July 21, 2016
Written by Amy Bryant for the Saturday Telegraph
In a lush field a few peaks north-east of the Mendip Hills, 40 'glampers’ have emerged this morning from tents strung with pastel-coloured bunting. They may have woken to the sound of birdsong, or glimpsed an inquisitive deer peering at them from the next field along.
At the time of writing, they were even due sunshine, albeit accompanied by a slight chill if they rose during the dawn chorus.
These glamorous campers have slept overnight in the grounds of The Pig – Near Bath, a handsome Georgian manor-house hotel with 18 acres of land that slope gently down from its tree-lined gardens. Eighty-odd deer roam in the parkland, groups of them occasionally wandering up to the adjoining fence to graze.
With a slap-up breakfast on the way, including bacon and sausage sandwiches and home-made granola prepared by the Pig’s chefs, not to mention a campfire feast cooked by Angela Hartnett to look forward to tonight, it’s no bad way to begin a festival weekend.
Smoked & Uncut is what has lured the campers to a field about nine miles south of both Bath and Bristol. This is the second mini-fest of the summer (600 revellers last year; 1,000 expected this weekend) in a series of four hosted annually by the Pig hotels (there are now five across southern England) and Lime Wood in Hampshire – all in the portfolio of award-winning hotelier Robin Hutson. This is the first time since the festivals launched in 2013 that one of the events has spanned two days.
On the lawn, the long wooden benches and tables that usually seat alfresco lunchers have been replaced by hay bales, and backing up to the wall of the Pig – Near Bath’s phenomenally well-maintained kitchen garden is a suitably bijou stage, garlanded with leaves.
'I asked the gardeners to grow some star jasmine for this year, to make the set a bit more in keeping with its surroundings,’ explains Johnny Seymour, the band booker for all the Smoked & Uncut festivals. 'It’s a nice vine and we can trail it over the speakers.’
Seymour has spent the past seven months arranging the line-up for this weekend, securing local acts such as the Gloucestershire-based folk singer-songwriter Hattie Briggs, as well as acoustic-rock stalwarts Turin Brakes. Headlining tonight is Hugh Cornwell, the Stranglers’ original frontman, who should be belting out Peaches and Totem & Taboo just before sunset.
Such was the success of last year’s festivals, which all sold out, that Seymour had plenty of interest from bands looking to fill the 12pm-to-6pm slots. 'Chris Difford from Squeeze got my email address somehow and asked if he could play,’ he told me, with barely concealed excitement, when we chatted before the festival. 'Squeeze played on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury!’ He said yes, of course.
A 30-minute drive away from Michael Eavis’s Worthy Farm (21-hour queues not-withstanding), the Pig – Near Bath is the warm-up and wind-down venue of choice for Glastonbury’s VIPs. Just four weeks ago Alexa Chung was there wielding marshmallows over a flaming barbecue, and Mary Charteris was Instagramming from bed, tucked up with Cara and Poppy Delevingne, in one of the Pig’s 29 rooms. The hotel’s Land Rovers served as shuttles to and from the site.
Last year Eavis and his family were in attendance at Smoked & Uncut, and Florence Welch, who headlined Glastonbury’s Pyramid Stage after the Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl broke his leg, went through her set in the Pig’s garden beforehand. 'She was running around here doing her warm-up with her iPod,’ recalls Sarah Holden, the Pig – Near Bath’s hotel director. 'Of course, all the guests could spot her easily.’
At this year’s Smoked & Uncut the bands will be greeted by the Pig’s head gardener, Ollie Hutson (Robin’s son), in his golf buggy. Scooting through the walled potager, they will arrive backstage via the cavolo nero, red Russian kale and rainbow chard.
Everything, from the multiple asparagus varieties to the tomatoes and basil (nurtured in amongst each other to enhance both flavours), is grown for the Pig’s menu. 'I go out into the garden a couple of times a day to pick,’ says head chef Kamil Oseka.
For eggs he can look to the hotel’s hens and quail; for meat, its pigs (including curly-haired, Hungarian rare-breed Mangalicas, New Zealand Kunekunes, and four Tamworths – though the pet porker, Kevin Bacon, is strictly off the menu). Anything that can’t be plucked from the grounds of the hotel is sourced from within a 25-mile radius.
During the festival, Oseka and his team will be manning a wood-fired oven to dish out their restaurant’s signature flatbreads, while beef ribs will be borne, sticky-glazed and falling off the bone, from a Big Green Egg (the barbecue of choice for the country’s top chefs).
Not forgetting stalls selling nachos, churros, veg bowls, paella and ice cream, to be washed down with Hambledon English wine and Chase Vodka (paid for with 'Piggy Pounds’).
Cue, for the glampers, tonight’s culinary headline act, Hartnett. The Michelin-starred chef (who runs Lime Wood’s restaurant, Hartnett Holder & Co) has her eye on the garden’s vegetables and herbs for her Italian campfire feast, which will be served after the day-ticketers have drifted home.
'I’ve cooked at Wilderness festival for the past couple of years and, as long as you don’t have ridiculous expectations about everything being exactly like your kitchen, outdoor cooking can be really relaxed,’ she explains, having gamely described a recent barbecue course she ran at which it poured with rain. 'Do I go camping? No! But I love being outside and prefer the country to the city.’
The 20 luxury bell tents (complete with phone-charging facilities and hair straighteners), a new addition to Smoked & Uncut this year, will make the tunes-tastes-and-traipsing-to-bed experience eminently more enjoyable.
Hot-water bottles installed (yes, the Pig’s staff will do that), and campfire embers glowing, tonight those happy glampers will be able to dream of Bambi, or beef ribs, or the soothing sounds of Turin Brakes tomorrow.