As our hunger for adventurous travel increases, so too does desire for inclusive, all-embracing and encompassing entertainment.
Cue, the summer festival. These events foster a real sense of camaraderie; camping in the middle of a field, communal fire, toilets, booze and bodily fluid. We wouldn’t necessarily accept this partisan inclusivity in the outside world, but in this miniature oasis devoid of technology and social media, it is both encouraged and accepted.
These temporary microcosms are created in bucolic fields, forests and parks. There’s an abundance to choose from, starting from the renowned Glastonbury to more niche festivities, namely the experimental electronica and occult-folk-horror-atmospheric, The Delware Road.
Alternatively, you have festivals not aimed at music aficionados, but instead encourage their participants to throw themselves into an activity.
That’s how I found myself at the aptly named Love Trails Festival. It was heaving with Lycra fitness gurus, Solomon Hydro Waist Pack in hand, stretching and warming up for their extensive trail runs. Offering a selection from 5km up to 55km, Love Trails unsurprisingly lived up to its reputation: a festival for those who love the outdoors and love to run.
I am an adequate runner (I ran cross country as a child), my boyfriend is not. Our sports gear comprises of hand-me-down T-shirts, sloppy Joes and trackies. We were out of place in a Solomon/Kathmandu clad haze of muscled, tone and athletic runners.
Nevertheless, we threw ourselves into the festival and despite our lack of gear, felt included and subsequently had the most amazing time.
We are such last-minute packers. Despite rushing home from our respective office jobs to get in the car before the rush-hour traffic hits the M3, here we are at 6:15 still deciding on what to wear/take/run in. Unsurprisingly, I have my face firmly planted in the fridge and are contemplating the snacks of choice for our four-hour car journey. I choose a selection of hummus and chips. Yum!
At this stage, we are literally throwing our things in the car. The tent squashes the crisps (sigh!). Despite it being a two-night, two-day event, Davide has decided on taking two bags. One massive backpack and the other a light ‘carry on’. He is the most un-curated packer I have ever met. He’s taken over ten outfits…just in case, he says.
We are off! Starting the engine and saying adios to our pad for two days has left us in a jovial mood. Ambitiously, we have already opened the salt and vinegar crisps.
The joviality comes to an abrupt halt when we find ourselves in a London bottleneck. We travel bumper-to-bumper at a snail’s pace from Hammersmith to Essex.
We are 20 minutes out from our destination and starving. We haven’t stopped and poor Davide has just driven three hours straight. I, however, have had a very relaxing time, having slept for a solid three hours. Oh, the joys of being a passenger on long car journeys.
Dinner, done. It consisted of a measly Waitrose quiche, chick sandwich (for him) and a samosa.
We finally arrive at Weobley Castle and are warmly greeted. We park the car and try to organise the monstrosity of stuff we have in our boot. The most important items (tent, sleeping bag, crisps) are taken first.
Davide insists on bringing his second bag of clothes…
Deciding on where to park your tent is a stressful affair. Obviously close to the toilets is NOT an option and from what I can judge in this field, all the best spots are taken.
We opt for a place up the back, next (but not too close) to two couples who have some serious kit. They look incredibly fit and upon chatting they tell me they are off for the 55km run tomorrow morning. Gosh.
We’ve set up and the purple tent looks smashing. However, it doesn’t have a cover and we pray it doesn’t rain…quite ambitious considering we are in Wales.
It’s time to check out the party and we make the very pretty and well-lit by lantern clad hike over to the main festivities.
The main stage is in the middle of an enormous green field and scattered around are various other big tents which are set up for communal yoga classes, cooking workshops and inspirational talks.
We head for the bar, which is packed. Most people have double-parked on the booze and I wonder if they have rethought their extensive trails runs tomorrow.
Time for bed and I am loving being back out under the stars again. It has been awhile since we have camped. It’s primitive and spartan, but I enjoy getting away from the white noise that can build up living in a frenetic urban city.
A communal lethargic start for all of the camper’s in the Castle field. I awake to the sounds of sizzling bacon, our neighbours are cooking a traditional fry up (to cure a hangover, they explain).
The other couple to our left is already stretching, physically and mentally preparing for their 55km run which commences at 9:30am. It finishes at 4pm. I wish them luck.
Wet wiped and ready to go, we set off for the main field in search of coffee and eggs. We settle on a delicious vegie meal of eggs, corn, tomatoes and mushrooms. In desperate need of caffeine, I opt for a double-shot cappuccino.
Following breakfast our first communal exercise class is at 11am, which means we have and hour to walk around and get ourselves familiar with the place. As a journalist on assignment I am allotted ‘media access’, which means, behind-the-scenes access and a place to hang out at the media tent.
I march Davide over to the trail run sign up. I sign us up for a 5km run with the Dirty Vegan today and a 9km Solomon Women’s run for myself tomorrow.
We have punctuated this itinerary with a number of exercise classes, inspirational talks and cooking demos.
We’ve made our way to the main tent for a disco HIIT class. I am hesitant to explain what HIIT means to Davide.
This class is insane, and I am currently doing burpees to the soundtrack of Whitney Houston.
I dare not look at Davide less I erupt into a fit of giggles.
There’s lots of grunting and puffing from the back.
HIIT done, we’ve got a PM yoga class and 5km trail run to look forward to. I feel really pumped! There’s an infectious energy around the festival — unlike other festivals which seethe with innocuous boozed-up individuals, but instead Love Trails fosters a community atmosphere. Everyone is embracing the burn of intense exercise and are revelling in those endorphins.
Lunch consists of a delicious halloumi wrap and selection of fresh salads. Such a change from the stodgy pies I used to have at other music festivals.
We bypass a pint in lieu of our upcoming 5km trail run with the Dirty Vegan.
Dirty Vegan (me neither) is late. Run postponed till 2:30pm.
Davide and I discuss our post-run nerves; what if everyone is faster than us? (Likely). What if we can’t keep up? What if we fall over (probable)?
Dirty Vegan arrives with dog in tow. Dog very cute and Dirty Vegan not bad looking either (head-to-toe tattooed Welshman). We begin the trail and Davide and I make a pact to stick together.
I leave Davide behind and stride out in front. I had forgotten how much I loved trail running (and he coincidentally does not). Quietly, I am praising myself and my strenuous gym routine of late, it’s definitely made a difference!
Still running and embracing the Welsh countryside. So far, we have come across dogs, sheep, pigs, cows and alpacas…it’s turning into quite an adventure!
Despite this being sold as a ‘social run’, there’s not really anything social about it. The pace is fast and everyone’s quite serious in their pursuit. Davide is still at the back, which has less to say about his running capabilities and more about the fact that he’s live ‘Gramming the whole time.
Run finished and it’s time for a cool down. We go into some deep, intense stretching before heading off to chill on the grass.
While we are there chilling, we catch the last part of the Dirty Vegan’s food presentation. We try his chorizo-not-chorizo vegan dish. It doesn’t actually taste like chorizo, but I am tentative to point this out.
I have booked us into two more exercise classes, and we make our way to the main tent to warm up.
The first is 90s disco Pilates, the next is cheerleading (Davide doesn’t know about the latter, yet). Disco Pilates is a barrel of laughs. We are with a lot of amateurs, like us. There’s a unanimous grown when we are asked to plank and a few larrikins at the back screech ‘o no’ when we are told to pelvic curl.
Everyone loses it when the teacher asks us all to go into the splits. The laugher quickly subsides when the (very) pretty teacher goes into said splits.
It’s time for cheerleading which is met with comical stares from Davide. Thankfully, there are a few other guys who join in. The crowd gets bigger as the pom poms are unveiled, what is it with grown adults and confetti?
Truthfully, it’s one of the highlights of the trip (incredulous, I know). But we were a small group releasing our inhibitions, shaking our booty, waving our hands erratically with pom poms attached, giggling and really enjoying the exercise at hand. There are very few complete carefree and nonsensical moments we have as adults, and this was one of them.
We are pretty shattered after our full day of exercise, but that won’t stop us from enjoying a much-needed pint and disco bop.
We attempt to spruce ourselves up in the tent (to less than desired effects).
Dinner consists again of the halloumi wrap (because it was so good the first time). And we listen in awe to the Hackney Colliery.
We dance, sing and try to penetrate the impenetrable mosh pit before finally put ourselves to bed at midnight.
I pour out of my sleeping back and make myself presentable for a 7:30am yoga class. I haven’t had time to get my hands on caffeine so this might be a struggle.
It was Kundalini Yoga, a class dedicated to breath and meditation. Unfortunately, I couldn’t exactly get into the ‘zone’ on little sleep and no caffeine. Would have preferred a more stimulating Vinyasa flow.
Class now done and I am off in pursuit of caffeine.
It’s time for brekkie and Davide and I go for the veggie special again. I have a 9km run at 11am and I need the fuel and stimulus before I go!
I arrive at the Solomon tent and are about to head off for the women’s run. It’s a great, eclectic group of women of varying ages and fitness levels (from what I can see).
It’s a long and tough trial run. At one stage we climb a mountain and make it up to the top of Cefn Bryn, an ancient ridge. There is a Neolithic burial site up here, known as Arthur’s Stone.
Run over and there are lots of hugs. I love how communal this festival is. There’s a common denominator here; everyone loves being outdoors and there’s absolutely no judgement as to people’s fitness capabilities.
Lunch is very much needed, and we head to the food stall for, you guessed it…a halloumi wrap.
Davide and I enjoy some downtime in the main paddock and listen to various speakers. Mostly, they discuss the mental health benefits of running and how running has changed their laugh. A cynic could laugh, but there are some really touching stories that resonate and make you reconsider the holistic benefits of exercise.
We go for the last run of the weekend, a solo one around the castle grounds. We come across some wild horses and a very interesting WWII relic (best not to be touched) before making our way back to the camp.
We pack down. There’s something eternally depressing about bursting a primitive bubble you’ve inhabited for two days. It was a short festival, but a really enjoyable and inclusive one.
We decide to give the food stalls one last swipe before heading off home. I opt for a vegan curry (it’s divine). Our alfresco dining coincides with Ross Edgley’s talk on the Great British Swim.
He’s hilarious, warm, light hearted yet serious. I really was blown away by his story. Personally, I am critical of those who attempt inhumane challenges for the sake of the challenge, but Ross has convinced me there’s more to it.
It’s time to head back, but I am eternally grateful for this weekend in Wales at the Love Trails Festival. What a unique experience!
It’s in its infancy (three years and counting) but I feel the momentum is picking up for Love Trails. It is everything a good festival aspires to be; unique, aspirational, fun, jovial, inclusive, friendly and communal.