As I write this I am filled with mixed emotions because I didn’t stay for the full festival sadly, so as you read this review please keep this in mind – I left in the evening of the first full day to head back home for several reasons – I hadn’t been in my own bed for over two weeks due to NCS residentials, I was utterly exhausted, my other half was aboard (I was missing him terribly) and I had two family members in hospital – so I was a mixed bag and had so wished this was on another weekend but hey ho…
The Women’s Trad Festival has been around for 4 years now, this year all the tickets sold out within 3 minutes of their availability online! I had been toying with the idea with a friend and was disappointed to find out they’d all gone when they had, so I put my name down on the reserve listing (fun fact: women were still putting their names on the lists the night before the festival began!). This is one popular event!
There are four types of tickets – Learners (no experience or very little), Climbers (competent in all aspects of single pitch trad climbing), mother and child and a Rescue Course. Naturally, having no experience on grit, I opted for the Learner ticket; with this ticket, you can borrow equipment and are matched up with an experienced mentor/teacher and another learner of similar experience to you.
So, I was on the waiting list and one day an email said a space had opened up and I have 48 hours to accept – not being one to think about things for long, I accepted and paid (I thought it was a reasonable amount at around £100. I wanted to learn in a comfortable environment!)
The prior information was good – you fill in the standard health and permission forms etc. and they sent information about the event. The only thing you don’t learn is who your mentor/teacher is and the other person climbing with you – this is given on the day at check-in (they might need to change groups around it). I found out I had the same teacher as I had for my Climbing Wall Instructor training – Ali Taylor, which shows how small a world it can be! I also have a lovely woman with our group, named Catherine – we did make an interesting combo, what I was lacking in physical ability I complimented her technical knowledge – so we both were learning from each other as well as Ali.
Anyway, I’ve skipped ahead. The venue for this event was at Chalk Farm, near the town of Ringinglow in the Peak District – just a short drive from Burbage. The event was easy to find and easy to get to – as I was driving straight from the NCS residential in Bristol I was on the motorways all the way (4+ hours there, only 2 1/2 on the way back!!).
The layout of the site was simple enough. The organisers had signed posted it well, there was plenty of space and it had great views from the tent! I set my tent up and straight away got chatting to others – many from North Wales or around the Peak District area; some who were coming for the first time, some who had been before – the women were very open and chatty and it didn’t feel judgmental at all. I was nervous, as was the new friend I’d made, as we both thought they’d be a lot of friendship groups already but a lot seem to have turned up on their own!
Check-in was quick and easy, I had a look at the DMM stall at their kit, the items on offer for the raffle, the shoes for hire from Tenaya and information about the Pinnacle Club (several members were there). This isn’t a festival with a lot of stalls, it’s small, it’s intimate, it’s really nice.
Upon check-in, the volunteers find your goodie bag. A tote badge with Gilly’s wonderful design on, a toilet roll from Who Gives a Crap (you’ll need it for the portaloos when the rolls run out!), a Rab kitted logo headband, a DMM non-locking carabiner (with WTF 2019 engraved), ClimbOn mini bar and your event T-shirt*. All useful and well thought of goodie bag items!
*The t-shirts were all hand-printed and ironed – over 300! Red is for learners, yellow for climbers, green for mentors/teachers and blue for volunteers. An excellent system! I hope they don’t change the colours as I’d love a yellow top one year!
You could also purchase one of their enamel or china mugs with its super super cute design on, drawn by Gilly.
So, the first night was just setting up, checking out the site and relaxing, the next day was all the action!
The day started with a lot of anticipation from everyone! I think if the organisers had said “let’s go climbing at 6am” a lot of us would have said “YES!” Many were ready, in their T-shirts, and raring to go – we had a talk from the organisers about how the festival started off with just 60 women and over 300(!!) were attending in 2019; how the festival nearly didn’t happen this year (due to venue change/insurance but BMC supported them) and how they want it to continue and expand – its just becoming so sooo popular and time-consuming for them!
After the initial, find your mentor and climbing buddy, it was time to set off for the grit. We headed to Burbage to try out some routes and learn some new things. For me, I learnt just how grippy grit is! I’m used to the coloured plastic holds of an indoor wall where the thinking isn’t as complex as being outdoors. Ali kept telling me “trust your feet” and “placement is not where you expect” [referencing, tiny tiny holds]- she was encouraging and I did enjoy it whilst doing it – I just wished I could have been in a better mind and physical shape to fully enjoy it. We did a few routes, I learnt a few things and enjoyed the time but knew, when we were due to head back to the campsite, that mentally and physically I needed my bed and to relax in time for the last NCS week of work… (at least this week wasn’t a 7am-10pm daily job!).
Would I go again? Absolutely! I would love to go with a friend though to share the experience long after the event but feel comfortable enough to travel up alone.
I highly recommend this event to women interested in trad or just getting outdoors for the first time. It’s not a straight forward “learn trad” as you might expect on a paid course, it is much more than that and the experience from the mentors/teachers shape your experience. Ali knew we wanted the experience over the technical side of things (for now) so made that happen and I’m grateful to have felt listened to and “in control” of the experience.
I’m really pleased I went, as mentioned, it probably would have been better on another week for me at least, but it’s sparked an interest and I hope to attend the event again. I wish all the organisers the best, as it continues to be so popular I hope the BMC and/or other sponsors help them with additional support and, if possible, put on more dates throughout the year to meet with demand (hint, hint!).