Huddled at the back of a 16-seater mini bus, my husband and I started to think that we had made a dreadful, dreadful mistake.
The rapidly descending rain roughly took the serene landscape of Tatton Park in its hands and plastered the horizon with haunting black clouds.
It was the kind of intense rain that you fear will pierce the roof of your house, let alone a rickety old shuttle bus. I sunk lower into my seat as the weather’s urgent ensemble gained momentum.
Will Smith’s hit ‘Summertime’ tinkled out of the bus radio; a cuttingly ironic slap across the face.
16 festival goers exchanged anxious looks, as we hastily removed our shades and cast dubious eyes over our summer dresses and shorts.
Somewhere towards the front of the bus, a child piped up.
“Dad? You said it wasn’t going to rain today!”
“Yeah, Dad,” the child’s sibling chipped in. “You were wrong. Very wrong.”
‘Dad’ coughed awkwardly. “Ah well, you see... I wasn’t wrong – Google Weather was wrong.”
Silence amongst the adults as we were all forced to admit defeat: we were all inappropriately dressed in the face of the cruel joke that is British summertime, and we were going to get soaked.
Luckily, I had used the upcoming festival as an excuse to purchase some new Hunter wellies (being able to fit into kid’s shoe sizes is great – it saves an actual fortune!), so was relatively weather-ready from the knees down at least... It was a shame about the miniskirt, vest top and silkily-straightened hair amalgamation, but never mind...!
We’d had the 2021 Tatton Park Foodies Festival booked for a number of months.
You might think that a festival solely dedicated to food is an anorexic’s idea of a distressing nightmare, and yes, you would be right. However, after a rocky start to the year in terms of my eating disorder, I have found the last few months slightly easier to deal with, and have succeeded in maintaining my weight rather than dropping it.
I know that I’m currently in a precarious position - I’ve been here millions of times before, perched on the edge of another relapse or taking another slow, tentative step towards recovery – but at the moment, I really am loving the balance of enjoying my running and eating good food.
... And where better to sample good food than the Foodies Festival?!
Luckily, the downpour only lasted for around half an hour, and the rest of the day was basked in an ebbing of warmth, in true Great British summer style!
We had a truly perfect day, lazing on the grass on our new fancy waterproof picnic blanket (check us out!) and eating so much we thought they’d have to call in an industrial crane to transport us home. We dog-spotted (the canine version of people watching – much more up our street!) and even witnessed the chilli eating contest (not for me – I genuinely struggle with a grind of black pepper on my bolognaise).
A highlight of the day for me was watching Sophie Ellis-Bextor perform on the main stage! I absolutely adore Sophie; she’s definitely my ultimate girl crush! She’s such a classy, natural beauty, and comes across as such a down-to-earth person, despite her timeless voice.
Sophie dazzled in a ‘human mirror ball’ dress (her words!), and blasted through her Songs from the Kitchen Disco, including Groovejet and Murder On The Dancefloor.
I felt so immersed in the beautifully laidback vibe - dancing bare foot on the wet grass with 4,000 other people under the evening sun, pink lemonade in hand, watching planes creep higher into the sky from the nearby airport. It felt so surreal, after 18 months of solitary confinement. It was the first time in months that life was presenting as somewhat normal.
I think everybody felt the same, as the atmosphere was really quite something.
Any lingering post-lockdown fears were smoothed over. The uplifting art of socialising and turning strangers into friends finally came back into fruition.
"Where did you get that from?!" People could be heard excitedly asking complete strangers, pointing at oozing chocolate brownies and trays laden with chips.
And when Sophie took to the stage, it didn't matter if we knew the person we'd ended up standing next to or not: we all had a fusion of memories in common as her nostalgic tunes struck a chord.
"Love this one!" Chattered the couple next to me.
"Me too!" I enthused, beaming back at them
Foodies Festival reminded us all of the important and stunningly simplistic things in life: family, friends, food and music. It's really all we need to unite us.
Okay, okay, I can’t put this off any longer – let’s get down to business and discuss the real star of the show... THE FOOD!
Our first port of call was Teacakes With A Twist - @teacakeswithatwist / https://www.teacakeswithatwist.co.uk/
When looking over the list of supplies the night before the event, we’d discovered this absolute gem, and had made it our mission to try their products the moment we arrived.
All of our prayers were answered as we feverishly peeled back the teacake wrappers and practically inhaled the beauties that lay beneath the foil. I opted for a Jaffa Cake flavoured teacake, while my husband went for the Kinder Bueno type.
To me, teacakes are buns pointlessly studded with raisins (I mean, just who invented such a monstrosity?! Probably the same freak who concocted the hellish combo of icing sugar and a bread roll. Seriously, iced fingers are the devil’s fuel.)
These teacakes, however, were a definite twist on the Tunnocks variation, and contained various rich fillings, such as orange, Nutella and mint. Genius, and absolutely bloody delicious!
After a healthy start (an orange teacake constitutes are one of my five-a-day, right...?), we figured we deserved a cake (!), so headed across to Lustre Bakery - @lustrebakery / https://www.lustrebakery.co.uk
I’m just gonna’ throw this out there: I will crave my Lustre Bakery cookie every single day for the rest of my life. Oh my sweet Jesus Christ and the donkey, too... There are no words!! Not only did the tantalising selection of cookies and brownies look divinely pretty, but they tasted INSANE, too! We went for the ‘birthday cake and white chocolate’ cookie and no word of a lie, no food will ever compare, ever again. And that includes my Mum’s homemade blackberry crumble.
You must check out their website to truly appreciate the actual 10/10 presentation of these beautiful bakes, and you NEED to order yourself a batch, because they will change your life (...and your waistline, but WHO CARES, THEY’RE SO WORTH IT, OMG!!)
I couldn’t resist dropping by the Flower Crown Magic stall and embracing the festival vibes. @flowercrownmagic / https://www.flowercrownmagic.com/
At £3 a crown, it was an absolute steal! By the end of the day, pretty much every single female at the event was on the flower crown hype. I even spotted an absolute legend of a Dad sporting a very fetching red and white one as he ate candyfloss with one hand and pushed his double-buggy around with the other. What a hero!
Still going strong on the foodie front, we strayed away from the sweet stuff (for now!) and bought a savoury lunch. My husband went for a chicken burger from the Boneless Jerk Chicken stall, while I had a box of vegetarian noodles.
My husband said the burger was his favourite food of the entire festival.
I’d love to know the recipe for the noodles I knocked back in around three seconds flat. When I attempt to make myself a stir-fry, I end up having to pick flakes of stray wok out of the mixture following an overheated escapade.
I could quite easily have eaten another box of those noodles – they were piping hot and brimming with flavour.
‘Tornado Chips’ were a novelty that took us right back to our first ever holiday together in Prague, whereby we had eaten nothing but these whacky spiralled potatoes on a stick. They were proving to be immensely popular at the festival; everybody we saw seemed to be munching on them. Dusted in peri-peri salt, they were every bit as wonderful as we remembered.
We bought a pouch of pick and mix from Sweet Escape @sweetescape_sweetsandtreats / https://sweetescapesweetsandtreats.co.uk
which we vowed to save until the Euros final the following night... Didn’t happen. We scoffed most of the bag while we were waiting for Sophie Ellis-Bextor to come on.
We do still have some Turkish Delight left over, which isn’t surprising considering as the stall holder’s conception of 1kg appeared to have varied hugely from the average person’s. Don’t get me wrong – I love proper Turkish Delight, but we are currently in possession of so many pomegranate and nectarine flavoured cubes of the stuff that I’m genuinely concerned that they’re breeding in the bag.
Naturally, it wouldn't be a day out without me recruiting a new member of our ever-growing green army. I nearly wept with happiness when I saw the Cactus Parlour stall. All of my plant-broody hormones took a surge.
@cactusparlour / https://www.cactusparlour.co.uk/
I’ll admit – yes, I do have a problem, and if a certain plant purchasing rehab existed, then I reckon I’d be first through its doors. I just can’t help myself.
When it comes to people, I don’t have a great deal of time for them, but plants... Well, I’d give my kidney to my cacti, especially the one with the sombrero.
I was under strict orders from my husband to only buy one plant, which was soul destroying, but after much deliberation, I finally chose my guy. (I also got a cacti nail file, because, well, my husband didn’t put a limit on how much cacti-themed merch I could buy, did he?!)
There were so many more stalls we wanted to visit, but I had scoffed so much that I actually had backache and had to have a lie down on our picnic mat! I was also conscious of a highly likely impending diabetic coma situ if I guzzled down any more sugar-infused delicacies. Sadly, that ruled out ice-cream and crepes, although I was so gutted I didn’t get to tick them off my Foodies Festival bucket list.
I knew my obligatory breakfast at home of two Marmite crumpets with had been a mistake. Next year, my game plan is to scrap the breakfast and just go straight for the crepes. Perhaps we should also do one sweet, one savory, one sweet, one savory instead of wolfing down 55 cookies then wondering why we couldn’t finish a small bag of gourmet crisps between us. It’s a bit like the beer, water, beer, water strategy, isn’t it?
Not that alcohol appeals to me in the slightest.*
Give me a cookie and a cactus any day!
* Yes, I am holding champagne on the cover photo. We won VIP tickets are were each given a glass of champers on arrival. My husband stated that he didn't want to look like a 'beer monster' (not quite the term he used, but this a family-friendly blog...) on our pictures holding and drinking both glasses, so made me pose with mine. I can confirm that - as has been the case for the past 27.5 years - no alcohol passed my lips. I did, however, push the boat out and indulge in an orange Fruit Shoot.
Cara Jasmine Bradley