Thursday 27th – Sunday 30th July 2017
Port Eliot sits in the north-eastern corner of Cornwall; near to Saltash and within the village of St. Germans. At the end of July each year, a festival is held on the estate.
Sometime in 2016, I was invited to attend this with a friend and, having enjoyed my time at Green Man in the Brecon Beacons (August 2014), I said ‘yes’ without doing any further research on what or where Port Eliot may be.
We arrived in the mid-afternoon; having followed the M5 beyond its southern terminus, continued along the A38 past Plymouth (and some road-bound steam train-thing that was drawing in crowds of photographers) and turned left for St. Germans (no SatNav required). Directions to the car park from there were unmistakable.
Eventually, we were parked up, unloading the cars, through the security check/admissions and ready to pitch our tents.
If you were to arrive really early, you could probably bag yourself a pitch within a short walk of the estate house and main event area. This wasn’t what we wanted and so, we followed the sign for ‘More Camping’ up and away from the main area and on to the slope of a hill, which was infrequently populated at the time.
We began unpacking and pitching our tents in decent weather (mine is on the left; Jodie’s to the right). We both had our inners up before the first of the rain began to fall. It was a choice between ducking for cover now or continue struggling with the outer through the fall… I think I made the wrong choice.
With the hard part done in good time, we continued to explore the festival site and settle in to our surroundings for the next few days. Rainfall was infrequent and any showers were light, at this time.
Down alongside the River Tiddy estuary and heading towards Lark’s Haven was an installation of tree-hanging lights, from Cornish craftsman Tom Raffern.
From Tideford to the north, the River Tiddy runs south, past the estate and seeps in a junction of other rivers on the western edge of Plymouth. Each morning, we’d find the tide was out, leaving nothing but mud behind. I’ve seen references to ‘Mud Boy’ across social media but he does not feature in any of my photographs.
If you really want to know, I had a greasy burger and chips for dinner, probably topped with bacon and possibly cheese. We’d hope to be able to join a stargazing event in the evening but there was far too much cloud cover to make it worthwhile.
With the threat of rain, we ducked in to the church, only to find there was a small band performing inside.
For the majority of the weekend, the family home is off-limits, with the exception of the Round Room, where several talks were presented (you’d have to take your shoes or boots off, first though). On the Sunday, the house would be open to group tours but we didn’t take advantage of this.
So, Thursday had offered some promise on the weather front. I don’t think anyone had viewed the weather forecast with any suggestion of optimism but, it could’ve been much worse on that first day.
A lot of people will wear wellies to a festival, even when the weather’s not too bad. I had a pair sitting in my car but they’re not even a last resort. I persevered with my new walking shoes (Salomon X Ultra 3 GTX – more on these, soon) for the fact that I find them very comfortable and quite easy to slip on and off.
But Friday morning began in a dismal manner. You don’t want to get up but you kind of have to, because you’ve pitched on a slope and didn’t sleep very well last night… Plus, food. I imagine it’s slightly different for the many people who live in house-sized tents: loads of room to cook, sleep, put your waterproofs on, take your muddy footwear off before entering the tent…
I’m inclined to get a new tent before my next festival visit but it will never be that big.
I did buy a couple of books from the on-site shop, in addition to the one I’d bought with me. I don’t remember doing an awful lot on this day – which was partly what I’d intended. I didn’t want to be busy and constantly on-the-go… But, as the rain fell once again, finding sheltered space outside or spare seat beneath one of the event shelters, well, it wasn’t easy with around eight-thousand people on site.
In case you’ve not come across this festival before, I should explain that you can book on to a number of different workshops, from the likes of spoon carving, blacksmithing, letterpressing, canoeing, yoga and relaxation – to name a select few.
It’s advisable to get your individual tickets in advance and ASAP (I didn’t and so, missed out on a few). You do have to pay for these in addition to your festival ticket (costs vary) and I did find that a small number of tickets were available to purchase on the day.
We really were unfortunate with the weather on this weekend and, sadly, it wasn’t going to improve in a hurry.
Close to the Survival Wisdom camp was an exhibition of plastic waste that had been collected from the local river. I’ve read today that Tesco plan to do away with single-use plastic bags and, while this is a positive step, there’s not a single bag fastened to either of these trees.
Elephants are a recurring theme of the festival site. Until a name change several years ago, this was annually known as The Elephant Festival.
There was a boat on display, which Jodie reckons might’ve been used in the TV series The Mutiny:
A few days ago, I read that the 30ft mast had been miraculously stolen on the final day.
This was the place to be, if you wanted to learn about bushcraft, woodland and survival skills.
I remember listening to a talk by Matthew Green inside the Idler Tent. He’s writing a book on The City That Fell Off A Cliff (non-fiction) and shared the story of a Welsh village whose final residents bore the surname, Parry-Jones!
A sun dial seemed redundant throughout the weekend.
Near the heart of the woodland, we found an area called Haze & Friends, which have been renamed more appropriately as ‘Hash & Friends’, given the “festival odour” that accompanied the stars above.
There is a pool on site but it’s strictly out of bounds. Instead, you’re expected it bask in the mud of the river – or, if you’re feeling extremely brave, self-confident and have cash to burn; there are hot tubs down by Lark’s Haven.
Friday night had been a dry one. My only complaint was being awoken at 2:30am by the nonsensical chatter of the two women pitched next to me, who’d arrived that afternoon. From singing about ‘Baby Wipes’ to debating which mug they had and had not urinated in… Ironically, one of them started playing actual music, only to reduce the volume but continue talking at clear and audible level, as if vocals somehow do not penetrate the fabric of a tent.
So, Saturday didn’t start too well and, once we’d eaten breakfast, the heavens opened at 8:30 and would remain this way until around 1:00 the very next morning!
By the afternoon, we felt like we were walking in an average Glastonbury Festival – which, contrary to the stereotype, was rain-free this year. My wellies were in the car but it was too late for that.
At one point, I think I did return to my two-man tent to pick up my waterproof over-trousers. I don’t like wearing them but it was getting that bad. Everywhere we’d look to find a seat; all were taken. Everyone seemed to be attending a talk, even if they had no interest in the words of the speaker.
I imagine a number of pre-booked workshops were cancelled due to the weather. I’d like to know how people got on in claiming a refund because that responsibility lies with The Ticketsellers and not the Port Eliot organisers… This is an organisation that slaps ‘transaction fees’ and ‘booking fees’ on top of everything.
After standing in the rain to hear the end of Bruce Parry’s talk, we managed to fight our way inside to hear Emily Maitlis talk about Donald Trump. By the evening, we were purchasing cups of tea to stay warm. We found ourselves semi-sheltered beneath a tree, sat upon a soaked straw bale that couldn’t bear our weight. A teenage girl popped up at the perfect moment to take our photo – I’m still scouring social media in hope of finding it.
Next time: comfortable wellies and an umbrella!
It was the morning after. We’d survived a weekend of constant rain, ankle-deep mud and AndyLoos. Our reward would be a dry day and we’d be able to attend the sketchbook workshop postponed from the day before.
There was a different atmosphere to the festival. Some remained pensive that rain, at some point, may still fall… But overall, people seemed to be more vibrant than within the past thirty-six hours or so.
We could’ve quite easily returned to our tents for that final night, in preparation for a drive home from the mass exodus of Monday morning. But, we didn’t see the point. Some of our clothes and belongings were already soaked and I was keen to avoid any Monday morning queues. A reasonable number of tents had already vacated their pitches.
Overall, I think this festival has a lot to offer but, like many others, it’s dependant on the weather. I’d like to return another time and experience it with good weather. Before that, I think I’d rather try a different festival altogether.
Well, I can’t really criticise the site or its organisers for the weather but we both felt like there could’ve been another sheltered, outdoor area provided for people who just wanted to sit and/or read when it was raining – or, equally, if it had been too hot. Like an outdoor library. But this also goes for most UK festivals.
It wasn’t until the second day that I realised there was a Family Camping area and very close to the main festival site. But from the entrance, there are no signs to direct you there. It doesn’t even feature on the map provided with the programme. This is a very ‘family friendly’ festival and, while I’m sure some parents would’ve wanted ‘quiet time’ of their own, I think the signage in general (nearest water tap; family camping zone; showers) could’ve been much better.
Why someone would want to bring a seventeen-month-old baby to a festival though… I do not know!
As for “Trinny and Susannah” next door, well, I hope they’ll be more considerate to other campers in the future. I didn’t get to speak to them in person as they’d vacated even before we started packing.