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Elements: a look back at Sidetracked magazine's first festival

Alex Roddie
Alex Roddie
5 min read
Elements: a look back at Sidetracked magazine's first festival

We did a thing. And, weather and a few logistical issues aside, it was a good thing.

The idea first emerged last November. Picture the scene. Kendal Mountain Festival had finished for another year, and team Sidetracked got together for an AGM. Graphs, plans, ambitions – followed by Jenny Tough's famously fiendish pub quiz, and then much beer- and wine-fuelled hilarity late into the night. Someone, I can't remember who, said 'Why don't we do a summer festival next year to celebrate Sidetracked's 10-year anniversary?'

Within a couple of months we were up to our necks in planning. The venue, Kudhva, was settled early on, but otherwise there were so many questions. Gradually the elements of a truly memorable weekend began to take shape.

We knew that we wanted to offer an adventure weekend, which meant climbing, hiking, running, swimming, surfing. Then there's the creative side: writing and books, photography and art, filmmaking and other forms of storytelling. Other activities would include yoga, bushcraft, and foraging. And to round things off, some great music and entertainment in the evenings.

Somehow it all came together. Last Thursday, my wife Hannah and I drove down from Scotland, picked up Emily from Devon, and arrived at the site to find a full-scale gale blowing. The tipis had already been pitched, but were at risk of taking off in gusts approaching 50mph.

At one point I found myself alone at the big 'Main Hub' tipi at the top of the hill, single-handedly trying to save it. Everyone else was away doing other jobs. Stakes had come out of the ground, and I was hanging onto a tension strap with all my might, occasionally being lifted off my feet by monster gusts. My pants were wet. My boots slithered for purchase in the mud. I couldn't let go of the strap or the massive iron stake would be flung into the air, probably braining me or ripping a hole in the tent. And I realised something: I was really enjoying myself! For a moment I imagined myself in one of my dad's stories of life on the river in the 1970s, hauling on rigging to prevent Yorrel from being wrecked in a storm.

Soon I was joined by my friends, and together we managed to secure the shelter. Luckily the wind died back shortly after this, but heavy rain made things spicy all weekend. The steep access track deteriorated, and we had problems getting vehicles up into the site – as well as essentials such as loo blocks and generators. It's also got to be acknowledged that our schedule didn't allow enough time for guests to get between activities, and required adjustment on the fly. Lessons learned there.

However, in the end none of this really mattered.

The vibe of the festival was fantastic. I've heard so much enthusiastic feedback from visitors – people who had enjoyed their first taste of climbing, who had picked up valuable insights into writing or photography, or perhaps just had the chance to meet and chat with one of their outdoor idols. Put a bunch of creative, adventurous people together in one place and good things happen.

I didn't get the chance to go to any activities beyond Matt and Ellie Green's filmmaking session, but I did help to run all four of the writing workshops, which were held in our lovely little bookshop and library tipi. This proved to be a quiet, chilled space where folk could curl up on a beanbag with a book (one visitor even took a well-deserved nap). Hannah ran the bookshop, and was an asset – not only selling books but also answering questions about them and their writers.

The writing workshops were a great success. The first, which Jenny hosted, introduced writers to the Single Moment format (a type of short piece we run in Sidetracked), and we heard some really creative ideas from the audience. Emily and I were at all four sessions, joined by Daniel for one and Jenny for three.

At one point, sitting there next to my friends – the skilled professionals who craft Sidetracked together, people very dear to me personally, with whom I've shared precious mountain days – I looked out over a full library tipi, at the engaged and passionate writers who had come to learn, and I felt totally content. Storytelling evolves, and yes the industry has its challenges, God knows. But the stories that matter will always be told. It's such a privilege to be part of that.

In the evening, when John announced to a huge and cheering audience that Sidetracked had made it to 10 years in print, when I realised that our community had grown so big and so diverse, I could not have been more proud.

Elements was a celebration of good things. And although we're all still catching up on sleep days later, I'm so glad we pushed through when the planning challenges felt overwhelming. Over the years there have been times when I've wondered if we should focus on what we do best, just concentrate on the magazine. But what is creativity without community? We can, and we must, nurture both.

John has said 'Don't ask me about next year yet.' Personally? I can't wait.

Look out for tomorrow's blog post, with more on Sidetracked Volume 30 – our special 10-year anniversary edition.

Header image © Rachel Keenan

SidetrackedNotes

Alex Roddie

Happiest on a mountain. Writer, story-wrangler, digital and film photographer. Editor of Sidetracked magazine (I make the words come out good).

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