Love Trails Festival '18 (Gower Peninsular)
Last weekend (July 13th-15th) Calum and myself travelled off to the land of the red dragon and the valleys of song, bound for the glorious Gower Peninsular in Wales. We were invited by our southern brother (from another mother) James Wight, founder of Adventure Uncovered, to speak on an adventure/conservation panel at Love Trails Festival. Together we would be examining the role adventure plays in highlighting the need for conservation around the world. We would also be sharing the stage with inspiring adventurers like Ellie Mackay (documentary filmmaker and conservationist) and Alex Staniforth (charity ambassador and author of Icefall), as well as several other great endurance athletes and motivational speakers…
Unfortunately, we missed this talk because our early morning trail run and swim turned into a day-long adventure. It wasn't the pre-lunch jaunt we expected, although our happy group still had a great time as we trudged up and down the Welsh sand dunes, replacing our River Mole Apocalypse Now experience for a re-enactment of Lawrence of Arabia.
Afterwards, we were glad to hear that the Adventure Uncovered talk was a big success without us - some I'm sure would even say improved by the absence of a mumbling Cumbrian and his over-talkative older brother.
Love Trails Festival itself went off without a hitch as well. The atmosphere was relaxed and very friendly. Personally, I was very happy to find that it was more than just a stomping ground for ultra-marathon athletes. In fact, there’s one key element that separates Love Trails from a few of its cousin sports festivals… it’s non-competitive.
This was good news for me given that my only runs these past few years have been once-a-week 3km warm-ups for boxing classes in Brixton’s Friendliest Gym (Miguel’s). It wasn’t the best preparation for trail running, although there’s a different kind of fun to be found meandering across traffic-clogged roads, under railway bridges, passing old cars strewn in parts outsides mechanics, yards of scrap metal, crowded take-outs and car washes blaring music.
Far from the greasy concrete of London, Love Trails Festival invited lovers of music and adventure to celebrate its third year on the Gower Peninsular – a sand-wrapped stretch of land that juts westward into the Bristol Channel. It’s here that you’ll find Arthur’s stone, propped on a hill crest at Cefn Bryn, and the shoreline of Three Cliffs, spiked with three sharp limestone cliffs. Dotted amongst the surrounding countryside there are six castles still keeping watch over the distant, misty offing, as well as several caves and sites of archaeological interest, like Minchin Hole Cave and Paviland Cave, where the entire skeleton of an Upper Paleolithic man (between 50,000 to 10,000 years old) was found dyed with red ochre. In fact, many of the nearby caves doubled as natural burial chambers and canvases for cave art, with depictions of red deer running across the rock walls. Standing stones and ritual cairns are apparently common in the area too.
It’s safe to say the peninsula hasn’t lost any popularity since those primordial days of our bedraggled trail running ancestors. The scenery sprawls in all directions, shaped by wide hills, valleys and bays – the ideal roaming grounds for runners to be set loose outdoors...
We started on Friday morning when Calum led a coastal trail run along Llwybr Arfordir Cymru, from the Love Trails base at Weobley Castle to the irresistible Blue Pool at Broughton Bay. After cooling off with a dive in the deep tidal pool, Calum then brought his group back for a final 10km run along the Welsh coast, returning in sweaty droves to their respective tents and tepees in the camping field. On Saturday I joined Calum in helping to coordinate the Salomon swim run. Luckily, we were also joined by experienced trail runner/leader Manuel Irsara – he often goes full mountain goat on the steep climbs of the Italian Dolomites – who brought an air of professionalism and running experience.
The group we ran with talked, joked around and kept together at a shared, steady pace. We clambered over tufted dunes, ducked single file through shaded Welsh jungles, trudged over marshes and fields and hurtled down heathland. All the while we went along with our heads up, enjoying the countryside. The air of non-competition was a relief. Importantly, no one was left beating themselves up at the end of the runs. Instead, everyone seemed content to roam free on the Welsh hills, to stop for water whenever it was needed and to take a little time to bound over the hills and let loose our inner Wild Rovers. There weren’t any races or medals to go out either – not unless you count our short point to point swim at Oxwich Bay, where we clambered out over the rocks and paddled and crawled along the shallow coastline and spotted hundreds of crabs scuttling over the ridged seabed and found harmless white warbling jellyfish pulsating in the warm, turquoise water.
The run back to the festival was close to 12 kilometres. Near the end we bumped into a group of wild horses and they licked the salt off our hands from the swim. Then a lady there told us that these horses roam wild all across the peninsula and sometimes show up tethered in the gardens of Swansea council estates. In the end, our run extended to about 26 kilometres in total and there were plenty of exhausted legs, cramp and waddling to remind us what we’d done when we got back to the festival.
Over the days we were there, Love Trails hosted workshops, yoga, surfing, coasteering, beer relays and music from The Correspondents and DJ Yoda (he played a great mix of Otis Redding, The Fugees and Bruce Springsteen...). There was healthy food, acoustic bonfire music, wood fired hot tubs and plenty of stars to remind us we’d escaped the city smog. The odd cultish Wickerman moment notwithstanding – a shot of Saturday wake-up chanting didn’t go down too well with a few of us more bleary-eyed, languid campers – the festival was an awesome experience, even for non-running water-bound types, like myself.
So, Love Trails, it was an absolute pleasure! I’ll work on my running (Double Ironman Calum is probably fine) and with a bit of luck we’ll see you again next year… :)
Adventure Uncovered & Wild Swimming Brothers (photos)