Granted my festival experiences are not exhaustive, but was there ever a more civilised festival than Port Eliot?
I went for the first time last year; the sun shone, the gin was plentiful and we engaged in much literary discourse. However, my mobility was limited, although I was no longer on crutches, I did need a walking stick and required assistance on the many slopes in the grounds. I tired quickly and we only lasted for six hours.
This year, as my mobility is so much better, I wanted to revisit the festival. Again, I went for a day pass, as sleeping on the ground is not conducive to my joints (although the luxury yurts on site looked amazing – I’m sure my joints would prefer glamping!). The festival rain from Friday to Monday. Me and a friend, K, had day passes for Sunday. By the time Sunday dawned, it had been raining heavily for two days. Sunday was overcast but crucially not actually raining. I contemplated my festival attire – obviously this would not be a ‘wafting around in a dress and barefoot’ type scenario but my ankle fusion rules out wellies as an option. I compromised with a raincoat and waterproof Birkenstocks.
Leaving the house early, with children still sleeping, I headed for St Germans, meeting up with K en route at our prearranged rendezvous spot. Port Eliot offers accessibility parking for visitors with mobility problems, which is situated in the bottom field, close to the main house. The estate itself is hilly but when dry is accessible in most areas with a wheelchair or on crutches, except around the Orangery area which has non-navigable stairs. However, as it had been raining non-stop for 48 hours, the festival grounds had turned into an accessibility nightmare.
We left the parking area to be met with a main path that had turned into a 10 foot wide sloping quagmire. It was the kind of mud that sucked at footwear, rendering each step a battle to remain upright even with two perfectly working legs. Clinging ferociously to K’s arm (she was equipped with sensible walking boots), I stumbled and slipped down the hill. By the time we made it to an information tent to pick up a site map and programme, my legs were ankle deep in mud.
K and I had decided to try and fit as many meals into our day as possible, so we started as we meant to go on with pancakes stuffed with strawberries, bananas and chocolate – squirty cream was liberally applied. We planned our day whilst attempting to eat the pancakes without getting it in our hair.
We had not pre-booked any workshops, so decided to make a tour of all the free craft activities. K was determined to make a butter dish by any means possible, I just fancied proving to K that I am in fact awful at all crafts, something that she was finding hard to believe. The only other thing on our agenda (apart from elevating our IQ by absorbing literary ideas by osmosis) was squeezing a wild swim in at some point.
Thanks to the folks at 3D Design at Plymouth University, we crafted clay – K made her butter dish, I was rather less imaginative. We left our works of art to dry on wooden pyramid shelves in the now determined sun. We waded back through the mud and headed for higher and hopefully drier ground. Stumbling across a letterpress workshop by the Plymouth College of Art, we rummaged through boxes of typeset to craft individual slogan postcards.
After stopping for Pad Thai, we made our way to the edge of the River Tiddy that snakes its way along the estate boundary. The tide was on the turn and mud flats stretched out. Thwarted in our swimming plans, we lounged in the Lark’s Retreat area and watched an aerial yoga class performing acrobatics with seeming ease, whilst we drank herbal tea (how rock & roll) and listened to a rousing chorus of sea shanties that was somewhat at odds with the zen vibe from the aeronautic yogis.
The mud had now dried to a crust that covered all visible skin below my knees and after a brief restorative foray into a pop up Sipsmith’s gin tent to counter the effects of the herbal tea, we headed to watch some author talks. We queued for an interesting lecture on time, but missed out ironically by joining the queue a couple of places too late, so stayed on for a frankly bonkers lecture on 1870’s scientific panoramas. Whilst the lecture may not have held my attention, the Robert Lenkiewicz mural that wrapped around the Round Room was breathtaking.
Time to fit in one last meal from an angry yet beautiful bearded man at a Persian street food stall before we made the final wade back to the parking field, stopping to collect our dried clay masterpieces. Mine turned out to be a genuinely sought after item as it transpired that someone had nicked it. K still had her butter dish though so all was well.
The sun had shone for us and hung low in the sky as I drove home to get straight into a bath. My Birkenstocks still haven’t quite recovered.