Making history

The Chalke Valley History Festival roared into existence last night in beautiful rural Wiltshire.

It was standing room only for the first two events when an audience of some 400 listened to TV's Peter Snow and naval historian Andrew Lambert debate the respective reputations of Wellington and Nelson, followed by military historians Peter Caddick-Adams and Gary Sheffield doing the same for Monty and Rommel, with James Holland in the chair.

From the start, the atmosphere was truly inspiring. With the sun going down over Marleycombe Hill, where Lord of the Flies author William Golding used to walk his dog, there was a real sense that something new and exciting was being attempted here in Bowerchalke. The food was supplied by a brilliant local caterer, Bread and Flowers, and they had set up long trestle tables inside the tent so that everyone could chat to each other as they ate and drank between the events.

Tonight, Michael Wood's talk on Alexander the Great and Tom Holland and Richard Miles' debate on the merits of Greece versus Rome, are both sold out. But there are still tickets available for Saturday when John Julius Norwich will talk on the popes, Henry Worsley on Shackleton and lots of others will speak on subjects ranging from the English1 8th-century home to the art of writing historical fiction.

And Saturday morning is entirely devoted to children's events with Michele Paver talking about her Chronicles of Ancient Darkness series and Martin Brown bringing alive Horrible Histories.

As my fellow chairman James Holland said in his opening speech, it is high time that there was a festival of this kind in the calendar. The enthusiasm for things historical and military is obvious from the explosion of sales of history fiction and non-fiction in the bookshops and the amount of it that can be seen on television. The success of series like Rome, The Tudors and Downton Abbey just shows how popular all kinds of history is at the moment. And my bet is that it'll get more so as we struggle through Mervyn King's "seven lean years" and people get desperate for some escape.

So, fingers crossed for the next two days. The weather forecast looks OK and when the evening sun shines along that valley, it is far more beautiful than my weak prose can describe. So to those of you that like history and have a free Saturday - come on down and join the fun!