796.54 Under canvas

In July 2013 I took myself off to the Ely Folk Festival. Perhaps surprisingly this was the first festival I had attended; yet so much about it seemed familiar. After I came home I set about thinking why this was.

It couldn’t have much to do with seeing festivals on television; events like Glastonbury or even Cambridge don’t have much in common with a small-scale gathering like Ely. It must be something else.

Of course I had been camping before, but my first time under canvas was something completely different, which I had more or less forgotten in the meantime.

This was the Enfield Town Show, which happened each year in the Town Park. It was a celebration of all things Enfield, and I always went along to it; I don’t think my parents went there as often. This was all in marquees pitched on the grass.

There’s something quite unique about this; in hot weather it surely has to do with the rising humidity from the grass meeting the hot air trapped above, which creates a really sultry atmosphere – not least in the Gardening tent, which I can remember smelling strongly of chrysanthemums.

I can’t claim to have been strongly interested in that tent, and while there may have been a brass band or something of the kind, entertainment wasn’t the main idea. The Scouts and Guides had, I think, a whole tent to themselves. The most interesting part for me was the Clubs and Societies tent; there was the inevitable Camera Club, probably a Music Society, various church groups, and almost certainly a Local History Society. On a few occasions the local Esperanto Club took part, and I did my best to help out on their stand. The show seems to be still going, though I couldn’t find it on the Enfield website.

Many years later, when I moved to Bedfield, I found that the second weekend in July was, and is, the occasion for the annual Bedfield Fete. This is a fairly similar thing to the Enfield Show, but with more funfair bits, and much more of it out in the open air. It happens on the village Sports Ground. In 2013 three local interest groups had been started and were at the Fete for the first time; a Gardening Club, a Camera Club (nothing new under the sun!), and a Local History Group. Having been involved in the Local History Group from the start I would certainly have been on their stand – but I was in Ely. In fact, since living in Bedfield I have been away from home during the Fete – mostly for Esperanto events – more times than I have been around to see it; and one year when I was at home it was rained off. At the time of writing I haven’t yet heard how it all went.

So that’s the marquees accounted for. When I made the Great Cycling Journey from Bordeaux to Austria (summer 1966) I spent some nights sleeping under the stars, for example when the Youth Hostel was full, but I didn’t have a tent then. Elsewhere (on Blogspot) I have written up a memorable camping visit to Largs in Scotland, for an Esperanto event. This was my first go at camping in a tent and the combination of splendid weather and beautiful surroundings made me eager for more. This was followed by a family holiday on the outskirts of Cromer in 2007 which was great fun. Then, though this may sound odd, there was my daughter Debora’s wedding at a rural venue where camping was available. Any of these that I haven’t yet written about will doubtless follow eventually.

After those adventures, camping at a festival held no terrors. I first heard about the Ely Festival when I happened to see a flyer in a railway station, probably Diss. This was early in 2011 or possibly late in 2010. That time around, and also the next year, I wasn’t able to book in time before everything was sold out. I’d also considered Cambridge (too difficult) and Cromer (too much of it in pubs), but eventually with a bit more organisation I got myself booked up in 2013.

The festival itself was a great success with an excellent line-up; I’m sure other people have reviewed it more expertly than I can, but I may yet venture upon it. That will of course be on a different page with a different number.

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