Port Eliot Festival – An Utter Fairytale

Lets face it, festival culture can get a bit gruesome after a while. Crammed campsites, mud everywhere (thanks to our British summertime), predictable bands, huge queues, vomit worthy toilets and overpriced drinks. You know what to expect with the big ones. But if you want a festival that is more laid back, then Port Eliot is the one for you. The festival is a four day annual celebration of “words, music, imagination,  ideas, nature, food, fashion, flowers, laughter, exploration and fun.”
The whole experience feels like a fairytale. I felt like I had transcended into Narnia for the weekend… but Cornish style of course. Few festivals can boast a setting as picturesque as Port Eliot’s. It nestles in a Cornish valley, beside a Brunel viaduct on the grounds of the St Germans family’s stately home.


For four days each year, hordes of people descend on this idyll to sample a mix of literary talks, comedy, film and pop laid on by the Earl, Peregrine and Lady Catherine of St Germans. “Napoleon, gazing at Port Eliot land from the sea as he sailed into exile, said it was the most beautiful place in England. ‘Enfin, cec beau pays’. (As reported by Captain Maitland of HMS Bellerophon).” The grounds are epic.

It is magical. The setting is indefinitely difficult to put into words. A meander here is just as entertaining as what’s on offer in the many tents! (Stock your bags FULL of anti-mosquito spray as I was absolutely covered in bites upon my return!)

This boutique event – which relaunched in 2003, after the end of the now legendary Elephant Fayre – boasts “the brains of a literary festival and the soul of a music festival.” It’s on the periphery, literary and figuratively, that the site comes to life. There’s plenty of room on the estate to discover hidden places – the grounds littered with the out-of-the-ordinary – whether it’s a DJ set, accessed by a door in the hedge, it provides a genuinely bizarre wonderland away from the more contrived theatrics.

Tucked away in the grounds you will find The Oyster Shack, Wine Bar and Orangery – the place to be for a more sophisticated night. If you’re fed up of those aching legs from boogying in the Boogie Round or of the youthful ‘lads’ eyeing up girls all night, go for the more ‘classy’ option and indulge in fine wines, oysters and cocktails. Just PERFECT. Port Eliot feels like an event out of time. The site itself may seem all Enid Blyton with walled gardens populated by fashionistas… but I LOVE it. I found myself people watching the whole time just to take note on what people wore, some things very peculiar, but during this festival you can pull anything off!

One of the most unique elements of the festival is the Wardrobe Department and The Theatre of Fashion. The British Council’s Ambassador for Emerging Talent, Sarah Mower, assembles a team of the most unique and gifted designers in Britain, with the likes of Susie Bubble, MAC Cosmetics and Bumble & Bumble’s Alex Brownsell, to create clothes, accessories and makeup for the Port Eliot audience. We were lucky to be presented with Game of Thrones’ costume designer, Michele Clapton, who certainly discussed how she clothes everyone from “the courts of incestuous Queens, the denizens of brothels and religious fanatics, to the armour, furs and rags of warring armies.”

The food stalls are fantastic, the loos clean and there are few queues at the plentiful bars… what more could you wish for? The campsites exceed the term ‘glamping’, the grounds littered with a parade of posh Yurts and Airstreams and an array of Gypsy caravans… and the beauty? You can pitch your tent anywhere!

The festival has a range of breaking acts and legendary talent, promising to give anyone a great time. This years BBC Introducing stage provided the Port Eliot audience with performances from local and upcoming talent. There was a not-so-secret slot by the Palma Violets but you can keep their generic indie. I was more interested in trying not to spy on Lily Allen who was out and about. Local band Mad Dog Mcrea lit up the Ace of Clubs Stage with their end to the festival on Sunday.

Port Eliot is also known for whipping up some amazing food featuring chefs such as Thomasina Miers, Rick and Jack Stein…far away from your standard burger van. The street food was exquisite.

Down in the servant’s basement you will come across the Flower and Fodder show, and this year I decided to enter. After entering with not a care in the world, I found myself disappointed after coming home with no prize after those hours of moulding and shaping icing for a bloody festival cake… next year, next year! Besides the disappointment, the cakes and arrangements were sensational.

A true child like myself, discovering the Disney’s Cinderella’s dress and Swarovski’s glass slipper had me there gazing with envy for hours (of both the actress’ waistline and utter amazement!)

It’s not a literary, fashion, food or children’s festival. It’s all of those things and more. Port Eliot is for everyone, and that is their selling point.

Rumours circulated the site that this could be the last Port Eliot Festival with the news that the St Germans family are selling their beautiful grounds. After three utmost amazing days, I sincerely hope that they are just rumours.

Do me a favour and take a trip there next year. Thanks.

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