to humans but invisible, scentless and is produced from items you may use regularly on your camping trip, making it hard to know if you are at risk.

Carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning occurs when gas or charcoal (or fuels like them) fail to fully combust due to a lack of oxygen in their surroundings. Tragically, many people die each year from breathing in the harmful toxins released in their gas cookers or barbeques which then gets trapped in the confined air of their tent and inhaled, usually whilst sleeping.

The fatalities usually happen when campers cook inside their tents, or leave a gas burner on inside the tent for heat or so it doesn’t get stolen from outside. Having a Carbon Monoxide detector in your tent will make you aware of any danger of poisoning and could save your life.

Early signs of poisoning include drowsiness, dizziness, headaches, nausea, vomiting and weakness. If you feel any of those symptom’s get out of your tent straight away and seek medical care. The best cure however, is always prevention, so having a detector inside your tent is a must during the festival season.


You can buy one online for as little as £4.40.

Stay safe Kid’s!


Time to indulge. As some of you may know from my recent articles, I’m in love with great quality pale ale. So this week’s Battle of the Beers is pretty exciting for me as I match two excellent craft ales in a face-off to be the best. The first is the Meantime London Brewery’s 4.3% pale ale, the other is the top-notch Brew Dog Brewery’s Dead Pony Club 3.8% pale ale.

Round One – Appearance

Pale ale isn’t the most attractive beer in the world. It’s often a cross between those gorgeous light yellows you get in blonde beers and the rich, fruity colour of amber ales. Yes, that’s right, pale ale is the one that looks like bad wee. But never mind that because this stuff is delicious.

Dead Pony Club is a very pale ale that looks light and very still, while the Meantime is a little more golden and frothy, albeit just as still. Both, however, look as refreshing as the colour will allow…

Winner: DRAW

Round Two – Aromas

This is where pale ale shows off. Dead Pony Club is brim-full of perfumed flowers, mown grass and pungent citrus, especially grapefruit. Gorgeous.

Meanwhile, Meantime is more subtle with a touch of woodshavings but still mostly full of grapefruit.


Round Three – Drinking the Stuff

Punchy bitter citrus fights its way over the hugely-hoppy character of the Dead Pony Club. Mainly grapefruit, mango, bit of lime. Underneath is a smooth, fresh water sensation. The finish is perhaps a little shorter than I might have liked. Having said that, with summer coming up that crispness is sure to go down a treat. Light, easy-drinking and very well brewed.

In comparison, Meantime has much more water character and the fruit seems to be much more “integrated”. In many ways that reflects what you get on the nose: a little more subtle. Having said that, this is a much crisper, more easy-drinking pale ale than the Dead Pony Club.

Then again… easy-drinking is all well and good, but don’t we all search for that special something? Going to have to give this one to the Dead Pony Club just for giving so much in every sniff and glug, it’s fine brewing to achieve something like that.



Written & Photography by Ben Franks, www.benfrankswine.com, @Writer_Franks

Edited by- Laura Thompson


Alices-Adventures-in-Wonderland-cast-1140x395There are few places better for summer fun than Central London. The range of beautiful parks and outdoor spaces and a vibrant, engaged, diverse populace mean you can barely take the dog for an evening walk without stumbling on a festival or gig.
But what if your tastes are more Glyndebourne than Glasto? Or you have guests who’d rather sit and sip Prosecco than hurl themselves into a mosh pit? We check out a more sophisticated way for Londoners to enjoy music in the park this summer.
The long-standing outdoor theatre in front of historic, ruined Holland House in West London’s Holland Park presents an impressive bill of world-class opera each summer, with divas only occasionally upstaged by the park’s resident peacocks. The organisers know how to look after their outdoor patrons, and there’s a marquee in case of rain and even an alfresco dining area.
The 2015 season is already underway, with an adventurous programme from 2 June until 1 August. First up was Puccini’s collection of one act operas, Il trittico. Well regarded but ambitious to stage, it’s impressed the critics. New work is always a bit of a gamble with traditional audiences, but Jonathan Dove’s 1998, English-language opera Flight, set in an airport departure lounge, also received great reviews.
Verdi’s popular Aida, a mainstay of the operatic repertoire, is also quite tricky to stage, and reviews suggest while it sounds great, the bold new visual treatment on offer here is not to all tastes, so it may be one for the inveterate opera buff. If that’s you, it’s on throughout July. If you’re just looking for a bucolic idyll in the middle of the city, a rare staging of Delibes’ Lakmé, famous for its ‘Flower Duet’ might be a better bet, with dates from 9 July.
Opera Holland Park‘s production of Montemezzi’s L’Amore Dei Tre Re was rapturously received in 2007. Its riveting, non-stop 90-minutes (no interval) of drama, passion and gore are back from 22 July. If you’re a mixed party of opera connoisseurs and adventurous novices, this might be the one for you.

Another popular favourite back this year is Will Todd’s 2013 short opera Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, in a promenade performance on the nearby Yucca Lawn. Specially commissioned for Holland Park, it’s been called ‘Punchdrunk for kids’ and is headed for the Royal Opera House this November. If you’re looking for a way to keep some youngsters amused while not being driven mad yourself, or simply don’t want to miss out, performances start from 19 July.

What are your experiences of opera in the open air?


Yeah, alright, so summer may be coming around the corner but there’s still plenty of us that would choose a lightly chilled dark bitter on a sunny afternoon. Sure they’re heavy but they’re flavourful and lip-smackingly good, so here’s two of the finest English dark bitters: Buttcombe Original Bitter Ale and Bath Ales Barnsey Dark Bitter – let’s see which comes out on top.

Round One – Appearance

I don’t know about you, but unless a bitter is a draught I don’t want to see a head on it. Thankfully, neither of these beers have much of a head and look deep, full and very easy on the carbonated quality.

The Buttcombe is ever so slightly lighter than the Barnsey with a mahogany-red colour. Barnsey, on the other hand, looks closer to Coca-Cola or Guiness than it does a bitter, but to me that’s the sign of a bitter with that beautiful caramel quality.


Round Two – Aromas

Gravel-like aroma with rich and full caramel-oozing cake character sums up Buttcombe’s bitter the best. It has that mineral water freshness and a mellow, dry raisin note. Putting it all together it’s as seductive as a good sticky-toffee pudding.

The Barnsey is less potent with notes more in line with stout; those bready notes and a subtle creaminess, maybe a bit of bitter chocolate too.


Round Three – Drinking the Stuff

Buttcombe is a lot less sweet in the mouth than it suggests on the nose. It has a stinging nettle note mixed in with the largely full and boastful caramel character; there’s also a frothy (albeit bitter) mocha-like length. Best of all, it lingers for a fair amount of time and makes you want more. I can imagine it going well with roast beef, too. Body-wise it’s pretty light and easy-drinking for a bitter, but as we’re heading into the summer days a light bitter is going to be a much better buy.

Barnsey, on the other hand, tastes exactly like that cocoa-rich chocolate. Ever tried something like the 70% Green & Blacks chocolate bar? It’s pretty much exactly like that. A little thicker than the Buttcombe too, but still light and you could comfortably manage two pints.

All in all, I’ve got to give it to Buttcombe. There’s just more to the experience of drinking it.



Written by Ben Franks, www.benfrankswine.com, @Writer_Franks

Edited by : Laura Thompson