"FESTIVAL? What festival?" Standing in the open courtyard in
front of the east wing of Boughton House, we were looking over
pristine lawns that led up towards parkland and fields. The view
was uninterrupted, the evening peaceful.
Boughton, the Northamptonshire home of the Duke of Buccleuch,
can absorb a festival of 15,000 and hardly notice it, it seems. On
the other side of the house, people were playing on another vast
lawn, that ran down to various water features. Then, through a belt
of trees, the festival proper: a pop-up village of marquees and
Below the walled garden were the main stage and further tents;
then another belt of trees, and the huge camping area. Finally, in
other fields in the far distance, the cars were parked. One thing
it wasn't was cramped.
That is one aspect of the Greenbelt Festival. There is another,
of course. Moving house is usually traumatic, and moving something
as big as a festival more so, especially after Greenbelt had
settled so successfully at the Cheltenham Racecourse, its home for
the past dozen years. The organisers have been on tenterhooks,
therefore, throughout the year: would the punters come? And would
they like it?
The answer was yes. We spoke to many people over the weekend,
and the overwhelming view was that the new site was a success. A
few missed the reassuring feel of concrete which Cheltenham
provided. More missed the plumbing. But all agreed that Boughton
was far more beautiful, and appreciated the compactness of the
festival site, and the expanse of the surrounding parkland.
There were negative comments. Country roads and farm tracks are
not designed for thousands of vehicles that turn up at roughly the
same time. Limited access to the site meant long and frustrating
queues to get in on Friday. And getting out was no picnic, either,
especially in the dark and the rain. The organisers struggled to
cope on Monday and Tuesday with sloping grass car parks and rutted
Expanse has its negative side, too. Despite advance warnings,
many campers were unprepared for the distances that they had to
walk from the car parks to the camping fields, and from the camping
fields to the festival proper.
Other festivals show photos of happy young things walking along
with backpacks. Greenbelt attracts a much wider age range, and some
people are not very good at the concept of travelling light, which
was the festival's chosen theme. (Stewards saw a dining table, an
ironing board, and a plastic tank of pet snails being carried on to
the site.) Golf-buggy taxis did their best, but it was a learning
So, slow access, distant car parks, dodgy mobile-phone coverage,
queues for the lavatories - all things that might have been tackled
better with more foresight; but all things, too, that the
organisers can fix for next time. The Greenbelt crowd is, by and
large, very forgiving. So the cold at night and the rain on Monday
- beyond the control of the organisers, of course - were met with
stoicism. "Soggy but happy," was one Facebook comment.
All this assumes an ordered mind that weighs up pros and cons
before committing something to memory. Once again, though, people's
recollections of Greenbelt will be based on flashes of experience:
listening, thinking, realising, dancing, and singing; and there was
a surfeit of these.
Our verdict? We were relieved and hopeful. Everyone knew that
this was bound to be a bit experimental, but Greenbelt could not
afford a trial year. The festival had to work, and it did -
spectacularly at times. Watching the crowd at Boughton was like
observing the beginning of a love affair. No wonder the campers
want to get closer.
Our full Greenbelt festival