This year my annual pilgrimage to the Exeter Festival of South West Food and Drink was just a little bit different…
Usually, my husband and I would spend the whole weekend indulging in the tasty morsels and various beverages on offer, catching up with friends and soaking up the atmosphere of the ‘After Dark’ parties.
There would be competitions to work our way through as many of the real ales as possible and we’d enjoy slowly wandering through the marquees, stuffing our faces with the finest south west cheese, pastries, chutneys, cured meats, seafood, cake and chocolate.
We’d dip in to watch a chef demo or two and spend time and money with the multiple producers showing off their fine fayre.
This year for us meant the arrival of little F into our lives and we were excited to initiate him into what has been our local foodie highlight of the year. Delicious food and drink and the opportunity to watch some top chefs at work, all on our doorstep.
But would it be the same with a 10 week old? No of course not! For a start there was the logistics – no walking in and having a few drinkies this time. When the forecast is ‘light rain’ and you need a shed load of baby paraphernalia and a quick escape route in case it all goes wrong, driving is the only option.
Secondly there was the fear of manoeuvring the pram around Exeter Castle and Northernhay Gardens without getting wedged/running people over. Taking F in a carrier wasn’t really an option because of the weather, besides, he might only be 10 weeks old, but he weighs getting on for 3 bags of sugar, not great for the posture over any length of time.
And what about getting in the nooks and crannies to really explore what the producers had to offer? Or watching the cookery demos and running the risk of ruining it for everyone with a screaming baby (like that annoying person at a wedding)? Well, there was only one way to find out…
The proof is in the pudding
We arrived early on the last day of the festival to avoid the crowds and found that a few minor changes had been made since last year, including a larger covered bar area now on the right of Castle courtyard with more seating – that was our refuge sorted if the heavens opened then!
Some familiar faces were there, including Gourmet Street Kitchen with their luxury mac n’ cheese and Tom’s Pies (self explanatory…), but it was a delicious chicken satay dish that I devoured first from newbies The Charcoal BBQ Company.
After stuffing our faces, the first pram-related challenge we faced was getting through the little doorway and down the steps into Northernhay Gardens without tipping the contents (namely, our son) onto the path, but thanks to the big strong husband this was easily managed.
Then we just had to be overly confident and forget that the pre-parent us has said we’d never take a pram into the busy marquees if we ever had children. Ignoring the signs that said ‘Pushchairs to be left outside the tents where possible’, we managed one full lap of each area, pausing in less busy spots to try the odd taster and purchase goodies. We may have made much less of a meal about it than previous years, but we still had a good nosey and came away with bacon, sausages and gin – not a bad combo in my book!
Feeling smug about our haul, we rewarded ourselves with a Baileys latte for me (heaven in a disposable cup) from Camper Coffee Co and a Tarka ale from Otter Brewery for my hubby. By now the sun had started to peep through the clouds and we sipped our beverages whilst perusing the outdoor stands.
Although F is too mini at the moment to do much other than lie in his pram and take in the sights and sounds, in the future there will be lots of child-frindly activites for him to join in with, from pizza making at the Darts Farm ‘Food is Fun’ teepee, to baking classes in the Fun Kitchen and learning how to milk a cow with the NFU.
I actually wanted to have a go at that one but managed to restrain myself. There is definitely plenty to entertain little ones though and help them to understand the importance of where food comes from. Thumbs up from me!
fed and watered
I noticed that there was a feeding and changing area signposted in Northernhay Gardens, which was a relief as I had visions of having to manage in the portaloos (which actually are quite socially acceptable). Predictably though, F waited until we were back through the stepped doorway and in the Castle Courtyard before demanding to be changed and fed. Instead of getting in a flap about ploughing through the busy queue back to the garden side claiming a nappy emergency, we found a quiet spot on the steps to the VIP area. It was easy and fairly secluded enough to then change and feed him without feeling lots of eyes in us. We also managed to share a fresh cod bap (with homemade tartar sauce, very tasty) to the music of Folklaw who were onstage at the same time (we even bought their CD, pushing the boat out!).
Ironically, once we were all finished, a festival worker approached to compliment F and ask if we needed to pop inside to change him etc. At least the thought was there and good to know it could be an option for next time.
And I am already thinking of next time, because as we enjoyed a glass of Pebblebed fizz and did one final lap, grabbing Michael Caines on the way out for a picture, it was with a sense of achievement that we can still do these things. Yes we did the festival differently than in pre-baby life, but it was still fun and thanks to a little planning, not stressful. So roll on next year when F will be that bit older and able to enjoy it with us – he’ll be first in the queue to milk that cow.