Amelia's Magazine | Port Eliot Festival 2014 Review: Books, Food, Comedy, Craft & Fashion

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Port Eliot Festival 2014 Review: Books, Food, Comedy, Craft & Fashion

From 24th-27th July the grounds of the stately home at Port Eliot in Cornwall once more played host to a wonderfully unusual and varied festival.

Written by Amelia Gregory

Port Eliot Festival by Maia Fjord
Port Eliot Festival by Maia Fjord.

I’ve been meaning to take in Port Eliot festival for several years but it has always been just that little bit too far away. This summer we were able to attend, thanks to a holiday in Cornwall with family.

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Once more we were blessed with a weekend of near perfect sunshine, ideal for wild and muddy swimming in the adjacent river, and the grassy banks were packed when we arrived on Friday afternoon. It’s a relatively small festival, which meant that we could pop up our tent quite close to the action. Beyond the main tented areas we traversed overgrown rhododendron paths, frolicked in a full sized maze and emerged with a spectacular view of the impressive aqueduct beneath which a couple of stand up paddle boarders were dwarfed.

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Port Eliot is not your average festival; here the usual music takes a back seat to other offerings: literary, foodie, comedic, crafty and fashionable. Thanks to some well placed connections it has built a bit of a reputation as the fashionistas’ festival, and despite the distance from London the big names return year after year. It was telling that (in comparison to my adventures at Green Earth Awakening) all the people I ran into on the site were friends I know from working in fashion.

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I liked the mix of activities, but it took awhile to get used to the workings of this festival, where queueing is a prerequisite for popular talks and workshops (I am very bad at queues, and never more so now that I have a toddler in tow). My partner tried to hear Martin Parr speak on several occasions (about his new film, which was also showing) before we finally tracked him down on the Sunday at the Dovegrey Reader tent, where the audience could sit out on the grass (and knitting is de rigeur). Lucky then that Martin Parr was speaking so many times! And obviously taking the opportunity to snap away at this most middle class of festivals. The favourite thing I took from his talk was his admission that he takes huge amount of photos, because most of them are crap. I have always believed it’s all in the edit so it was good to hear that Martin thinks so too.

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I didn’t have so much luck joining an Anthropologie workshop, having arrived at the allocated time to book a class, only to find they were already full. Instead I learnt how to crochet (at last!) with Ros Badger at The Badger Sett.

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Plenty of authors were on hand to talk about and then sign books but I only caught small parts of many talks due to toddler demands. Viv Albertine talked very engagingly about her new book Clothes Clothes Clothes Music Music Music Boys Boys Boys which I am desperate to read (Luella Bartley spotted in the audience), and I enjoyed listening to Richard Benson talk about rural life and his new book The Valley, but not so much Gruff Rhys on his US adventures (he didn’t engage). Susie Bubble was front row for a chat with fashion designer Simone Rocha and I bought a signed copy of Babette Cole’s new children’s book, inspired by her lodger, pictured above in dreadlocks and bunny ears.

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In the beautiful Walled Garden the fashion set held arty sewing workshops and a catwalk show for tweenies. I admired a clever bunting made from colourful hair weaves and the dexterity of The Flower Appreciation Society, ensuring that many ladies at the festival sported beautiful real floral headdresses.

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Every time we tried to get to the kids’ Hullabaloo area I got lost in the winding labyrinth of paths. Once there we discovered plentiful crafty workshops, theatre productions, a bouncy castle, puppet shows and comedy. Speaking of which, I managed to contain Snarfle for long enough to hear most of Robin Ince’s genius set.

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The main house was home to displays of crocheted tea cosies, cakes, flower arrangements and scarecrows. We didn’t visit the foodie tent but admired the stage set up from afar. Instead we frequented the Hix pop up in the Orangery, with food supplied by Fortnum & Mason. It was a pricey meal but we enjoyed the incongruous silver service. Elsewhere we dined on Cornish seafood, wood fired pizza and local ice cream. Food was a definite highlight!

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In the early evenings Snarfle and I headed to the smallest music tent, where he jumped around to the ramshackle and rather brilliant The Odd Folk one night and electro powered drum n bass anthems from sister act Love Nor Money on the next. He is now obsessed with ‘rock guitar’ as well as banjo. Thank goodness his Sheepie doubles as a guitar/banjo/ukelele stand in.

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