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Living the High Life

Toby Buckland at Toby's Garden Festival with The Higher Beings

Ever wondered how the professional stilt walkers who entertain us at Toby’s Garden Festival manage not to fall over? Our flower-bedecked Festival friends Abi and Star – aka The Higher Beings – reveal all…

How long have you been stilt walking and how did you get into it?

Abi – I got my first pair of stilts 20 years ago. I was working in a club in Covent Garden and a stilt walker came to the event. I remember thinking “Wow, I want to do that ! ” so I bought a pair of stilts. I am sure I must have walked hundreds of miles in them by now.
Star – My father made me a pair of home-made wooden stilts, primarily as an amusing way for me to help him prune the apple trees in the orchard.

How did you get the knack?

We both learnt it quickly. Some people really enjoy it and some people are terrified. The key to success comes from positive thinking, you have to think, “I can do this ! I will succeed! “There are lots of helpful tips that a circus tutor can give you !

We hear you have a new member of the team this year?

Dreckly Dragon is our huge beautiful walking Dragon. He is 13ft long and over 7ft tall. He travels to events in his own livestock box trailer. He is a very friendly Dragon, and also quite a show off. He has even been known to enjoy a dance. He gets a lot of attention as people love to stroke him and take photographs of him. He has even stared in a TV promotional advert with a princess! Both of us have loved dragons for a long time, so we welcomed Dreckly onto the team but being a Dragon owner is not for the faint hearted. We plan to take him to lots more places this year.


How do you find Powderham Castle and Toby’s Garden Fest as a location?

What could be better than beautiful Grounds, historic buildings and fascinating flora. The locations are spectacular but we also love the people. Gardeners are happy and friendly people. Toby’s expertise and easy going persona, the location and the people undoubtedly make it a unique event.

Who comes up with your ideas for outfits?

Our costumes are a team effort. Inspiration is all around us in nature, the elements and mythology. We often have an idea in mind and visit the fabric shops to browse all the fabulous colours, textures and patterns . We go home and lay the fabrics out. It is at this stage when the design comes together properly, we work out what will go where and start to make them. The floral costumes were one of the first costumes we made (18 years ago) and we’re inspired by spring time and the mythology of the Green Man. There must be over 40 costumes and still more in our heads.

Do you ever fall over?

It’s the second most asked question the first one being “what’s the weather like up there?” Falling is not something you want to do on stilts. Nevertheless you should wear knee pads. We have both fallen of bouncy power raisers , these are a type of sprung stilts which you can run and jump in. They are very different to normal stilts and it’s very tempting to take risks on them when you are learning. Fortunately all that was hurt was our pride and our enthusiasm remained intact. A stilt walking partner of ours once tripped on a marquee guy rope at the Greenwich Mayfair, and was mortified to hear the event commentator announce it over the PA – “Look out , the stilt walker has gone over ! ” Luckily for him he landed on soft ground. We have both had some near misses but find you can usually walk your way out of a problem.

Come along and meet the Higher Beings and Dreckly Dragon at Toby’s Garden Festival on 27th and 28th April at Powderham Castle.

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