This was my first time at the festival and I was looking forward to a great weekend. Clubmates had attended previously and spoke very highly of the relaxed, friendly festival and the amazing running on the Gower Peninsula in Wales.
If you’ve not been to Gower Peninsula before it’s a series of beautiful Welsh hills nestling the sea with some wide open salt flats and gorgeous beaches in between. Transport wise you reach it from the M4 after passing Cardiff and Swansea, or via train. There’s also organised coaches from London saving you the hassle of lugging tents on the tube. From chatting to other runners it seemed like half of London had vacated to Gower for the weekend.
Two main camp sites were on offer, either Estuary View or Castle, with the latter being a slightly further walk away (10 minute) from the main festival village and seemed quieter for those that wanted to sleep. Campervans also set up in Castle car park. Both sites were a short walk from respective car parks as you can’t drive up to your pitch so worth bringing a trolley if your tent and other gear is heavy.
Both camp sites have toilets and water points. Showers are located at the Castle site, and just inside the festival village for those in Estuary view. The Estuary spa is set up at Weobley Castle so if you’re planning to go there it would be sensible to pick the Castle camping.
If you’re less nimble of foot or expect to be pushing buggies then the walk from Castle camping is off road and has some off-camber sections that might be an issue.
There are so many options it would have been impossible to do everything so it’s worth planning your day to ensure you’re not halfway up a hill, 4 miles from the site when you realise the talk you really wanted to attend starts in five minutes.Guided Trail Runs (GTR)
Free to attend and on throughout the day, they had everything from social 3km runs to full on 55km ultras, with a good smattering of running to pubs and wine tasting. In particular there were many women specific runs which is a great touch for anyone who’d rather not stare at the hairy back of a sweating bloke for 2 hours. Booking on for these runs could either be done on the website before you attended or by going to the run start tent.
These were extra runs you can pay to attend, most of which involve some sort of activity after a warm up run such as coasteering, surfing, or sea kayaking.
Just Show Up Runs
Similar to the GTR, free to attend, just turn up at the start time and go for it. Also a mixture of lengths and included runs to wild swims, orienteering and trails.
Note – the terrain in Gower does not make for fast times. If you’re used to smashing out a sub 18 minute parkrun then you might well be surprised how long it takes to cover the same distance on the routes due to incline, technical trail, cattle gates and crashing through undergrowth. Taking your time and enjoying the route is key for most of the above and the run leaders will be regrouping as needed to avoid losing people. Of course there’s nothing stopping you grabbing a couple of mates and caning yourselves around your own run route if you’re keen to steal some Strava segments.
Talks / Panels
Throughout the weekend there were talks from the great and the good of trail running, sharing tales, advice and inspiration. There was also a light-hearted comedy sessions led by Huw Jack Brassington where I got to attend, drop subtle plugs for the book and try my best to not look out of place next to Elise Downing (ran the coast of Britain), Huw Jack Brassington (Special Forces Hell Week, Team GB Triathlete), Danny Bent (cycled 9000 miles London to India, set up Project Awesome) and David Hellard (BBR podcast, sells laxatives).
Yoga, Movement & Fitness
A favourite of the wife, there were many stretching, fitness and yoga classes available, open to all ages and abilities. The music choices were so good even I was tempted to have a go. Yoga to Queen medley is inspired.
Salomon and Vivobarefoot put on a good mixture of workshops, talks and runs including more yoga and advice sessions from their sponsored athletes.
Kids & Crafts2019 is the first year they’ve invited kids to the festival and it worked well. There were short trail runs, and lots of arts and crafts activities. My two (8 and 10) loved it and came back with windchimes, tees and posters they’d made and are already pestering me to attend next year (hence the 2020 poster design). With a relaxed vibe to the whole weekend and plenty of space around the festival and camp sites there’s ample room to let kids run around and explore nature.
Trail runners are possibly the most dog-friendly segment of society. I took Bella along for some of the runs and when she wasn’t pelting through the woods dragging me behind she spent most of the weekend laying on her back having her belly rubbed by random runners and being told how beautiful she was. There was a dog station in the main festival field with balls and Frisbees to entertain your canine friends too.
Sample the gear
Many of the stands from Adidas, Salomon and Sunto allowed you to not just try on the products but take them away for a run and really put them through their paces. This is ideal as picking new rugged trail shoes by running a few steps up and down the silky smooth floor of a sports shop is a flawed process.
Getting around – Adventure Bus
Throughout the day a courtesy bus toured the main beaches and camp sites to help everyone get about if they’d had enough of running.
Drink & Food
A highlight of the weekend for me was the choice of food vans. These were of the gourmet burgers and stone baked pizza standard, not a greasy roadside trailer. We sampled from every vendor and the only criticism was just a few were open for breakfast with long queues if you were trying to eat and get out on a run. Definitely potential for some more breakfast options next year.
Drinks were in the main tent, the pub tent, the gin stand and also a bar by the Estuary Spa. Queues were never too long but some of the beers did run out on Saturday due to how thirsty the runners got.
Water was available either from taps in campsite or from large 1000 litre containers in the festival ground. A great step towards eliminating single use plastic water bottles.
Billy and I arrived by car on Friday with a boot full of stuff and an excited dog. Setting the tent up in the Castle Campsite took a little longer than expected as it was only our second go but luckily some clubmates helped out. This and a desperate need to eat Pizza and drink beer meant I didn’t get out for any runs on the Friday and also needed to find Huw to have a run through for the comedy session on stage.
The plan was for Charlotte and my Wife to get the train down and arrive around 6pm, ready for dinner and a handover prior to going on stage. Sadly a few train delays occurred and then the final train caught fire just two miles out from the station. Wales is famous for a warm welcome but this was possibly excessive.
After further delays getting another train despatched to push the now marooned carriages they finally arrived around 8:30pm, over 7 hours after leaving Milton Keynes. We’d managed to do it in just over 4 hours in the car including two stops.Trying to direct half your family to a tent whilst keeping an ear out for being called onto stage was tricky “yep ours is the big tent, you know, green, basically looks the same as every other tent in the massive field. It’s by some hedges and on some grass. You can’t miss it, it’s made of tarpaulin and has some guy ropes attached!”
Sadly the delay meant they missed much of my stint on stage so if anyone has the video I’d be grateful. I managed to get energy gels confined to Room 101 which is probably my biggest life achievement.
After that it was back to tents and bed. We’ve only camped once before, at Endure 24 so we’re still relatively new to it all. Despite airbeds, thick sleeping bags and extra blankets it got cold in the night, especially escorting each child for a night time wee when they awoke at different times. For once I was glad of the dogs fondness for sneaking onto my feet to sleep at night.Saturday arrived and after some porridge from the van on site I took part in the Tribe 10k guided run. It ended up closer to 8 miles due to diversion for tides but was beautiful and Bella enjoyed her first taste of the Welsh countryside.
Rest of the morning was spent in yoga (the Wife) or craft making (the kids). Then a team run in the Track Mafia “Don’t Back Out” event where mixed teams of three, or all female teams compete to run to the sea and bring back sufficient sea water to half fill a cup. It sounds easier than it was, especially given the steep ascent back up. Our team was third in the mixed category, or second after the first place team was disqualified for using a bottle to transport the water. So close to the £300 cash prize!In the afternoon we popped to nearby Three Cliffs Beach in the car. It’s a beautiful beach although weather wise we picked the most overcast section of the whole weekend to attend. Billy and I swam and coaxed the dog in. Having never been to the sea before she was a little nervous but soon learnt to swim. The girls decided it was a bit too nippy to brave more than a paddle. For anyone going to this beach, it’s a good 15-20 minute walk from car parks depending on the tide so be prepared.
Back at campsite we drank from the bar at the Estuary Spa (much nearer walk) and went back to the festival for dinner, slightly disappointed to see the axe throwing stand packing up and leaving site, as we’d hoped it would be available all weekend.Sunday was more yoga, another Tribe run with Bella (a slightly long 5k) where she met some llamas, and more crafting during which I customised my top as a reminder of the weekend.
Being indecisive at the best of times I struggled to pick from the plethora of options for the afternoon. Downhill running technique looked good, as did navigation skills for runners, both of which would be useful for the forthcoming Lakeland 100.
I finally settled on a trail workshop with Salomon athlete Beth Pascal which covered body positioning, running form and uphill and downhill technique. She was a great coach and I particularly enjoyed her no-nonsense approach. Being too flexible was bad, the best way to improve running is to run. All good in my book. After that it was pack the tent, eat some dinner (couldn’t resist the pizza and halloumi fries again) and head home. Traffic was good and we made it four hours including a stop. It’s taken longer to get back from Bournemouth after the marathon weekend before.
Whilst an amazing weekend, there were some tweaks that could make it even better.
Personally found most of the runs being condensed into the 9am-4pm window limited options due to clashes. Especially for those with families some earlier or later runs would be beneficial and aid child care. A decent length 6 or 7am run would be my suggestion.
As above the food was great but some extra vendors for breakfast would be welcome. Nothing fancy but someone selling breakfast rolls would go down well and help keep the queues down. Looking forward to next year already!