Road to more fun…

For our second festival, Monty takes us to the Cotswolds and an adventure on the silver screen for a weekend of fascinating films and inspiring people. The Adventure Travel Film Festival brings together films of the most amazing journeys and adventures, talks and masterclasses in a wonderful and all-inclusive setting.

Festival of funs, part two

The Adventure Travel Film Festival

The summer festival season is relatively short. Inevitably some events overlap or take place on the exact same dates. Our second festival – The Adventure Travel Film Festival – started while Fringe by the Sea was still running, but with a long drive between the two, we managed to make the most of both.

After breakfast with a view, we left it in the sunshine on our third day in North Berwick and set off south to the Cotswolds. It was a long way, but most of the journey was on fast roads, so it was relatively easy driving.

We arrive at Hatherop Castle, near Cirencester, at about 9 pm, just in time for the first of their starlight screenings, open-air on the grounds and, yes, under the stars. Monty was quickly parked up in the camera van field just in the nick of time to get a drink and sit to watch the film.

The festival is an eclectic mix of films with an adventure travel theme featuring some amazing and wacky people on unusual journeys. As you’d expect, the films are of all lengths. Some are well shot and produced, while others are a bit rough around the edges but no less interesting for it.

This festival has been going on for ten years in the UK and Australia. It was started by two of life’s free spirits, Austin Vince and Lois Pryce. Both are adventure travellers who now travel together on a motorbike with a sidecar. Austin is a filmmaker and Lois is an author. They’ve been a couple for many years, and their characters are very much ever-present in the delightful atmosphere of this event. They’re both highly visible and extravert. Austin seems to be everywhere, telling jokes and relating stories of adventures around the world on his motorbike. While Lois is at the heart of the music jam sessions with her banjo.

The Friday evening’s starlight viewing was directed by Austin in 1997 and showed the adventures of two school teachers from England who spend their summer holidays trying to discover the real America. They hitch-hiked 10,000 miles around the USA and filmed an interview with everyone that gave them a lift. It’s called Roadside USA. They did this dressed like the Blues Brothers but with straw-coloured hats rather than black ones. It was delightfully eccentric and amusing.

This festival is infectious. From the moment of arrival, having spent 5 minutes chatting with the guy at the gate checking tickets, there were smiles everywhere, and we didn’t stop for the whole three days! Everyone was so friendly. Refreshingly there were virtually no smokers or yapping dogs either.

A flavour of the festival – eco-friendly and everything done well, but with a nod to our planet

Films were scheduled from 9 am until the 9.30 pm starlight viewing, and there were about five different screening rooms and tents to choose from. There were also a few talks and workshops by fascinating adventure travellers but in all honesty you could have spent the whole weekend in the outdoor cafe and dining area on the lawn at the centre of the event, or round the late night campfire, and had the most wonderful time just talking to people!

Mike and Alana setting off, with envelope containing test results

On Saturday afternoon we watched one of the longer films about a couple who travelled the length of the Americas in a motorcycle and sidecar which she couldn’t drive!
Here’s the premise:

“British newlyweds Mike and Alanna Clear decided to do things in reverse. So they spend their first three years together, testing their marriage to destruction! They bought a 1930s-styled URAL motorcycle and sidecar, shipped it to Alaska and then set their sights on Ushuaia, 20,000 miles away in Argentina. Rather brilliantly, the stress kicked in well before they left because they had a secondary mission: to make a serious documentary about what it takes to hold a relationship together. A project they cleverly called ‘Going The Distance’.

En route, they interviewed hundreds of couples (which in Mormon Utah comprised of considerably more than two people) and asked them what it took to make a marriage ‘work’. The resulting film is one of the last decade’s most original and remarkable films. An odyssey in the truest sense but more than that, a film that has absolutely no competition. A stand-alone masterpiece.”

We wanted to go to a campfire cooking workshop an hour into the film but couldn’t leave it without knowing the outcome. The relationship part of the film was also fascinating. Before leaving, the couple conducted scientific tests to evaluate their compatibility by DNA matching, psychological assessments and brain scans to see their responses to each other. The results were sealed in an envelope only to be opened on arrival in Tierra del Fuego.

Going the distance – the end of the road , Tierra del Fuego

The film was life-affirming in a way. They fought and argued at times, danced and sang, laughed and cried, as you’d expect in any close relationship. They hated and loved each other, but between the footage of this couple and the interviews with the people they met along the way, a picture was built of what makes a relationship work – the compromises and the challenges.

They said they learnt a lot from both the trip and the couples they met. We won’t tell you what the envelope contained, in case you ever get to see it.

After a brilliant skiffle band – Junco Shakers – entertained everyone for an hour or so, the Saturday evening starlight viewing was a film from 1932 called Twice Upon A Caravan. American Robert Fulton Jr graduated from architectural college and decided he wanted to see the architecture of Europe before settling down to his career. His father told him not to stop in Europe and carry on until he got to Japan! So he set off on a motorbike for the adventure of a lifetime. Remember as you watch that this was in 1932, and many places didn’t have the road network or surfaces they have now. 

“Fascinating footage of one of the world’s first and greatest motorcycle adventures, Robert Fulton’s 1932-33 journey from London to Tokyo. Narrated sixty years after his incredible ride, this is an inspiring and insightful film from a true pioneer of motorcycle travel.”

It was a brilliant film, although the last 5 minutes of a privileged young American giving his appraisal of the world that he’d witnessed left a little to be desired. Maybe that’s just a context changed by the passing of time.

It was magical to watch the film outdoors on a big screen too. Even when the light rain started about two-thirds of the way through, everyone stayed in their seats, getting wet from the warm rain, to watch. Only when it started to affect the sound system did anyone move, but the organisers stopped the film and continued it in all the other five viewing areas so nothing was missed.

Always people to talk to and music to listen to

Sunday was a shorter day, with the festival finishing at about 2 pm, but nonetheless, there were lots more films to see. We signed up for a foraging workshop late in the morning with bushcraft expert Kevin Palmer. It was fascinating, and in September, Kevin and Chris are going foraging together, and we’ll publish a photo story on the experience on Eye for the Light.

A tricky festival to photograph, with most of the events being screens showing films, often in low light, as this was the main focus and the point of the festival, but you can always find little details which hint at the atmosphere. If we’re honest, we were more interested in experiencing this than hunting for photos.

Foraging masterclass with Kev Palmer

On the last day, we heard the sad news that this would be the last Adventure Travel Film Festival. After ten years, Austin and Lois have decided to embark on new adventures together. They’ve created something really special with this festival, and so many fascinating and inspiring people attended it. Our wanderlust is coursing through our veins, and new adventures beckon!

Austin (standing with glass of wine) and Lois (seated in striped top) socialising with festival goers

Maybe someone will take it over and keep it going because it is a brilliant event, which we’ll undoubtedly return to if they do. If it comes back, keep an eye out for it, and put it on your must-go list. But regardless, festivals like this are reel treasures, free from corporate takeover and just chockablock with wonderful people.

All in all, it was quite a week. It is what life should be about, surrounded by creativity and adventure, away from depressing news and self-centred people, and in the great outdoors. Revitalising and uplifting – now we can breathe again!

All images © Chris Coe


By Chris Coe

Chris is a professional photographer, and the founder of Travel Photographer of the Year. He has been working as a professional photographer since 1992, shooting both editorial and advertising photography, and has published over 50 books. He lectures on and teaches photography, mentors and is a competition judge.