Eighties tribute band Under Neon were still rocking the night away when we crawled into our sleeping bags. Earlier in the day it had been the house martins – the birds, not the band– who’d stolen the limelight in the “main stage”, an early 18th century barn where a guest speaker and his audience perched on bales of hay to talk about adventures. The martins swooped in from the farmyard, heading for nests in the sandstone walls, a distracting aerial ballet performance.
Outside in the courtyard campers sat around drinking coffee - or Pimms – while henna artist Ayshea Jankee painted temporary tattoos on hands and arms, and hardcore types hung from their hands and arms in a challenge competition.
The Eden Escape Festival is as far removed, geographically and metaphorically, from Glastonbury as you could possibly imagine. There’s music, of course, early-evening folk before the band kicked in, and there would have been farmyard mud had it rained for long. Babies were carried in papooses to Zumba and Yoga sessions, while free-range children roamed the playground, or gathered to toast marshmallows over a firepit at the Forest School corner.
But what was missing were the festival crowds. Here we came to escape people as much as to mingle with them, making new friends down by the river or in the washing-up block, but camping with acres of space and a degree of luxury only dreamed of at Worthy Farm. Ours was one of just four tents in the orchard, accessed through a “secret garden” gate in the wall. Lower down the hill towards the river we could see camping pods, bell tents and tipis, all with plenty of space to picnic, play football or just chill with a glass of wine. In a makeshift kitchen next to the showers were an electric kettle, a toaster and a microwave. Well, why should camping involve deprivation?
The Eden Escape Festival is run by three inspirational fitness fanatics, Wiz Lees, Leigh-Ann Newburn and Ali Phillips. Their motivating philosophy was: get away from it all and spend time getting outdoors, getting active, enjoying great food and time together, for a weekend full of adventure. The site, on the banks of the beautiful River Eden, is idyllic, the facilities impeccable, the food stalls – from Seychelles spice to vegan snacks – delicious. You could learn how to make paper collages, have a holistic massage, dance your way through a cardio workout, or just sit by your tent and do absolutely nothing. At which we became pretty accomplished.
Though we did enjoy the safe-version archery sessions, and on Sunday morning we wound up the festival experience with a social run along the river organised by the Jogging Pals, to visit the remarkable sandstone Victorian-folly Lacy Caves. Among others, we were joined by geography teacher Simon; Viv, a GP in the next village who’s a veteran of trail races but now runs just for fun; and seven-year-old Aston who took to the lead as the path wove up and down through the woods. Nobody set a stopwatch, nobody counted the kilometers. We were stress free, routine free, totally chilled.
The escape festival had worked its spell.