On further exploration Leeds Dock had much more to offer than just the boat races. There were various stalls heaving with customers perusing everything from custom tees and vintage clothing to locally brewed beer and homemade chilli sauces – as well as a mini fairground on Armouries Square, keeping the little ones occupied.
The masses of indie food vendors present were taking a roaring trade, with huge queues forming as the smells began to reach the spectators at the water’s edge. Fish& were in keeping with the aquatic theme of the festival, serving the classic British staple fish and chips with a twist, as well as their bestselling salt and pepper battered calamari. Opposite them stood Selby based husband and wife duo Olley and Olley, who market themselves punnily as ‘a case of real sausages’, promising that their whole hog sausage will exceed all your previous sausage eating experiences - having even convinced culinary legends like Rick Stein to agree. My, albeit difficult, decision led me to head for the queue at Mexican Pilgrim after receiving several raving recommendations of their mega stuffed burritos. Being handed a burrito that weighed the same as a small dog it’s an understatement to say the Mexican maestros are generous with their portions. Biting through several layers of avocado, refried beans, jalapeños and hot sauce (pulled pork and chicken were also on the menu) I wasn’t disappointed - this culinary experience was intense but hugely satisfying.
Not being able to resist any sort of foodie temptation I stopped by Northern Bloc's stall to pick up a scoop of their divine Yorkshire Parkin ice cream - making note to check out their Earl Grey and Lemon and Ginger Caramel flavours next time. The team at Northern Bloc are making a real name for themselves on the Yorkshire dessert scene using natural flavouring and locally sourced produce, and news of their stall was quickly spreading at the festival. Other unmissable stalls included Leeds’ Bread Co-op, whose filled doughnuts and wholesome breads were being quickly snatched up; Smak Sausages creating a smoky storm with their freshly barbecued kielbasa polish hot dogs; Market Wraps doing wraps the right way and The Little Yorkshire Pie company selling every pie you could imagine, all filled with locally sourced produce. If you were after a drink Tall Boys Beer Market were on hand with various craft ales both bottled and on pump, with Be at One’s Beach Bar providing a refreshing mojito (or two) for those needing a pick me up after too much fun the night before.
In addition to having a team of boat competitors dressed in bin bags with ‘Bellies not Bins’ emblazoned on their back present at the dock, The Real Junk Food Project also had one of their pop up food boutiques offering ‘pay as you feel’ food and drink items which had been intercepted from stores and restaurants from around Leeds. Other charities who were also present included the Jane Tomlinson appeal, one of the many official charities endorsed at the event, as well as representatives from the Canal and River Trust and Aire Action Leeds. With all the thrill from the Dragon boat races, over 20 street food vendors present and kids’ entertainment sorted - Leeds’ Dock was showcasing the city at its best. A strong and uplifting sense of community flowed through the dock as festival goers rallied on the charity sponsored boat competitors in their ridiculous costumes while tucking into some hand held edible lovelies from home-grown Leeds traders, locally brewed beer in hand. One thing is for sure, I’ll definitely be back for more at the dock next year.
Walking into Thwaite Mills was like entering a time warp, the grounds alive with not just Leeds Waterfront festival goers but also Steam Punks dressed in elaborate Victorian dress with a mechanical, science fiction twist. This created a magical, almost surreal element to the already picturesque and historical setting of the mills. The Steam Punk festival featured costume and accessory traders, artists and authors who were all working within the subgenre and was set in the fitting location of the mill within the aged and slightly eerie mechanics of the water powered mill. Beside the Steam Punk fair taking place within the walls of the mill, the grounds were full of various exciting activities for all.
Catering to a younger audience, a bouncy castle and organic candy floss stand stood shaded by the willows. These were staffed by a charmed cast of pirates showering plumes of glitter over ecstatic children who were a little over giddy from their sugar rushes. Elsewhere huddles of little ones were avidly engaged in a number of craft activities dotted around the grounds. A marque of stalls had various crafty offerings including a teddy bear hospital with a selection of knitted goodies and a stall manned by bespoke craft maker Natasha Joe presenting her array of intricately handcrafted necklaces and earrings, as well as a selection of homeware and interior accessories. Natasha’s usual spot is at the monthly ‘The Stalls’ Art and Craft Bijoux market at Arts @ Trinity on Boar Lane, and her stall was attracting a lot of attention at the festival from those looking for unique artisan pieces. Just to the side of the marque was a tarot reader and spiritual healer, accompanied by vegan and vegetarian caterers Turpin’s Taters adding to the alternative and liberal side of the festival.
Winding round the Mills’ flowered paths I arrived at the riverside lined with vividly coloured barges ready to take the snaking queue of festival punters for a free ride down to Leeds Dock. The free rides proved a popular and alternative method of festival transport, as well as a quaint way to experience the waterfront as the barges dreamily meandered up and down the scenic canals.
From family fun and crafty entertainment to Steam Punks and barge rides, Thwaite Mills had it covered at the festival last weekend. Despite being only a small drive (or barge ride!) outside the city centre Thwaite Mills transports you to a scenic, quintessential British countryside setting where you’re surrounded by greenery and the soft burble of the turning mill. With the sun shining and ice cream van at hand Thwaite Mills had that classic British summertime vibe down to a tee and was well worth a little family trip out of the centre.
#Junk Boat Building at Granary Wharf
Granary Wharf was also a hive of activity over the weekend with the highlight being the Junk Boat building Challenge. Did you know that together we generate over 400,000 tons of waste in Leeds alone each year? Taking advantage of this and to mark National Recycle Week, a group of volunteers gathered at Granary Wharf during Leeds Waterfront Festival to build a boat out of junk! Under the slogan ‘one person’s trash is another’s treasure’ the group worked all day Saturday using all forms of junk to put together a boat/raft.
The place was scattered with junk from old tires and wooden boxes to plastic cans. Save for an odd screw or cable tie each piece of material being used was waste. The team worked away the whole of Saturday amidst eager onlookers, all enjoying the beautiful weather and in anticipation of seeing the boat sail the following day.
By Sunday evening, the ‘junk boat’ was ready to take to the water! And after being tested at Granary Wharf all morning the boat managed to sail through the main stretch of the river Aire and was paddled all the way to Leeds Dock! This year was a test event and the group hopes to run a full-scale junk boat competition and race next year.
This year's festival proved a roaring success, with a fantastic turnout from both festival goers and the weather! Here's looking forward to another year of waterside fun.
Reviewed by Rebecca Peartree