Thu 17 Nov 2022
Why The Big Retreat is a smorgasbord of discovery.
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By Aimee Owen
In 2019 I had never been to a ‘wellbeing’ festival before. I was used to the heady Glastonbury Festival and the mosh pits of Greenman. I didn’t even know that festivals existed beyond music and raving 24/7. But a group of friends asked me to go along, so I thought I would give it a whirl. Who knows, it might even be a heady mix of music, just fronted by contorted yoga teachers.
When I arrived on site, I was blown away. I was half expecting a village jamboree, but it was a professional boutique set up. There were giant flowers and festoons leading up through a woodland. When you reached the top, WOW, the most stunning view in my festival history career. There was a salty estuary, sunshine, and a view of the Cleddau to die for. Apparently, the festival stands on the old foundations of a castle knocked down after the war.
Once I set up my base camp, I headed into the main site. First up was the Welsh food stands, I must have eaten everything going. There was stodgy grilled unpretentious BBQ food from The Peppercorn, so popular by the Sunday they had to restock. Fresh pizzas, vegan trucks, a bakery fronted by Allana from the Apprentice. But the van I attached myself to for most of the Saturday night was a vintage camper turned Gin bar. Gin was never the tipple of my day, but the wizard behind the bar managed to whip up a concoction with basil that was out of this world.
During the day, it was like a curated smorgasbord of dreams. All included in the ticket price was a heady mix of wellbeing. Things that if I had to pay separately, I might never have chosen to experience. I tried everything I could in three days, and there were still workshops, talks and activities I couldn't cram into my day. You would need to spend a week here to try everything.
I put on my big girl pants and went wild swimming in the estuary. I participated in a hugely popular gong bath, which was one of the most spiritual experiences I have ever had. I tried bouncing around on these crazy exercise boots in the Energy field. I tried Pound Fit, which sounds ridiculous, but it actually gets you to break a sweat and is a lot of fun. It involves working out to amazing tunes whilst whacking sticks together - sounds crazy, but you have to try it. I went to climate talks that involved a man from The Bug farm who insisted we try a dried cricket, as it's the next big thing in protein and sustainable food. I even went to a hypnotherapy tent. The expert placed a VR headset on my head, and I had to lay back in a tent with others. Everyone had headphones on or a VR set. The pre recorded message kicks in and flipping, heck you are literally transported into another dimension. You could choose from hypnotherapy to improve confidence, sleep, anxiety…you name it, they had it covered. My friend who was with us fell asleep in that tent, and we couldn't wake him up. All weekend, every time we bumped into anyone, they would say ‘you have to see the Breathwork Guy, he's amazing’. I finally caught up with him in the amazing Shelf Help Talk Tent, where gurus and geniuses share their stories. Unfortunately, I missed his guided breathwork class, but his story was so inspiring.
By the evening, the sky was speckled with stars, and there was a meteor shower overhead. It was spectacular. I headed out with the wild swim guides for a moonlit swim, and you could see from the calm waters the festival site lit up with fire spinners and live music. It was one of the most amazing memories I will never forget. Later in the night there were amazing bands - I remember dancing into the night, but who I saw I can't remember, as I spent too much time drinking gin with the wizard and spinning around the main stage. On the Sunday morning, I went to a very entertaining vegan cookery class with the Dirty Vegan, and I carved a spoon out of a log with an artist. I spent time foraging with a guide, and learned bushcraft skills. I even went to a printmaking session and learned how to cut my own lino print. On the Sunday I booked a massage and the very very popular hot tubs overlooking the Cleddau- my top tip is to pre book these as getting a slot was like gold dust.
I liken The Big Retreat Festival to a huge buffet of discovery, that no matter how hard you try, you can't finish, as there is always something else to discover. You don't even notice the huge amount of celebrities on site. You will be at the bar and you will be stood next to a TV legend or a sports star, and everyone is there to have a good time. The best type of festival is when you leave without a week-long hangover or smell like a dirty portaloo - which leads to my last observation, which is that the toilets and facilities here are as clean as a whistle.
What a weekend, one that I will definitely be back for in 2022. I can not wait.
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