An arts festival combined with a camping weekend in the beautiful grounds of a Cornish stately home. Yvonne and family braved inclement weather and made the most of the colourful array of performers, workshops, talks and spectacles that make Port Eliot Festival unique. She describes some of the highlights from their family weekend.
- Annual Cornish arts festival
- Music, art, yoga, books, fashion, food, outdoors’y stuff
- Camping in the grounds of the Port Eliot estate
- A favourite for families with children of all ages
Who went: Yvonne and her sister Karen went in July 2017 with Gemma 15, Daniel 13, and Serena 6.
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10 Things to do at Port Eliot Festival with teens:
Set up Camp
Yvonne: “Most people arrive at Port Eliot festival on Thursday afternoon, set up camp and stay till the festival closes on Monday lunchtime. As we were going to be there for four days we made ourselves at home.
The campsite spans a hilly area sloping down from Jago’s View and a flatter field that borders the main house. This year we chose the lower slopes of the hillside, far enough from the river to not be too mosquito-ridden, but only a short walk to the festival so that the teens could be free to come and go.
Families and groups tend to arrange themselves in clusters of tents and gazebos. This works well for teens who can share their own tents, while the family can come together in a central space for cooking and eating. Setting up camp means carting all your stuff from the car park so put luggage trolleys, wheelbarrows and children to good use here. We brought plenty of food and snacks. It’s worth knowing that glass bottles aren’t allowed in and Port Eliot festival encourages its visitors to use reuseable plastics.
As there were five of us to cater for we tended to cook and eat in camp each evening. There are lots of delicious food options to try including stalls dishing up asian-inspired noodle dishes, curries, vegetarian and vegan options, wood-fired pizzas and gourmet burgers.
It would be impossible to sample everything on offer at a Port Eliot weekend. From fashion shows to writer’s talks the programme includes something for everyone. Even walking around the site you can enjoy impromptu performances from street artists like the dancing waiters or a roaming pianist.
And Breathe… at Lark’s Haven
Lark’s Haven is the wellness zone of the Port Eliot festival. It’s relaxed, inclusive and interesting enough to keep returning to. Teens and adults alike enjoy the classes and even our 6-year-old joined in a couple. We all dipped into Yoga for Surfers having just spent time in the waves on the North Cornish coast. This was a great, all-round class focusing on strength and balance.
Our intrepid teens tried three more classes:
Breathing. Verdict: ‘The first 15 minutes where she was explaining how to breathe and how the breath flows was good. Then we literally did that for an hour, which got a bit boring. But we did feel relaxed afterwards.’
Sounding bowls. Verdict: ‘An interesting experience’.
Wake up and dance. Verdict: ‘It was strange. It was like a party: everyone was flailing their hands and swaying! We looked at each other with a ‘Run’ expression.’
Try an art class
The creative buzz at Port Eliot makes it a great place to try an art class. The Art School area has a programme of classes, some are open to all, others need booking in advance.
Gemma and Daniel enjoyed the Portrait workshop on Friday morning. ‘It was a relaxed sketching workshop with a live model and plenty of individual tuition from the tutor,’ says Gemma who’s studying GCSE art. Both teens were surprised with what they achieved in an hour.
‘The tutor was good,’ says Daniel. ‘When he came round, I told him I hadn’t had time to do the face, but he guessed rightly that I was afraid of doing it, and gave me some tips. I was quite pleased with what I managed to do.’
Sign up for a workshop
There are lots of workshops to choose from at Port Eliot. Do head to the booking stand early to be sure you get a place. Some are free, some you have to pay for.
Pottery (free but we had to book in advance) ‘I’ve always wanted to use a potter’s wheel,’ says Daniel, who enjoyed the session and produced a pretty good pot.
Modern Calligraphy (£20 plus £17 for the pen, pot of ink and practice sheets which we subsequently bought). ‘We learnt a modern twist on Copperscript,’ says Gemma ‘I definitely want to continue with it at home.’
Brush up your cooking skills at Flower and Fodder
Your teenagers will be off to uni in the blink of an eye, and that means fending for themselves in the kitchen. We headed to Port Eliot’s Flower and Fodder tent for some inspiration and tips. Aaron Bertelsen, gardener and cook at Great Dixter, engaged everyone in his talk about some of the challenges and joys of his day job. What to do with a glut of courgettes? How to make the best tomato sauce?
Afterwards he signed copies of his book, The Great Dixter Cookbook. It contains his own mix of the modern and health conscious from kale smoothies and sugar-free granola, to the comfortingly old-fashioned like Nana’s fruit cake or shortbread.
Explore science in the Round Room
Port Eliot’s impressive Round Room, adorned with a colourful mural depicting the Eliot family’s equally colourful history, hosts talks with a science-related theme during the festival.
Project Adrift fascinated us all. Its creators explained that they have tracked 27,000 individual pieces of space junk that orbit the earth. Remnants of numerous space missions since 1956, the fast-moving junk includes dead satellites, rocket parts, fuel tanks, and a spatula dropped by an early Russian astronaut. It left us all thinking and talking about this man-made, unseen phenomena that may one day come back to haunt us.
Drop into the Pulse
The Pulse, a new area at Port Eliot Festival in 2017, aims specifically at young adults. Centrally situated, it held a programme of mostly music-related workshops, including singing and Hands-on Harps. At other times, live bands and acts took to the stage, though when we dropped by in the afternoon the amplified music seemed way too loud for the smallish tent. Okay, I am forty-something, but to be honest the teens among us didn’t rave about The Pulse either. ‘There were lots of younger kids in there,’ said one. ‘And they broke the pool table.’ Our teens preferred to spend time elsewhere in the festival, where all ages seemed to mix pretty well anyway.
Watch a Movie
There’s so much to do at Port Eliot festival, days can be hectic. Pretty soon you’re going to need some chill out time with no one expecting you to embroider a cape or start a fire with your bare hands. Or do anything at all really. Time to head to a movie screening at the Hush tent where a largely young audience lounged on giant cushions with cartons of popcorn.
As they hunkered down to enjoy such undemanding gems as Mamma Mia and Grease it was standing room only for late-comers. But this was 2017, aka ‘the wettest year in the history of the festival’, and outside the rain was relentless.
Enjoy the Music
There’s a variety of stages and music all over the festival, so you can dip in and out. An early highlight came on Thursday evening when we stepped into the church, which sits alongside the main house, to see Karen Elson’s performance. The stunning setting of Cornwall’s oldest church, with its stained glass arch and candlelight, was the perfect backdrop for Karen’s haunting voice.
It held everyone entranced. The Black Cow Saloon, with a mix of country-influenced live bands and DJs in a laidback setting overlooking the estuary, was also a favourite.
‘Look after’ younger ones
Sometimes it’s great for teens to have a younger child in tow especially when there are clay figures to craft, magic potions to create and interactive theatre to watch!
Stick carving at Lark’s Haven was probably aimed at younger ones, but our teenagers enjoyed it, too.
Hullaballoo is a favourite Port Eliot zone with lots of trees that are handy for shade. This year they provided shelter from the rain. Hosted by Rogue Theatre, there are several live shows each day, alongside music, stories, craft activities, face painting, mud and glitter. A snacks stall there sells reasonable coffee for £1.
Mossy Crow, also regulars at Port Eliot, combined nature and storytelling at their tent. Here we found peaceful, crafty activities for younger children.
What to bring
We used Map and Family’s comprehensive Family Camping Checklist, click here to download a copy.
But we must also give a special mention to wellies and waterproofs. After several sunny years 2017 was the wettest in the history of Port Eliot festival. It rained almost continuously for three days. Take it from us and do not even think about going to a festival without wellies. Thankfully, I remembered Serena’s, but the rest of us spent much of the time sliding around with wet feet.
We also took spare battery packs for phones and iPads.
🎪Port Eliot Festival 2019 will take place on 25th – 28th July.
Disclosure: Yvonne is a journalist and Port Eliot regular. She received a free entry pass to write this post but all opinions are her own.
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