Exactly one week ago we packed up Hayley's poor car with enough camping equipment to survive for a month, and headed off to Harlow. My heart was pretty much jumping the whole way, as we got stuck in traffic, realised we had no water, smoked too many cigarettes and tried to avoid starting every sentence with 'Last year...'
And then, considerable further down the lane than I recalled, we arrived at the little gazebo manned with yellow-wristband brandishing fluro-wearers. We were in! The inimitable Greg appeared from beyond the wall and ushered our crew inside, and the moment I'd been waiting for a year was upon me, walking down the gentle slope into the Gibberd Gardens, past the swing and into the riverside undergrowth towards the camping area. I felt about 10st lighter walking into that wild pathway, memories rushing back, excitement building. The layout was perfect, the bedoin tent (sadly under used this year, I felt) set up along the brook, giant Tipi's erected by the Red Hand Tipi Clan, who over the weekend gained angelic status for their ability to always have a fresh hot tea or freezing Tango, any time of the day or night - like them on Facebook to follow their events, I think they do some pretty cool stuff!
We pitched our tents and went off on an explore. I kind of gushed already about how beautiful these gardens are, but I guess I was worried that in my mind I had somehow made it better than it actually was. I was thrilled that I hadn't.
This year, every single music act we saw across the two stages was awesome. The guys seem to have the magic touch when it comes to picking spot-on acts - although in the spirit of complete honesty I think the line-up times needed a tweek - Our friends The Consciousness Collective, with the most incredible resonant instruments and perfectly timed set should definitely have been a late afternoon chill out, many missed their late night performance. The Turner Brothers and Sweetcornbread, the two bands we'd come along with, smashed their sets and picked up some new fans for life - I wish I had better photos of their set but I love the atmosphere of these shots - thanks to Grace Fox for taking some photos with a disposable camera!
If you are reading this in early 2017 trying to decide on a ticket or not - do it. We took a larger than usual crew this year because of all the raving we've done about this festival and every single person had a fantastic time - as well as an experience personal to them. The gardeners in our group found some incredible rare flowers deep in the garden, the music lovers enjoyed Bare Jams so much they saw them again. The free spirits took to exploring the surroundings with abandon and the musicians and singers jammed long into the night and early morning under a wonderful clear sky. One highlight for me was hearing the Game Of Thrones theme tune drifting over from our neighbours encampment on an accordion and other unexpected instruments. I took my steel tongue drum to try and play with the gong guys but I got immediate stage fright when all eyes where on me and I bottled it - maybe next year!
It was pretty hard to pack up and leave. We had planned to leave on the Sunday as had commitments at home but a last minute rush around finding plug sockets and an only slightly imaginary emergency meant the majority of us stayed on for the last night and were super glad we did, getting to hear the organisers Dan and Greg play some wild sets of their own. We stayed up 'til dawn again that night on sheer exhilaration and increasingly strong (curious) Yellow Punch.
Dragging our stuff up the wooded lane to the car park felt like I was climbing Everest with all my possessions on my back - it was bittersweet to leave - I was looking forward to a deep bath and change of clothes, but knew I'd be counting down the days until we could come back. Currently at 356.
Big thanks to the designers, organisers, volunteers and foodie places, we had an incredible time and can't wait for next year...(I'll add links in here shortly)