A near Glastonbury experience

Don’t you just love it when all the stars and planets align and everything just falls perfectly into place at just the right time. We spent a frustrating five months last year arriving in places on the boat where some spectacular talent filled entertainment bonanza had either just taken place or was about to happen in two weeks time. We hadn’t quite got the idea of just chilling and hanging around back then so we ended up missing every musical and cultural delight that we nearly came upon all summer. But not this year!

It might not be Glastonbury but it is buzzing
It’s the 19th Audlem festival and we are here!!

This year it’s different. We have landed in the beautiful little canal village of Audlem in perfect time for their four day extravaganza of poetry, music and beer. Arts, ale and sunshine; what more could a weary traveller ask for? Well how about pizza and a hair cut on the tow path. Yes we finally caught up with ‘Baked on Board’ the wood fire pizza boat that we have been chasing all over the canal network since last summer and as if that wasn’t enough, as I tripped over my untidy locks strolling along the canal I stumbled upon a hair dressing narrow boat. I’m not making this up honestly, and I have a nice smart hair cut to prove it. I can thoroughly recommend sitting in the sunshine on the tow path and having your hair cut by the lovely Ann, whilst bemused dog walkers stroll by. It’s so much more rewarding to discuss life on the water and the various pros and cons of a variety of canal side pubs rather than making small talk about Brylcream with a bored barber from Birmingham.

Haircut sir?

The festival itself is a buzzing cauldron of eclectic talent and friendly crowds. Just think Glastonbury without the mud and queues and about 99,000 less people. We have already sampled cool jazz, folk, poetry about Kermit the frog and head banging rock (for about thirty seconds) and there are still two days to go.

Cool jazz from Kevin Hassett and Redux
Inside the Shroppie Fly pub

The pizzas were divine, as predicted by so many boaters we have talked to along the way and I even managed to buy a length of anchor rope from a dignitary.

Pizza worth travelling for.
Rope boat

There is a lovely laid back atmosphere about this festival as the well heeled locals mingle with the slightly more down to earth boaters in a Blackpool meets Knightsbridge kind of way. It was particularly heart warming to look around the crowd whilst watching the Barsteward Son of Val Doonican (seriously, look him up on YouTube), and seeing immaculately dressed fashionistas wiping away the tears of laughter, in just the same way as the denim clad ageing hippies and would be rockers were. I love the fact that below the surface we are all pretty much the same model.

Speaking of models, we are now travelling with friends Bob and Marie on their very recently re-painted boat Rebecca. Rebecca looks stunning, perfect in every detail, while our Golden Girl is starting to show her age a little. She still looks good from a distance but up close she’s ready for a bit of beauty therapy. There is a very definite difference between our two craft on the outside but just like the crowds at the festival it’s only skin deep. Same as people really.

Rebecca, fresh from the beauty parlour

It’s a tribal thing

We have bought our tickets for the second annual Cycle Touring Festival in May. The first one was a resounding success with about two hundred like-minded, two wheeling nomads coming together to share tales of misery and delight over beers, brews and a small mountain of cake. At that time we were not long back from our big trip around the coast of Britain which we thought was quite an epic adventure until we listened to some of the speakers at the festival. It turned out that what we had done was like a bit of a warm up for some of the odysseys that others had undertaken. Phrases like “that was our twenty second country” or “it was just towards the end of our third year on the road” were bandied about with a casualness normally reserved for discussing the weather. There were, of course, plenty of cyclists there who had yet to embark on their first multi week tour and even some who had never strapped a pannier on a bike or even sniffed a pair of socks to determine whether they would do another week or not. We were somewhere in the middle I suppose.

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What was brilliant about it though was that we were with our tribe. It didn’t matter whether you were a grizzled old warrior of the road or still dithering over which Swiss Army knife you should choose, you were one of the clan and as such safe and protected and in the right place. When people with a common interest and passion come together there is a real genuine feeling of warmth and support; especially if the common interest is a bit wacky and not really understood by other people. I’m sure there is exactly the same cosy sense of being wrapped in a protective but fluffy blanket at model train conventions or a velology festival. I’m not sure whether it’s because of a deep rooted ancient yearning to come together with others that share our passions and beliefs or simply a desire not to feel weird. It doesn’t really matter, it’s fun and it gives us purpose and place in a confusing and crowded world.

Being with ‘your own sort’ is easy and relaxing. It’s so refreshing to be able to emerge from the tent in the morning and talk to your nearest neighbour about the relative merits of synthetic or natural sleeping bag fillings as if it was the most normal thing in the world. When we share a campsite with the public at large we are often greeted by concerned caravaners who want to check that we survived the night without succumbing to hypothermia. We were even asked on one occasion if we would like them to boil a kettle for us. I don’t know if they thought that we might be desperate for a hot drink or a good wash but we assured them in the nicest possible way that we did actually have the means of boiling a kettle ourselves. When you are with your tribe you don’t have to explain the obvious and you can just get on with laughing hilariously at the shared memory of being wet for three consecutive days or making dinner from a spoonful of rice, a chicken flavour cup-a-soup and a lump of cheese that has been lurking in the bottom of a pannier for several weeks. Of course you both know that you are exaggerating wildly but that’s all part of the fun.

Most conversations will, at some point, turn knowingly to the non-tribal members of the population who are missing out on the true meaning of life and the route to ever-lasting happiness by not going cycle touring. But that’s the whole point isn’t it? We come together and celebrate our eccentricity. We revel in our difference from the masses and look to each other as living proof that we and we alone, have found the answers. Just like the train spotters, the sequence dancers and the cheese rollers probably do when they attend their annual tribal gatherings. The sense that we are a part of something is important, even vital, to our well-being so I for one can’t wait to gather around the camp fire once again and remind myself that I’m not the only weirdo on the block.

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