Sidmouth Folk Week – a day in the life.

Monday 3rd August 2015

10.00 a.m. From the campsite we head to Sidmouth Cricket Club for the best value breakfast in town: 2 rashers of bacon, 2 sausages, egg, 2 hash browns, beans, tomato, mushrooms, 2 slices of toast, marmalade, coffee – £6.

Customs and Exiles

Customs and Exiles

10.45 a.m. We stroll across town to The Hub (the open space at the eastern end of the prom) to watch a dance display. We pull out of our backpacks our lightweight folding stools and settle down to be entertained. Four Morris sides perform: Customs and Exiles, a mixed side from Berkshire performing traditional North West Morris; Fool’s Gambit, a very young and energetic mixed Cotswold Morris side; Moulton Morris Men from Northants who perform various forms of traditional English Morris, including sword; Star & Shadow Rapper, a women’s side from Newcastle.

Star and Shadow

Star and Shadow

Rapper is a form of sword dance performed by a team of five dancers, often with a sixth character called The Captain who makes announcements and keeps the crowd involved. It always looks dangerous to me and I can’t help wondering how much skin they lose in practice. Here’s a clip of a rapper side in The Hub at last year’s folk week. The white structure in the background is the Ham Marquee, a 1000-seater venue where three concerts are held each day – and that’s only one of twenty venues.

12.00. We walk along the prom, passing the numerous craft stalls and buskers, to The Bedford Hotel where we somehow manage to wriggle our way into the packed main bar famous for its jam sessions that begin about 11.00 a.m. and go on all day until around midnight. Musicians come and go. At one stage I count twenty-seven, all somehow contriving to play the same tune (or a close approximation). There are: strings – ukes, banjos, guitars and fiddles; wind – whistles, flutes, mouth organ, a saxophone and all shapes and sizes of squeezebox; percussion – bodhran and bones. From time to time staff appear bearing jugs of beer with trays of chicken and chips.

1.30 p.m. We wriggle back out of the Bedford and walk the short distance to Blackmore Gardens, a small park in the middle of town where events in the Children’s Folk Week are held and where the Music Tent stands. This is the marquee occupied by instrument retailers. It draws me irresistibly, but we bump into friends and spend our time chatting. DSC03662Emerging with wallet unopened, we head for the Anchor, pausing in Market Square to watch some extraordinary street entertainment provided by two gymnasts/acrobats. They combine strength, flexibility and dexterity in eye-catching ways. The young man, for example, balances upside down on his head while solving a Rubik’s cube.

3.00 p.m. We settle in Anchor Garden (actually the car park behind the Anchor Inn) where there’s a stage and a servery with sixteen real ales on offer. For the next hour we enjoy a free concert by The Drystones, two lads who look so young to me that I wouldn’t have been surprised to hear they still have paper rounds. Young or not, they are wonderfully talented and give us a very lively hour on fiddle and guitar.

4.00 p.m. We realise that the Cricket Club breakfast was so large that we haven’t even thought of lunch. We head back there. Their cake slices are as generous as their breakfasts. I work out the tactics of the cricket team. They clearly try to field first and during the interval fill the opposition with such an enormous tea that they can neither bowl nor field. We take our time getting outside fruit cake and tea, then realise that a jam session has started in the bar.

6.00 p.m. We head back to The Hub where another dance display is underway. It’s Moulton Morris Men that we saw this morning, but now they are joined by Crooked Moon, an Appalachian dance group from Brighton. Cheryl joined an Appalachian group years ago when we lived in Totnes and she’s always keen to watch a session. She tells me that each complex sequence takes months to learn. You can see a group in action here.

7.15 p.m. As a precaution against the unlikely event of our being overcome by hunger during the evening concert we’re enjoying one of Tom’s Pies at the bar outside the Ham Marquee.

8.00 p.m. We have moved inside the marquee for what proves to be one of the most enjoyable concerts we have ever attended.

The Devil’s Interval start us off with their beautiful three-part harmonies. The three are Jim Causley (who lives on Dartmoor, so we see a lot of him), Lauren McCormick and Emily Portman. They performed together years ago, but then went their separate ways. It’s great to hear them back together. Jim told us that it was so long since they’d sung together that they’d forgotten the songs they used to sing. They found that someone had illicitly recorded them (and many others) in concert and put the recordings up on YouTube. Each time they got together to practise they re-learned the words and harmonies from the internet, but they were horrified to discover that someone had complained and the recordings had been taken down. They had to trace the chap and ask him to send them the recording – which he duly did.

They are followed by the incomparable Vin Garbutt. He really is unlike any other performer I’ve ever seen. His character-filled, mobile features are riveting. Over the years he has written many powerful songs of protest and social commentary, but what really sets him apart is his humour. His relaxed chat between songs is truly hilarious – a mix of jokes and stories based on his experiences touring the world, in the telling of which he makes full use of his rich Teesside accent. As the years have gone by (he’s 67, one month younger than me) those stories increasingly relate to his health problems. He recently suffered arrhythmia and spent time in hospital. “The feller in the next bed said to me, ‘Hey, Vin, you’re a man of the world. What does it mean when one of your testicles is much smaller than the other two?’”

Check him out on his website and if he’s due to appear near you, give yourself a treat.

11.00 p.m. Uplifted by the concert we’re having a drink in the nearby Sailing Club before heading back to the campsite.

Will we have the energy to do it all again tomorrow?

Without a doubt.




Fun trips in the motorhome.

I’ve been reminded that I’ve been very slow in posting this next instalment. My excuse is that we’ve been away in the motorhome so much that I’ve struggled to find the time. I’ll post this, and maybe one more, to cover the first twelve months of our motorhoming experiences.
So, there we were with our Compass Avantgarde 100, a bit on the small side, but in perfect working order, albeit with the knowledge that the next problem to develop in a non-watertight gearbox would probably prove terminal. The sun was shining, summer was upon us and we decided to get on with enjoying ourselves.
One of the most interesting places we visited was the Crossways Caravan Club site at Moreton, near Dorchester: a fascinating site of contrasts. It’s very attractive; the one-way site roadway meanders through woodland, passing through lovely glades that each contain a small number of pitches.
Deer live in the woodland and frequently put in an appearance. Campsites are the favoured venue of people who want to holiday with their dog and, as is usually the case, the majority of pitches had one or more dogs in residence. Amazingly, the deer seemed unfazed, unerringly picking out the dog-free units to be hand-fed morsels of salads. One hind was even confident enough to bring her fawn out into the open and ignore all the cameras pointed at them.
Two further advantages of the site are the pub only a couple of minutes walk from the gate, and the railway station opposite the pub. One of the things we look for in a site is easy access to public transport – that station certainly provides it as it is on the main line to Dorchester, only a 10-minute ride away.
The proximity of the railway line has its downside as at one of those glades it forms the boundary to the site. There’s a level crossing next to the station and passing express trains sound their horns as they approach – a very effective alarm at 6.00 a.m.
Another quirk of the site is the dry composting toilet facilities. The toilet seat looks conventional, but beneath it is a large dark hole. Children aren’t allowed to use the toilets unaccompanied, presumably because of the danger of falling in – a possibility too awful to contemplate. The loos worked fine, but they clearly didn’t suit everyone. I saw one chap emerge to be confronted by his wife and teenage daughter who angrily declared them unacceptable and demanded a move to another site. For me, the showers being in a separate block 100 yards away was more of a problem.
We’d strongly recommend a visit to this area – there’s so much to see and do. Dorchester is not to be missed. A lot of redevelopment has taken place around the station. Many top class restaurants and shops have appeared, but the old town is only a few minutes walk away. There we found the Dorset County Museum, the Tutankhamun Exhibition, the Dinosaur Museum, the Terracotta Warriors Exhibition, the Teddy Bear Museum and The Mummies Exhibition – so plenty to do if it rains. When the sun shines guided walk leaflets from the TIC provide a good tour of the town. As this is Thomas Hardy territory you’ll find frequent references to his work.
Dorchester isn’t the only attraction. You can change trains there and head for the seaside delights of Weymouth. Close by, there’s also the Tolpuddle Martyrs museum, Clouds Hill (the cottage of T E Lawrence) and the Tank Museum at Bovington Camp.
We spent a week in the area and could easily have stayed a lot longer.
One minor problem had become apparent with the Compass. We used the overcab bed for storage and slept in the double bed made up each night from the dinette. That bed is put together from six mattresses: the two seats and two backs of the dinette benches and two small mattresses that fit onto the pull-out extension. Having six components means a lot of joins, each of which can open up a little in use. In the interest of comfort we bought two of these, although we went for two-inch thickness, two-feet wide size. Problem solved.
One of our most notable trips in that first year was to the Sidmouth Folk Festival. Attending such events was one of the main reasons for our buying a motorhome. The festival (or Folk Week as it’s now called) was great fun, as usual. Staying on the over-crowded official, temporary campsite was an interesting experience. At the time I wrote a post about both the event and the camping which you can find under the Folk Festivals sections of this blog.
Bath is one of our favourite cities, so it was a treat to discover the Bath Caravan Park. It’s alongside the River Avon about two miles from the city centre, which is easily accessed by walking/cycling along the riverbank or by bus from the adjacent park & ride. The site is open all year and has sixty-four pitches all with hardstanding and ehu. Under the Interesting Places section of this blog you’ll find three posts that will help explain why we like the city so much.

Later this week I’ll put up another post covering the remainder of our first motorhoming year and the decisions we made at the end of it.