Take an intoxicatingly beautiful estate: undulating walled garden, enticing woodland, paths winding down to a wide shoreline where the Firth of Forth opens out fully to the sea. There are parliaments of rooks. The air is alive with birdsong.
Into that alluring environment, place a brace of Scotland’s most popular and engaging writers and storytellers for children, Vivian French and David Campbell. Add a carefully selected and subtly themed array of some of the most perceptive nature writers around. Then fill it with free fun for children and families, building a giant bird’s nest, say, as you do of a Saturday. Oh and make sure there is a very special creative writing workshop, and even foraging with friendly, literate, experienced authors and experts. Cambo Estate, just south of St Andrews, both hosts and helps inspire a unique literary and artistic celebration next weekend.
Littoral, the programme of literary events created to sit within and alongside the sublime classical and contemporary music of the East Neuk Festival, is spreading its wings. (Literary events on that lovely coastline? The title conjured itself.) Setting events in that seagirt landscape, in ancient churches and village halls swept with salt breezes and surrounded by gulls, perched between fields and shore, it was clear that the natural world should be the unifying theme. Last year’s inaugural Littoral attracted some of the UK’s foremost nature writers, notably Richard Mabey who declared it one of the finest events in which he had taken part.
So in this second year, more literary events nestle amongst the internationally renowned musicians performing in potato barns (literally…). From Largo, the birthplace of Alexander Selkirk (and his fictional alter ego Robinson Crusoe) where latter-day adventurer Gavin Francis will speak of his own travels across the far-flung sea, to Crail, where a culminating discussion will bring together an unmissable combination of eagle-eyed observers and thinkers, all manner of literary delights perch in the nooks and crannies of the East Neuk .
And at the heart of it, that unique Cambo day: a distillation and celebration of words – and music – motivated by the magic of birds, elusive creatures, urban wildlife, the song of the rolling earth in the words of the great Walt Whitman. The eminent naturalist Sir John Lister-Kaye (inset), who wisely adopted that resonant phrase as the title of one of his own entrancing works, comes to Cambo from the Highlands, discussing his transformative, deeply felt passion for nature. He’ll be speaking in one of the glorious drawing rooms of Cambo House itself, looking out over the parkland resplendent in its summer richness. Intertwined events unfurl through the afternoon – next up, Esther Woolfson, with her close, acute, funny, timely observation of the wildlife of Aberdeen joined by captivating writer Conor Mark Jameson explaining his quest for that gorgeous, little-glimpsed raptor, the goshawk.
Specially pertinent, In a serendipitously timed event, vivid and witty author and journalist Patrick Barkham uncovers myths and realities about the much-loved and much -persecuted badger (so lovingly anthropomorphised by Kenneth Grahame, so currently set for culling by the Westminster government). Miriam Darlington, already a lauded poet, now turns to luminous prose to search for otters, those sinuous quicksilver creatures of our streams.
These events ride on the high tide of writing about the world which surrounds us, a new awareness among authors and readers of the intricacies of our ecological web, of our fragile interdependence. These are deeply felt engagements with the wonders that exist even in the heart of over-concreted cities, never mind the wild glories of the hills and seas. Littoral is a very particular addition to the rich array of literary events blossoming in Scotland, specific to its very special place and resonant theme.
That theme is brought to what will be a fascinating conclusion in the final event of this year’s Littoral. Arguably our most eminent historian T C Smout, in recent years a pioneer of environmental history, will join a discussion to reflect on hopes, fears and desires for our complex interactions with our fellow creatures and shared earth.
• The East Neuk Festival runs 3 – 7 July. Full details on www.eastneukfestival.com; Tickets from www.hubtickets.co.uk, telephone 0131-473 2000