Meeting The Garlic King
I love when I meet someone who seems larger than life. Someone that exudes a passion for what they do, with stories that captivate and have you hanging on to every word. A person that can make you believe in something you never gave a second thought about, simply by watching the excitement in their eyes, the enthusiasm and intensity in their every spoken syllable. When I met Colin Boswell, I knew I had met someone special.
Mr. Boswell is the driving force behind the Isle of Wight’s popular Garlic Festival. He has dedicated his life to growing garlic on the Isle of Wight, and has traveled the world to not only find the bulb’s origin but to discover new varieties that can be grown on the UK’s sunniest island. They call him the Garlic King.
The Garlic Festival on the Isle of Wight began in 1983 as a community event, and now hosts over 25,000 garlic lovers a year from all over the globe. At first glance, the festival is all to familiar. Local charities and companies selling raffle tickets and homemade goods. A large tent offering pints of beer at hard to swallow prices, though no more unreasonable than you would find at any other festival in the UK. Families enjoying a picnic, live music on the stage, concession stands aplenty. The epitome of British festival season.
Yet, there was something else in the air. Sure the wafts of garlic are expected- but somehow The Garlic Festival felt special, and I couldn’t quite put my finger on it until I met Colin Boswell. Although it had been arranged for me to meet Mr. Boswell beforehand, there was some confusion when I arrived and it didn’t seem like it would work out in the end. But as chance would have it, as we were heading out the festival’s press officer told me that Mr. Boswell was waiting to speak with me.
Within five minutes of shaking hands I had learned of his time as a door-to-door encyclopedia salesman in the American South, his ice cream truck career in inner-city Detroit, and had an invitation for dinner at his home. After stopping at his local pub for a pint, we made our way to his gorgeous home on the property of The Garlic Farm estate. I met his daughters and his wife and other close friends as we shared a meal and terrific wine around an enormous dining table.
Things like this don’t usually happen. It was actually the first time I had ever been invited into a family home since living here, and it was by a total stranger. We talked garlic. We talked history. We talked about the boy whose grandmother grew garlic in her garden and went on to create an entire industry around the seemingly insignificant bulb. Mostly though, we all just got to know one another, as new friends do.
Foodies, Rejoice! The Garlic Festival on the Isle of Wight will challenge those tastebuds.
The next day I returned to the Garlic Festival with a new appreciation for the work and commitment and love that started it all. I dove in trying garlic corn and garlic bread, garlic mushrooms and the ‘full-on’ sandwich stuffed with an entire bulb of garlic puree, salmon and cheese. I relished in the black garlic chocolate chip ice cream and swallowed down the garlic beer. The only mistake of the day was the garlic coffee- not the best way to get your caffeine in the morning.
I ended my time at the Garlic Festival at the Cookery Theatre where I took a seat for a garlic cooking demonstration and a talk by the man himself. I looked around the room, watching as the garlic lovers hung on to every word about their favorite culinary ingredient. We were passed around varieties of fresh garlic, listening to the back story of each and every clove before chomping down on the raw delicousness.
Colin Boswell talking about his travels in the name of garlic.
I took one last walk around the festival grounds. I saw a local magician entrancing a crowd of local children with deceptive delights, a dog race where the four-legged participants were cheered on by folks sitting on hay bails in the sunshine, and hundreds of people relaxing in front of the main stage as a classic rock band played with energy and pizzazz. The Garlic Festival on the Isle of Wight felt like a strange mesh of country living and typical England- I’ve never seen a place quite like it.
As we waited to board our catamaran to take us back to the mainland, we agreed that a trip back next summer was an absolute must. I fell in love with the island community who welcomed us with open arms, I only wish we could have extended our stay. A weekend on the Isle of Wight was too short, but at least I have my dreams of garlic ice cream to get me through until the Garlic Festival comes round again.
Getting to The Garlic Festival on The Isle of Wight
Ferry operator Wight Link runs up to 150 ferry crossing a day from Portsmouth and Lymington, to three different locations on the island. For foot passengers, you can take the catamaran from Portsmouth Harbour to Ryde Pier which is connected to the railway stations and takes only 22 minutes. (It took me less than five minutes to get from my train via London to the catamaran.)
Where to Stay
I pitched a tent at Ninham Country Holidays Park, set in the beautiful Isle of Wight countryside only a couple of miles from the festival. The facilities were the cleanest I have ever seen at a campground, modern and eco-friendly. They also have self-catering options available and can arrange activities such as fishing and tree climbing in the local area.
Travel Tip: The Isle of Wight is world-renown for its scenic cycling routes. Getting around by bike on the island is challenging, but tons of fun. Wight Cycle Hire can deliver your bikes to the campground by prior arrangement. Book your bikes at their website here.
Do you have a favorite foodie festival? I’d love to hear about it!
Disclaimer: My trip to the Isle of Wight for the Garlic Festival was in partnership with Wightlink. All content and opinions are my own.