It was the last bank holiday until Christmas in the UK this weekend, and so naturally everyone had planned an escape from London to try and make the most of that precious extra day off work.
Our destination of choice was Totnes, a town in Devon about 3-hours’ train ride away from London. We decided on Totnes after Ross – who always has his finger on the cultural pulse – heard there was a little music festival happening there for the first time, called Sea Change.
Leaving our respective offices at lunchtime, we arrived in Totnes just before evening, following a very scenic train journey that travels right along the coastline between Exeter and Newton Abbot.
A river runs through Totnes, with the high street sitting perpendicular to this, winding up a hill. This is where nearly all of the town’s shops and restaurants are, along with most of the music venues for the festival.
Reading through the festival programme, I laughed a lot at this particular bit:
Having been to Hay Literature Festival in Hay-on-Wye a couple of times, it reminded me so much of the locals’ attitudes to the festival there, with a small minority treating the visitors (who flock in for less than two weeks every year, bringing the bulk of tourism to the tiny town) with disdain and scowls – and all over a completely harmless literature festival!
Upon our arrival, we headed straight up the high street, past plenty of cute little shops, to Drift Record shop, where we collected our festival wristbands and moved onto the first venue – St. Mary’s Church – to see Nathan Salsburg. It was slightly surreal sitting in one of the pews in a lovely old church, holding a pint of cider, listening to a beautiful acoustic guitar being played while seagulls squawked in the distance.
The clientele for the festival was a mix of hipsters and hippies, families, teenagers, children, elderly couples, diehard music lovers and locals popping in to see what the festival had to offer. I couldn’t sense any of the resentment in the Totnes locals that the festival organisers had implied, but perhaps the naysayers were tucked up at home or had left town for the weekend!
We scoffed a quick burger each (veggie for me) at the pub, and watched a couple more musicians in the church and at Civic Hall. At Ross’ insistence, we headed off the beaten track to the South Devon Arts Centre – via a slightly creepy walk along an unlit path through the woods and an industrial estate – for some late-night music from Luke Abbott and Rival Consoles.
Having had that bank holiday Friday night feeling, quite a lot of drinks were consumed, and we woke up on Saturday morning feeling a little worse for wear. Our host, London-born turned Totnes-convert, Julie, laid us out a great breakfast spread, and after lining our tummies we gingerly walked through her pretty little garden and into town for another day of tunes.
It was market day on Saturday, and the square next to Civic Hall was filled with locally-made bread, cheese, pies and pasties, some delicious-smelling hot food and stalls selling vintage wares. Julie had told us that Totnes is the first ever Transition Town, and we noticed that there is a huge focus throughout the town and in the community on sustainability, strengthening the local economy and being self-sufficient.
After looking around and being tempted on more than a few occasions, we went into Civic Hall to watch Alice Jemima – the first performer of the day. She was a great young singer, songwriter and guitarist from Newton Abbot, who looked as though she may be destined to be the next indie pop star to watch out for!
We finished up at the hall and went to explore more of the town’s high street shops, which included the most amazing vintage clothing store. Despite not being in the market for one, there was a side room filled entirely with wedding dresses from what looked like every decade in the last century, with prices set at a bargain £50 per dress. We continued up the street, meeting more and more cats as we went – seriously, Totnes must be Devon’s feline capital – and I eventually forked out £2 for a rather charming little linen tablecloth for our outdoor table back home.
Our day out continued into the evening, spent in and out of shops, sitting in sunny gardens, chatting to friendly locals and tourists and listening to lovely music. Sea Change was such a great little festival, the schedule and proximity between venues meant that it was incredibly easy and stress-free to see all the musicians that caught our eye. There was no queuing for drinks or heavy-handed security, little to no mud or munted punters, and absolutely zero portaloos. My kind of festival!