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Run with wolves, gaze at clouds and experience art in nature at Wye Valley River Festival 2020

Wolves are coming to the Wye Valley. Credit Chris Lever

An award-winning outdoor arts and environment festival, shaped by the landscape of an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, is set to return this September with a re-imagined programme of performances, art, live music, talks and workshops.

The Wye Valley River Festival will be taking place predominantly online from Monday September 21st to Sunday 27th September 2020 with a focus on the theme of Time.

The biennial outdoor arts and environment festival works with communities, local and internationally acclaimed artists to bring bespoke performances, events and installations to the Wye Valley Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

The coronavirus pandemic meant the festival team had to re-imagine the programme for 2020, adapting it to allow for social distancing whilst maintaining the festival’s unique blend of art, performance and debate.

This year, festival attendees worldwide can expect an exciting and eclectic mix of events, including Wolves, a real time digital game where players can track and photograph a Wye Valley ‘pack’ of  wolf runners as they roam the incredible landscapes around the Welsh/English border. Although now long extinct, wolves had roamed the Wye Valley area for thousands of years, with bones of hyena, lion, brown bear and rhinoceros discovered in King Arthur’s Cave near Symonds Yat showing signs of having been gnawed by wolves. The new game at this year’s festival allows fictional  wolves to once again roam in the woods above the River Wye and den in the caves,  generating interest in the real time re-introduction of beaver and pine marten conservation work, already taking place in the Wye Valley and surrounding area.

A further highlight of this year’s festival is the Festival Ensemble, led by Desperate Men, the story of Cuckoo Time. Cuckoo Time is set in the future as entertainment where digital humans are downloaded into physical bodies and return to the Wye Valley in 2020. They are then set a series of challenges which they must pass to be allowed to return to the comfort of their online eternal existence. Hosted by Cuckoo and her sidekick, failure results in permanent deletion, commonly known as the Cuckoo Clear-out! There will be a daily instalment of Cuckoo Time to watch online throughout the festival week.

Also part of this year’s festival will be the chance to take part in Cloudscapes, by immersive theatre duo, Gobbledegook Theatre.  Festival goers can choose a comfortable and peaceful spot with a good view of the sky, pop their headphones on and listen to the 20-minute Cloudscapes podcast made especially for cloudgazing in a time of Covid. Listen to musings about cloud formation interspersed with stories for an uplifting and reflective experience.  Cloudscapes is a very personal, human-scale work which focuses on the role of clouds in climate change.

As much of this year’s Wye Valley River Festival will be happening indoors, organisers are encouraging people to bring the woodland landscape inside their homes. Using resources created by festival artists Priormade, organisers are calling on people of any age to create a magical woodland window display in their own home to be shown during the weeklong festival using the #wyewoodlandwindows on Facebook and Instagram.

Phillippa Haynes, Festival Director for the Wye Valley River Festival, said: “While it’s going to be a very different festival to previous years, we hope our re-imagined festival will excite, challenge and engage with festivalgoers just as it has in the past. We’re looking forward to bringing an eclectic mix of performances, art, talks and workshops, live music, and activities that everyone can get involved with, in both the local community and further afield.

“Our theme for 2020 is Time and our artists will be inspiring us to change the way we think about Time in all its many facets. We will be looking forward to the future as well as paying attention to the past and our rich natural and cultural heritage. We will consider how we use time, and how we can make sure we don’t run out of time in addressing the environmental and climate threats the world is facing. We showcase art which will hopefully provoke, inspire and challenge our audiences. Above all, this year’s festival is about celebrating the very special landscape we are lucky enough to live and work in.”