As we drove over the water, above Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s rail bridge of 1859, straddling the epic sweep of water that is the border of Devon (or perhaps England) and Cornwall, I felt certain feelings well up, feelings it’s hard to sum up with a word or two.
We were on the way to Port Eliot, a place that means a great deal to me, and even though, if you wanted to be a pedantic killjoy about it, it all only boils down to a handful of weekends in a tent over the years, my memories of those weekends are so treasured and special that I’m always swept along with a feeling of returning, of reconnecting with this enchanted little nook of the world.
I’m not the hugest fan of festivals, but it was love at first sight with Port Eliot, the perfect cocktail of prettiness and naughtiness and cultured fun, where you can disco your way into the wee hours and then wake up to a Fortnum and Mason breakfast, spend the afternoon listening to a debate about Ovid in The Idler’s tent, or field recordings of birdsong in Caught By The River’s tent, nursing the night before with a Hendrick’s gin punch or a plate of delicious oysters, then spend golden hour swimming in a river that’s delightfully warm and muddy underfoot, before the joys of the nighttime roll round again.
I remember one evening, as I stood by the bushes and trees in those small hours, staring up at the starry skies, imagining giant elfin faces in the shapes of the branches and leaves, realising how obvious it must have seemed to our ancestors in those evenings of firelight and magic mushrooms that the land was alive with spirits and sacred energies.
Bobbing along in the river the next lazy afternoon, I hit a shallow bank; once I’d righted myself, I pulled my hands out of the water, which were covered in rich, dark, warm mud, and looking out onto beautiful rolling straw-coloured pastures and pearly English skies, listening to a story floating over the water from a nearby tent about mythical giants with names like Gog and Magog, giants who were somehow the embodiment of the ancient spirits of these lands. I thought of this island of ours, and all the places I love in it, from the soft, warm, rolling Cornish hills in front of me to the sharp, magnificent, enormous skies of Scotland, and its rivers as clear as ice, and I felt a sense of belonging to all of it, and then a thought struck me: more than likely I’ll die on this island that birthed me, and there was something lovely about thinking this.
Humans have a deep-seated need to belong, an instinct to love their land, and a sense of the profundity of this welled up so strongly in me it was almost overwhelming. But before it puffed me up with that foolish sense that we were somehow the best place, more special than the rest, I realised there was probably an overly romantic bloke in Germany or France who was floating around in some Alpine lake who was overwhelmed by exactly the same feelings for his land and its magic at exactly the same time as the thought struck me.
Pictured: Port Eliot Festival 2014, with thanks to Michael Bowles.