Thursday, 22 September 2011

Harvest home

Well summer is drawing to a close, the leaves are turning, the weather is cooling, even the smell of everything is different.  Harvesters are out in the fields and I'm collecting conkers, but what a summer it's been!  In the interests of trying to get somewhere on as a little money as possible, I adopted a Fuel-Only-Holiday scheme, trying to find ways of visiting new places with as little cost as I could, save that of travelling to reach them.

The reason for all this was that I knew a lot of people going on holidays abroad and suddenly felt that I hadn't seen much of the world.  Of course I can't afford to cross the channel just at the moment, but then it struck me that even though I've lived in England my entire life, there's still so much of it I've not seen.  Thus began my quest!

1. Lake District
I've blogged about this already so I won't go on, but I always enjoy visiting the Lake District.  The land is so awkward and you're forced to work around it's lofty hills, soggy valleys, and fields of wandering sheep, but it's well worth the effort for somewhere so unchanged,  I find it comforting.

2. Bristol
In August was the first wedding anniversary of my sister Katherine and her husband Tom.  They've been married for an entire year! What a strange thing to think about!  The two of them are beginning to make a life for themselves down in Bristol, somewhere I have never been, and this auspicious date just happened to collide neatly with the annual Balloon Fiesta.  So I did a little research on where I should go, took myself down there, stayed in the beautiful spare room of a kind neighbour, and spent a long weekend on a self-guided walking tour of Bristol.  It took me an entire day just to get from the house to the city centre, as I got distracted by a rather fantastic museum (I love a museum) that I sent the entire morning in.  It had everything a curious girl could want, from a 10ft ancient Red Elk, a fossilised Ichthyosaur foetus and a skeleton from ancient Egypt, all the way through to a large collection of taxidermied animals, including a badger I was allowed to stroke, whom we affectionately named 'Jimmy'.

Jimmy the Taxidermied Badger

10 min sketch of Bristol University,
drawn with felt pen and rain.
I visited art galleries, local history museums (which I highly recommend), the cathedral, harbours and docks, an aquarium (although I didn't actually go inside it) walked down rows of old regency houses and gothic monuments, got very sore feet and had a thoroughly enjoyable time.  And all of this for free!

The Balloon Fiesta itself was fun, if perhaps something you would only see once as there is a limited amount you can do with a balloon - the Night Glow, for example, is really en masse Bristol karaoke with the flame throwers in the balloons keeping time with their flashes.  For about an hour.  Still, it was a fun experience and I'm glad I saw it.  I also got up at six in the morning to walk up the the downs above the city and watch the balloons take their morning flight...  Naturally that was the one morning they didn't go up, but to sit amid green grass and see the sun come up over a new place is no bad thing.

3. Greenbelt Festival
I returned to the west country, a little further north, to the Greenbelt Festival held on Cheltenham Racecourse. I've been to events like Momentum in the past few years, and Stoneleigh Bible week as a child, but this was probably my first 'real' festival.  And how does this fit with my Fuel-Only scheme?  Well, as with some other festivals, if you volunteer to help run an area of the festival they won't charge you entry.  On top of that Greenbelt gives its volunteers food vouchers, enough for at least one meal per day bought from the festival stalls.  The rest of the food I took came straight from my kitchen cupboard.  So I dusted off my First Aid certificate, which was fortunately still in date, borrowed some camping gear from my parents and got stuck in!

Me and my mates, plus a new first-aiding friend.  I'm 2nd from the right, in the hi-vis.
Sunday morning at the Main Stage

In the 'Tiny Tea Tent' with friends

Lost, are we?
On the one hand, yes it was 4-8 hours of work a day, but it was also a great way to see the festival.  As a First-Aider you need to be where the crowds are but also have room to err... aid someone, so I spent a lot of my time sitting in the pits at Main Stage, or sneaking into the late night venues.  My final night was spent round a fire pot with the folks who had been running the food stalls all week, with a hula hoop, guitar and tambourine to keep us company.  Singalongs ensued!  Of course there was the occasionally mad dash across the site when an emergency call came over the radio.

Sculptures of home, made on site

My seat

I enjoyed Greenbelt mainly for the variety of topics covered by it's tagline of 'Combining Faith, Justice and the Arts'.  This meant that there was of course music played for you (lots of it) but also music you could take part in.  I found myself putting on a full performance as part of the very first Greenbelt Scratch Band, which played to an extremely high standard considering that we'd never seen each other or the music or the conductor in our lives before and had perhaps 7 hours practise in total.  There was also comedy, spoken word, storytelling, poetry, food (so much food!), theatre, acrobatics, crafts, dancing (again, for you and by you as well!) film, politics, theology, meditative areas, writing, workshops for national projects, international awareness and social justice, debate, and a lot of hard questions thrown across large crowds by people who wanted to live on the wobbly edge of faith and life rather than settling for the more familiar and reassuring habits of the mainstream, and a huge number of other topics that I could never even begin to cover.

Somehow I get the idea that I\ve only just begun to plumb the depths of Greenbelt, and having met several people who have going for over 20 years and are still returning, I may have to go back.

4. Ely
Updated tomorrow, once I've been.  For the past few months I've had a hankering to head closer home in Norfolk, and to see Ely's cathedral and the Fens.  So on Monday I go!

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