I really didn’t want to leave my campsite in the Cotswolds. I was sharing a 4 acre field with a few campervans, a portaloo and fantastic weather. It was so nice to arrive back each evening and be able to lie outside reading until quite late. I felt chilled and relaxed and really didn’t want to move on.
On Friday morning I packed up slowly and sorted out my gear for the weekend. I didn’t know how far from the car park I’d be pitching my tent and so packed my lightweight tent, a change of clothes and some dried food into my backpack. Rain was forecast for Sunday, but after the dry week I didn’t expect things to get too muddy and so only took my sandals, leaving my new wellies in the van.
I programmed my TomTom which informed me I was 29 minutes away from Charlton Park, the Womad venue. I phoned my friends to let them know when I’d be arriving and get any last minute packing tips. At this point in time I was a bit excited about finally going to Womad, but also regretting leaving my nice field and feeling a bit apprehensive about the whole thing – would the toilets be really disgusting with huge queues? Would I be able to wash my hair? Would I feel safe leaving my tent unoccupied? Would I get on with my colleague’s friends? Would I have the feeling of being ripped off the whole time? And so on. As usual when I feel apprehensive about something I actually really want to do, I just told myself not to be stupid and to get on with it. I also quite liked the apprehensiveness as usually when I feel this way I end up having a great time. So after a last check for stray tent pegs I was off.
The drive to the ground was quite traffic-free and even once at the ground the queue to get in and park was moving, albeit slowly, but so much faster than I’d expected. Friendly stewards seemed to be all around directing people and everything was well sign-posted too.
Once parked, I locked the van and hoisted my backpack and went to find the gate to get in. It took only about a minute to walk to the gate and I joined a queue of about 20 people waiting to show their tickets and get wristbands. I phoned my friend again to let her now where I was and she asked me to phone again once I was through the gate. I thought this might take a while, but as soon as I hung up I was through. There were lots of people taking tickets and issuing wristbands and they were really quick, so there was no waiting time at all. I called my friend again and got directions to the La-Di-Da Loos near to which they were camped.
It was a less than 10 minute walk and really easy to find. My colleague has a big bell tent and she was sleeping in this with a friend. Her son and his friend were sharing a smaller tent and her friend’s daughter had her own small tent. I erected my tent in the small gap left between the tents and someone else’s gazebo and together we had our own corral. We were completely surrounded by tents of all shapes and sizes and by Saturday there was barely space to walk without having to step over guy ropes. As I usually camp in lonely fields, seeing so many tents packed so closely together over such a wide area was a new experience for me and I stared in amazement.
Once my tent was sorted it was time to explore, listen to music and chill. First stop was the La-Di-Da Loos so I could pay £10 for a wristband entitling me to use them. These are a posh version of the portaloos that were all over the site. The toilets look like the sort you would have in a bathroom, even though they are flushed by chemicals. There are wash basins with running water, soap and handcream. The toilets and basins are basically in 3 caravans joined together under a large tent of which the insides had been covered in pleated fabric and chandeliers had been hung from the roof. In the centre was a large space with 2 sofas and several long tables with mirrors, hairdryers and an array of hair products, spray deodorants, wipes and so on for customer use.
Next we wandered through a kind of village street lined with food outlets, a grocer’s shop, a camping supplies shop, a branch of Oxfam and a newspaper stand. All the shops had been created from portable kiosks, vans and tents. Towards the end of the ‘street’ was an Alpro tent. I love their desserts so we called in to see what was on offer. They gave us some free vanilla and chocolate desserts and told us that they would be doing free breakfasts, free lunchtime smoothies and continuing the free desserts each day of the festival. So that’s breakfast for tomorrow sorted then.
Finally we got to the arena and showed our wristbands to the stewards on the gate. The arena area was huge, with various stages – the main stage was open-air and then there were other tented stages as well. There were also streets lined with shops selling clothes, musical instruments, jewellery, bags, food, skin products, carvings, lamps, things to juggle with … The food stalls interested me the most as there seemed to be a real array of international cuisine on offer and it all looked tasty, well-prepared and relatively healthy.
We joined some other friends and lay on the grass in front of the main stage drinking a beer and enjoying the music. It was hot and I lay looking at a blue sky with not a single cloud in sight. How fortunate, after all the rain over the past few months, is it that this weekend has such gorgeous weather? It really would have been quite horrible to have been ploughing through mud, unable to sit down, not able to go anywhere without piling on the waterproofs, and feeling cold and wet whilst standing around trying to get into the spirit of things and enjoy the music!
Anyway, the rest of the weekend passed in a similar vein – up early for a first breakfast in the village street, chilling around the tents before going for a second free breakfast at the Alpro tent, wandering towards the arena in the afternoon and then sitting listening to music or meandering around the stalls for a few hours, eating delicious food, having a beer, going to bed late.
It rained a bit on the Sunday morning but not nearly as much as we expected having seen the forecast. It had stopped and everything was dry by the time the music started at lunchtime. On Monday morning it was sunny and warm again and so I was able to pack my tent dry. We took our time packing up, but others seemed to be taking even longer as there were still lots of tents up when I walked back to my van. I thought it might have taken ages to get out of the park but as it was when I arrived, everything was moving and it didn’t take long at all. Once out on the road there was no traffic at all. No-one without prior knowledge would know that Charlton Park was in the process of emptying out 10,000 festival-goers.
So, that’s another goal from my list achieved. Would I go again? Yes, definitely.
Below, I’ve highlighted certain aspects of the festival and the weekend in general.
Japanese noodles, Spanish tapas, Thai curry, Carribean goat curry, Cajun gumbo, Lebanese mezze, English fried breakfast, porridge, Mexican nachos, stone-baked pizza, fish and chips, Indian curry, sausage and mash, muesli, salads, roast chicken, pies – the variety of food was overwhelming. There was so much I wanted to try but not nearly enough time. All the food was quite reasonably priced, not cheap, but not unreasonable for the size of the portions and the quality. It was tasty, often healthy and sometimes organic. Much of it was locally sourced. Needless to say, my dried noodles stayed in the bag.
I was given a pack of recycling bags when I got my wristband. Throughout the site all the rubbish bins were divided into four – paper and cardboard, plastic, glass, and general waste. Much of the food packaging was was recyclable e.g. paper and cardboard trays and plates, wooden cutlery (the sort of wood disposable chopsticks are often made of), sauces that you squirt from a big bottle rather than individual sachets. Some food stalls offered a discount if you had your own cutlery. There were water taps throughout the site from which you could fill your own containers with regular tap water, but for the people who would normally buy chilled and bottled water there were stalls selling a refillable bottle for £5. This bottle could be refilled throughout the weekend with chilled and filtered water from any of their stalls. If you wanted the chilled and filtered water but had your own bottle you could pay £3 for a wristband entitling you to it instead.
They were cleaned each morning and stayed relatively clean throughout the day. There was plenty of toilet paper and outside each set of toilets was a line of hand-sanitiser. The blocks of portaloos were spread all over the site and although queues could seem long, there were actually that many loos that there was never more than one person per loo waiting. Only on the Monday morning was there a problem. I think because it was the last day and the toilets would be removed the trucks hadn’t come to clean them. Of course, almost 10,000 people still needed to use them and so some of them, for the first time, got really gross.
To use these I had to buy a wristband for £10. I’ve described them above so won’t go into detail here. The idea of them is great and when they work they work well. But there were lots of downsides. They are only open from 7am to 10pm. The 7am opening wasn’t too bad, but the 10pm closing time was way too early. Most people are still out listening to music at this time and so can’t use them when they are returning to their tents and getting ready for bed. Also there was only one set of these posh loos. This meant in the morning there was a big queue and throughout the rest of the day they were too far from the arena to use. The use of the products was great but some of them did start running out after one day. Also the toilets weren’t cleaned until later in the morning well after the other portaloos had been cleaned. As they are closed during the night surely this would have been the time to clean them? When you are paying so much to go to the toilet I don’t think it’s out of order to expect these few things to be sorted. I did like being able to use the hairdryers though and not having to go to bed with wet hair.
Lots of them, but there was still a 2 hour queue in the mornings. I had showers at night when they were mostly empty. They were pretty clean and had a space to put your clothes to keep them dry. The water was hot and the jet was strong.
Children under 16 got free entry and the festival was really child-friendly. There were lots of free workshops for kids to take part in such as making pin-hole cameras, pottery, and drumming. There was also a fairground. The children’s wristbands had a space for a mobile phone number to be written in case they got lost. We hardly saw the young teenagers in our group, they were busy doing things all day or else just chillin’ round the tents. There was a whole section dedicated to family camping for those with young children.
What a mix. Babies to quite elderly people. Very middle-class and lots of old hippies. The Guardian was the newspaper on site and was giving away free bags with each paper. The Guardian was probably the best choice of newspaper to be there as the crowd in general seemed like The Guardian reading sort. People were really friendly and it was easy to strike up conversation. This wasn’t just the festival-goers but all of the people working at the festival too. In fact I think it’s the only place I’ve been where, when leaving, the stewards not only directed the cars out but waved goodbye to everyone too. I didn’t see any drunken, aggressive or anti-social behaviour at all.
Even when there were queues they were usually fast moving. The only exception was at some of the food stalls and the morning shower queue.
I felt safe the whole time. I didn’t leave valuables in my tent as I’m sure there will be people who get tickets to these festivals solely for the purpose of stealing what they can, but in general it seemed very safe.
I suppose I should mention music seeing as it is a predominantly music festival, but I’m definitely not the best person for this. I like music and heard some really good music (Algerian singer Khaled is the one who most stood out for me). But I’m tone-deaf, can’t pick out individual instruments and most of the time can’t even tell if someone is singing in tune. Often I was very far from the stage, so it was a case of listening to rather than watching the bands. Some big screens would have been good so everyone could see what was happening on stage. The music could be heard throughout the site and I loved hearing it in the background as I wandered around. I also liked lying in my tent at night listening to it as I went to sleep. It was never so loud as to make sleep difficult, but loud enough to be clearly listened to all the same.