Monday, 17 October 2016

The Good Life Experience 2016


One month ago today we were on our way to the Hawarden Estate farm shop in Flintshire, the car full to bursting with tent, blankets, welly boots and marshmallows and positively fizzing with excitement about arriving at The Good Life Experience festival!

The lovely people at Pedlars invited me along, and I really couldn't be more grateful! The Good Life Experience was founded in 2014 by four friends who shared a vision for a festival unlike any other, one that reflected the need for a return to a simpler way of life, a life closer to that of our grandparents, where we shopped local, our food came from the ground, we supported makers and craftspeople, spent less money on 'stuff' and more time creating memories and relishing in experiences, particularly those that took us outdoors and got us using our hands. Pedlars founders Charlie Gladstone and his wife Caroline, musician Cerys Matthews and arts consultant Steve Abbott could not have got it more right!


When we arrived at the Hawarden Estate we were greeted with the most beautiful blue sky, the sound of music drifting through the trees, campfire smoke still lingering in the late summer air and the promise of an amazing weekend ahead. It felt totally different to any other festival, it was possibly the epitome of laid back, and every single element so carefully considered and soul nurturing. As we wandered around trying to take everything in, a vintage helter skelter loomed above us, there were hay bales, tents and pumpkins aplenty, and I'm not ashamed to admit that I cried with joy at how perfect it was. I felt like I'd come home, like some one had reached inside my heart a spread it out in front of me and every single person there totally felt it too!


I also felt rather overwhelmed because there was so much I wanted to do and see. We walked around the festival site for a while and booked ourselves some workshops for the afternoon then went to put the tent up. I love that even the campsite was relaxed, no pitches or rows but a simple instruction to find a gap and get comfy! It's situated under both the imposing Hawarden Castle and the Old Hawarden Castle ruins (which are just stunning) and after having a nose at some of the beautiful bell tents as we wandered through the site in search of a good spot, then putting up our rather flimsy Argos tent (coupled with me later telling D every five seconds not the touch the inside) we've started some research into buying a bell tent of our own. We actually had a couple of tent related mishaps, one snapped pole and the realisation that we'd brought the wrong air bed pump, but after borrowing a knife and a foot pump from some friendly neighbours, we replaced the pole, pumped up our bed for the night and rejoined the action.


I honestly can't explain how simultaneously excited and serene the whole place made me feel. We explored slowly, stopping to listen to music as we passed, and watching the various workshops taking place. In the Fun Fair field D found a coffee (as ever!) and after discovering that maybe I do like gin after all and getting a taste for something alcoholic I went for a dark and stormy. We watched as children learned tree climbing and an old man who looked like my Grandad rode the helter skelter! The Fun Fair Field also contained the first of two Makers Rows. There were floristry, screen printing and pumpkin carving workshops, leather work, a fascinating knot tier and spoon carving. The Bicycle Academy were building a bike from scratch over the course of the weekend, and the rocking sign atop the Black Cow Saloon welcomed people in for a drink around the camp fire.




We headed to Speakers Corner to listen to Tom Herbert (one half of The Fabulous Baker brothers) and I was again reduced to tears - I totally wasn't expecting his talk 'Which Side is Your Bread Buttered?" to be so inspiring. Over the hour or so he talked, the audience passed around a mixing bowl and whisk, and all together we slowly turned cream into butter. This for me was the essence of Tom's talk, and in a way the whole festival. It was slow. He talked about how the magic of bread happens in the rise, at the point where you've done all the hard work of mixing and kneading and you've looked after it, tucked it up somewhere warm and left it. In this pause, the yeast is given the time and space to grow, and that couldn't happen if you didn't let rest. This same principle could be applied to us as humans, and our attitudes towards self care. Sometimes we get so carried away with the notion of being busy, we forget to stop and give ourselves the time and space to grow. You know how sometimes you have no words for how deeply something resonates with you and you want to clench your fists and screw up your face and shout. That. I was so full of that feeling right there I could almost feel it bubbling up under my eyes!


In the second Makers Row, I fulfilled two of my dreams, one I've held since childhood! Firstly, I got to sit in a real life coracle! A coracle is a type of boat, and I am maybe the only person who remembers this so vividly, but in an episode of Rosie and Jim, the pair snuck off the canal boat and into the workshop of a coracle maker to watch one being made, then went back to the canal boat to make one of their own out of tissue paper and glue. I was seriously obsessed with making a coracle and used to recreate the paper version over and over again so when I realised that the Coracle Society were going to be at the festival you can imagine my excitement! Unfortunately you couldn't have a go on the water, but a real life coracle was good enough for me!



I also signed up to the Raku Firing workshop, something I've been fascinated with since university when the ceramics technician introduced me to it. I'm going to write a post about it in more detail as I adored the whole experience, but in short, it's a glazing and firing process involving sawdust and fire and I am completely in love with the pot I produced. The glazes were applied in a really fluid way and because of the unpredictable nature of the firing there's no way of knowing what your pot will really look like until the very end. The people running the workshop were fantastic, so helpful and inspiring and it was while chatting to one of them that I introduced myself as a blogger with some real conviction for the first time! While we waited for our pots to fire, I chatted with a women from the WI about the importance of making things with our hands, about how fantastic is was that children were getting muddy and setting fires and staying up past their bedtime to eat marshmallows. How the impressionable little people walking round with feathers in the their hair, mud on their faces and carrying their handmade bows and arrows with pride had felt the spark that we both knew so well, the spark of joy that making something with your hands ignites.


The whole festival site felt different as the sun began to set. The lighting was atmospheric, the music a little louder, and the queues for the various food stalls and bars began to lengthen again. The festival was very family friendly (and all the workshops are aimed at adults and children alike) and it was lovely watching children playing outside, wrapped up in wellies and coats well into the evening, so excited that they were still rolling down hills and having hay throwing fights in the dark. And of course, Fairground rides take on a whole new magic when they're lit with fairy lights and the glowing red harvest moon!




We decided on crab rolls and chips from 'Claw' (excellent decision!) and shared a picnic table with some people we'd never met before, and their dog helped us out with our chips! We grabbed blankets from the tent and laid on the grass outside the main stage listening to Fanfare Ciorcarlia, and couldn't feel further away from the stresses of the world.

I felt so grounded and alive and full of magic. This was me. The inside of my head and my heart spread out in front of me under the stars. I tried to sum up that feeling, the one that doesn't have words and makes you've want to screw yourself up into a ball and scream. I just ended up whooping in a field of corn and laughing till I cried.


We awoke to calls of 'Morning' called out between strangers, brushing their teeth or dressing their children outside their dew covered tents. We went in search of breakfast and quickly happened upon porridge and bacon.

The Market Place was next, and it was full of some fascinating people, tea sellers, a lavender farm, vintage shops and indie makers. I met the lovely Amanda Banham who I'd seen previously at a Makers Market in Norwich (a small world indeed!) and added another Observer book to my collection.  Talking of books, Dylan's Mobile Bookstore were running a Blind Date Book club which is a genius idea, a wrapped book with only a hint of the story contained with in. A risk yes, but you might find something wonderful! 





We made our way over to the Campfire Cooking tent and again watched Tom Herbert, this time making sourdough bagels with his family's decades old sourdough starter which totally inspired us to start our own, and we actually went back to the market place to buy a book all about it.


D was booked into a coffee workshop with Allpress later on, and while he got geeky about grinders and weighing out beans I sat in the sun, taking in the atmosphere and wishing I didn't have to leave and Ben Fogle wandered past with his family looking totally at home!




In the afternoon, we went over to the lake to watch the Coracle Society Regatta, and needless to say I loved it! I look about 4 in this photo, wide eyed with excitement - real life coracles!


It was one of the best weekends of my life, and just the perfect way to see out summer. Such a sense of camaraderie and belonging, and I felt like I'd found my tribe. Everything the festival represented for me is everything I want The Salted Tail to become - slow, local, crafted and considered, enlightening and inspiring and dream realising. About moments and memories and only the most beautiful things.

I want people to leave full to the brim with joy and magic and solid understanding of who they are and what they believe in, just as I did as we packed the tent up with heavy hearts on Sunday evening.

Thank you to Pedlars for inviting us along, I could not be more grateful and we're already so excited to return next year. I think this weekend will become tradition for us and I just can't wait to watch the festival evolve even more.




















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7 comments:

  1. Oh wow! I need to go to this festival. I teared up just reading your account of it - I may not be able to hold it in if I actually go! One for the bucket list for sure. And I'm borrowing my sister's bell tent. :-) xx

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    1. It was beautiful - and yes, you definitely won't be able to hold the tears back! I'd love a bell tent, much better than our wobbly Argos one!

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  2. Love this post! And you've inspired me that I need to sit down and write mine- see, as I was telling you the other day, your organisation is inspiring :)

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    1. Wasn't it just the best!! I'd love to read yours too, would be great to read someone else's experience of the festival!

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  3. Oh my goodness, I knew I wanted to go to this festival but reading your post has only intensified that feeling! It sounds magical! x

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    1. It truly was! Utter magic! Definitely go if you get the chance!

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  4. I like this blog! In return, I want to share some cheap ray ban sunglasses with you.

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