This year has without doubt shaken up any idea of normality or routine many of us had P.C. (pre-COVID). Travel plans were cancelled, weddings rescheduled, gyms temporarily closed, toilet paper even went M.I.A. With diaries wiped to blank slates, many of us had closed the book on Summer plans that would not come to fruition under lockdown. One of the greatest blows to the social calendar was the loss of British festivals. Camping in soggy fields with friends and watching great live music performances has become a mainstay in pop culture.
Of course, that is until 2020 threw things for a loop. Along with missing the little things of everyday “normal” life, COVID restrictions saw many mourning the Glasto season that never was. Afterall, good luck trying to social distance around a headliner stage, or sanitise for that matter. The word “festival” is practically synonymous with happy, albeit a bit grimy, times. While our approach most things has had to change to account for COVID-19, one constant has been the encouragement for people to stay active, fit, and healthy.
When all else was shut across the U.K., we were still allowed our one-a-day outdoor exercise. And therein lies an opportunity for outdoor fitness and wellbeing festivals to make a space for their community and to what they do best – get people moving. But what do these festivals look within the health and safety guidelines? I went to Love Trails Festival in Dorset to find out.
WHAT IS LOVE TRAILS?
Love Trails is the world’s first running and music festival. Established in 2016, Love Trails 1.0 first made tracks in Dorset, where attendees could enjoy full days of trail running, scenic routes to the beach, and adventure activities such as yoga, SUP, and kayaking.
Back at basecamp, festival goes could refuel with tasty grub from a number of food vendors, listen to inspiring talks or live music, dance the night away to a lineup of DJ’s, or simply enjoy the atmosphere of being outdoors, having Type 2 Fun.
Four years on, Love Trails now calls the Gower, Wales home. However in response to COVID cancelling their main event of the year, the Love Trails team have laced up their trainers to bring “Love Trails on Tour" to select locations in U.K. and eventually other parts of Europe.
COVID SAFETY MEASURES
While Love Trails 2019 saw its biggest crowd to date at nearly 2,000 guests, Love Trails on Tour at Dorset saw a strict capacity of 100 people. Capacity varies depending on location and facilities to keep things as safe as possible for everyone involved. The weekend at Dorset limited the group to 100 maximum, while the weekend prior in Brecon Beacons enforced a more intimate number.
Similarly, the Love Trails team asked all folks setting off on runs to keep to groups no greater than 30 at a time. However, this wasn’t much of an issue, as small groups quickly splintered off taking different routes at dispersed paces.
Venue and facilities
The weekend at Dorset was hosted at a local farm stud which offers a large field for camping. Upon arrival, attendees were asked to pitch tents with reasonable space from your nearest neighbour - easily done. While we weren’t necessarily at risk of spending airborne droplets between zipped up tents, a little bit of space ensured there wasn't too much foot traffic in any one place.
Near the horse stables, the campground had a little cafe cart for those seeking freshly baked goods and a warm tea or coffee. In addition to these, most people brought their own provisions to varying degrees.
The grounds had two showers (much needed after a day of trail running) available to the 100 festival goers. To my surprise, people didn’t seem to need to wait long if at all, before a shower freed up. With everyone out on runs at different times, it reduced the bottleneck of shower traffic. There were also four toilets, two on each end of the campsite.
How do you keep a campsite as clean as possible? Well, like most establishments nowadays there were sanitation stations everywhere. Wherever there was common space, or door, or anywhere where multiple people might pass through, there was sanitiser. To me, this felt as sufficient a measure as any conventional venue can offer. If anything, it was reassuring to be in an outdoor environment with health-minded people taking personal responsibility for their actions and looking out to keep others safe too.
WHAT FESTIVAL ACTIVITIES WERE THERE?
Trail running and yoga
Of course, there couldn’t be a Love Trails Festival without endless opportunity for some bounding through trails and day-long excursions on foot. But before any of this, guests could take part in a 45 minute morning yoga session to limber up in the morning. The class was offered both Saturday and Sunday of the 3-day weekend, and both days nearly the whole group took part and spaced out their mats.
In terms of trail running, we were spoilt for choice nestled in the Dorset countryside. Runners could set off on their own routes, or follow on of the many suggested routes for all abilities as mapped by the Love Trails team. The group I was with set off on a 12km loop to Chapman’s Pool, a stunning natural bay cut into the Jurassic coast. We took our time en route, enjoying the scenery, and when we eventually arrived we were met by many other Love Trail-ers jumping into the cold water for a refreshing swim.
The route back took us by Corfe Castle, which looked particularly beautiful against a setting sun. And after a full day out, the pre booked dinner offered by the organisers felt well-earned.
Under normal circumstances, Love Trails might have a list of musical guests to fuel the night with a variety of music. This abridged form of Love Trails hosted one acoustic performance, which was just right for our small crowd gathered around campfires and strings of fairy lights.
Come to think of it, I’m pretty sure this was the first live performance I’d seen since lockdown. It was so good to be surrounded by friends, enjoying the music and each other's company.
The DJ set
After the acoustic set, came a “DJ” setlist. This again, was a change from the usual Love Trials stage which has hosted electro and drum and bass names such as The Correspondents. Instead, the organisers plugged in an expertly curated playlist of beats and trusted crowd favourites like “No Diggity”. And even though there was some dancing, people seemed to be mindful of space.
WAS IT ANYTHING LIKE THE FESTIVALS WE USED TO KNOW?
In truth, Love Trails operating all cylinders is perhaps very different from what comes to mind when one thinks of a music festival. While Love Trails on Tour may not have the many adventure activities alongside the running, the guest speakers, or an array of food trucks, the stripped back vibes felt right for our intimate group size. And the days were ours for the taking.
While it may not look exactly like pre-COVID outdoor fitness festivals, it was distilled down to elements of a festival I think matter most to people: community, scenery, and an opportunity for experiences. We don’t know what the future holds for events like this, but as long as Love Trails continue to host these smaller events on tour, it seemed clear people would come for the outdoor festival experience they’ve been missing.