Cheltenham’s fantastic calendar of sporting and cultural festivals which bring hundreds of thousands of visitors to this perfect festival town every year.
March sees ‘the olympics of horseracing’, the UK’s premier jump racing meeting, known to racegoers simply as The Festival (10 - 13 March 2015). The climax of the week is the Gold Cup, won in 2014 by 20-1 outsider Lord Windermere after a thrilling finish. The roar of the crowd at Prestbury Park has a strong Irish accent and is complemented by the party atmosphere at the racecourse’s many venues and in Cheltenham itself.
Cheltenham’s other unique sporting festival is Gloucestershire CCC’s Brewin Dolphin Cheltenham Cricket Festival (8 - 18 July 2015), the longest and longest-running cricket festival in the world on an ‘out’ ground. Cheltenham College provides the glorious venue for up to twelve days of first-class cricket every July.
Four festivals are organised under the Cheltenham Festivals umbrella and each brings a unique buzz to the centre of town:
The Times and Sunday Times Cheltenham Literature Festival (2 - 11 October 2015) is the world’s oldest literature festival. With 350 events over ten days the festival plays host to the biggest names in literature, politics and entertainment. One recent festival featured Vince Cable, Judi Dench, Jeremy Paxman, Michael Palin, Victoria Glendinning, Matthew D’Ancona, Michael Morpurgo and AC Grayling – and that was just on the first Saturday. But the best of the festival is often the small, offbeat performance, an eye-opening education event, debate or workshop with a name you haven’t heard of. Yet.
The Cheltenham Music Festival (30 June - 11 July 2015) is the senior professional arts festival, held every year for more than 60 years. But this international festival has always been a celebration of the new as well, notching up more than 200 premieres since the very first, by Benjamin Britten, in 1945. It stays true to its classical heart but now draws in everything from world music and folk traditions to cabaret and movie scores in an ever-increasing variety of concerts, films, debates and performances.
The Cheltenham Jazz Festival (29 April - 4 May 2015) is equally committed to fostering new talent and takes its infectious combination of different jazz traditions into the streets and parks and pubs of Cheltenham as well as its concert venues.
The newest of the Cheltenham Festivals quartet, the Cheltenham Science Festival (2 - 7 June 2015) celebrates and communicates science and the importance and fun of science through events, explosions, debates, hands-on demonstrations and the central exhibition that always surprises and amazes young and old alike.
Back at the racecourse every year Wychwood (29 - 31 May 2015) is a cool, green, family-friendly mix of world music and folk with enough indie, rock and comedy to keep you surprised and happy. That and a wonderful variety of food, weird and wacky stalls and sideshows.
In the nearby countryside, the proudly small 2000 Trees Festival (9 - 11 July 2015) also has a strongly green and ethical flavour and treats an audience limited to just a few thousand to an eclectic mix of rock, folk and indie.
Back in the town itself, Cheltenham Folk Festival has been coming to the town’s pubs and venues every February for 18 years and provides a platform both for new talent and established names in folk music from home and abroad. Ceilidhs, concerts, morris, children’s events, humour, food and drink and a market all combine to banish the winter blues.
Cheltenham’s most local festival is also its oldest. Started in 1926, the Cheltenham Festival of Performing Arts (5 - 17 May 2015) combines dance, music, poetry and drama with hundreds of participants competing in dozens of classes.
The Cheltenham Beer Festival (July) is a small but perfectly formed festival that promotes fine local beers and breweries, local music and the local branch of the Samaritans for one day only every July. They even let in a bit of cider and perry too.
Cheltenham Open Studios (June 2015) is a festival of local art and opens the doors of more than 70 galleries, studios, venues and homes in and around Cheltenham every other year, showing off contemporary painting, drawing, textiles, ceramics, photography and sculpture.
Also in June is the brilliant quirky surprising Ukulele Festival of Great Britain (19 - 21 June 2015), a gathering of uke players and star performers from all over the world. You'll be welcome even if you've never heard a ukelele played in earnest before. You'll hear tunes from Motorhead to Beethoven, from jazz and blues and pop and plenty of original music too. You can't fail to leave with a smile on your face.
Cheltenham Fashion Week (23 - 28 November 2015) looks forward to spring with real style and glamour, featuring nationally and internationally known names but also showcasing brilliant student talent from Gloucestershire College and tomorrow's budding designers from local secondary and even primary schools.
The Cheltenham Poetry Festival (22 April - 4 May 2015) brings poems and poets (and music and comedy and multimedia events) to more than a dozen pubs, schools, bars, chapels and other venues across the town.
The Hobgoblin Cheltenham Comedy Festival (14 - 20 September 2015) features big stars like Jeremy Hardy and Ed Byrne but new names, fringe and oddball events and family fun too.
The Cheltenham Design Festival (April) which celebrates and debates the very best in product design, photography, illustration, fashion, architecture, garden design, graphic and digital design - and supports and inspires the next generation of outstanding young designers through the Cheltenham Design Foundation and the Design Academy.
And this year for the first time, comic fans converged on Cheltenham for the True Believers' Comic Festival (7 February 2015), where you could buy and sell comics and collectibles, meet artists and writers and, er, dress up quite a bit.
Last but not least there's the Cheltenham International Tango Festival (26 - 28 June 2015). Dust off your dancing shoes...