I have not been to a music festival in a few years. The hiatus was for a number of reasons; Covid of course; and then an employment gap which left me with a depleted frivolity fund.
And time marched on. I found myself older, more out of touch, less bendy and more inclined to get grumpy. So when, probably after a few beers, I declared to my mother and her campervanning buddies that I wanted to indulge in a weekend of festival hedonism with them, I clearly wasn’t thinking straight. Gone – gone! – are the days when not washing my hair for half a week mattered not a jot. When I could wade through mud unflinching, hit the silent disco till 4am and brush my teeth with Fosters every morning.
And so, as the weekend approached, I felt more dread than excitement. Am I too old for this? Surely not; the campervanning gang are mainly in their 60s. Wait – will it be the festival that’s too old? Will it be twee and bland? Would I be a weird, middle-aged hanger on, or a lonely, grumpy, tired, dirty loser in need of a sandwich and a poo in any order, so long as there is no queue?
Rediscovering festival love
Happily, this valiant tale of how one middle-aged woman re-discovered festivals is a joyful one. Purbeck Valley is a great place to fall in love with hedonism again (even if it’s a flipping long way from the Midlands), and it’s a cracking little weekend for everyone, from families to the silver nomads to the young and grimy.
Set on Purbeck Isle, a beautiful peninsula on Dorset’s south coast west of Poole, the deep coombes and valleys display themselves in emerald splendour from nearly every vantage point of the grounds. One can get quite whimsical contemplating the hands-down best view of Corfe Castle, dreaming its ragged walls into the sea, while waiting for your bacon sandwich at the café.
The campsites are surrounded by huge oaks that host serenading owls, and free blackberries and apples abound in the hedgerows. While the stroll from campsite to the furthest stage is a good 15-20 minutes, it’s a small festival in terms of numbers – you are not overwhelmed by crowds and queues just to move. There are two major stages in the Long Barn and the Big Barn – so you can enjoy music without your obligatory festival mud, then you can get your fill of lounging in the sun on the grass by the Fire Stage and at the pop-up acts on the Word Stage.
Purbeck Valley festival
This festival was a dramatic break from my youthful festival traditions – and I don’t just mean the Fosters toothpaste. Once, I used to laze at the campsite until late afternoon, then guiltily shift off to see some bands and drift around till the wee hours, drinking, tired and – sometimes – a bit bored. This festival, I actually did things.
Excellent morning yoga sessions and Morris dancing workshops with Enigma Morris, provided an invigorating start to the day. I skipped through two ceilidhs, danced my backside off to the Southampton Ukulele Jam, laughed at the fancy dress competition, admired gypsy caravans, dipped into a bit of the comedy and, best of all, I enjoyed and took part in, the Purbeck Valley Folk Festival Poetry Slam. Established local performers welcomed enthusiastic newbies with open arms and created a truly lovely, inclusive event.
For the young there was a wonderful storytelling tent, a full circus of acrobatic experimentation, the craft area (complete with hobby horse racing), a teen tent and a dedicated baby feeding tent.
For the middle aged, there were charming items to buy in lovely little stalls, Corfe Castle to stroll to across the fields and all the yoga, mandolin workshops, poetry, fire displays, sing-a-rounds and folk dancing you could ask for to prepare you for a good night’s sleep at a reasonable time. And for the young and grimy, the bar went on and on, they danced until 1am, then hung out in the big barn and made their own music to keep dancing and drinking until sunrise – or so they told me!
Escapism and joy
Was this a festival where I felt old? I did not notice. I was too busy having fun, eating pizza, talking to my new shower-queue friends, hanging out with new poetry friends, dancing with new Morris friends, and accosting a perfect stranger walking towards me as the sun fell misty on the coombes, to beg her to turn around and look at it.
And that is what is wonderful and worth going back for in festivals. The going away to a place, to escape, to share joy; to grasp new people by the hands, to exchange a million inconsequential pleasantries (‘’Great skirt, great song, great earrings, great pizza’’). Everyone is happy, everyone is open to opening themselves to each other; there is no suspicion when you stop to talk and ask if someone is having a nice day.
It feels like a weight is lifted – there is no mistrust, there is no striving, there is no comparison, there is just this great sharing of collective joy.
In a country where we are increasingly too constrained by the cost of living and fresh fopperies of our rulers, a bit of openness to each other, a bit of joy in each other – even if just for a weekend – is a precious thing indeed.