Eden Festival: A Cautionary TaleBy Victoria Bishop -
In a bid to rekindle my love for festivals since my mobility took a turn for the worst two years ago, my partner and I decided to take a chance on Eden Festival, a modestly sized festival near Dumfries.
As this was to be my first experience as a disabled festival-goer I was apprehensive and had some questions I wanted answering. Three attempts to make contact with the festival organisers via their website went unanswered but we decided to go for it anyway.
Arriving just before dusk on the Thursday evening, the queues told us we were late for the party. As we drove through the packed camper van field I spared a thought for anyone arriving the following day and wondered if bringing a 4-man tent would prove a mistake.
The festival site planners seemed to have had some difficulty deciding where best to put disabled campers. The original plan, according to the large hand-painted signs, had been to designate a small area in general camping closest to the main arena gate where the ground was flat.
This spot was also close to plenty of disabled toilets and the only shower facilities on site: 8 showers in total, one for every thousand people…
The realisation that a thoroughfare used by 8,000 people might be a horrible place to camp evidently dawned at the eleventh hour and, on arrival, disabled campers were instead redirected to the family camping area situated at the furthest end of the site on a small hill above the festival arena.
Although preferable for those wishing to be slightly more distant from the crowds, this location had one notable drawback; no disabled toilets.
Apologies to the squeamish but I need to talk about toilets. I'm relatively new to having mobility issues and, in my former life, had even mastered the popular and hygienic “hovering” method of using festival portaloos.
After setting up camp I decided to reacquaint myself with festival facilities for the first time in two years only to discover that not only were my “hovering” days well behind me but my days of “needing a handrail or similar so I can stand back up” had arrived!
I'd been lulled into a false sense of mobility by unconsciously using the side of the bath and the wall at home. 11pm in a dark, cramped cubicle, the mingled sounds of reggae and dubstep vibrating the damp plastic walls was an unfortunate place to learn that standing up was going to require using my hitherto clean hands.
To cut a long and revolting story short, I stocked up on hand sanitiser at the earliest opportunity and made a mental note to keep an eye out for disabled cubicles.
The festival arena was about 5 minutes from the disabled/family camping. Of the two possible routes leading to the action, one was a well-lit stone path rough enough to puncture car tyres so a perilous obstacle course for wheelchair users or anyone unsteady on their feet.
The other route cut through the disabled camper van field. Still no disabled toilets in sight but these hardy campers seemed well prepared with their own on-board facilities. Setting out across the unlit field, my stick in one hand, a can of lager in the other and no third hand to hold my torch, I promptly tripped and fell flat on my face. Note to self; buy a head torch.
Friday dawned and there was plenty going on, particularly for families with young children. A very reasonably priced vintage dress from a stall run by a lovely lady cheered me up, as did a gourmet hot dog from one of a vast array of food stalls.
We even found a usable disabled toilet (hooray!) hidden in a staff area. An outdoor stage in the woods looked particularly impressive with its hammocks and hay bale seating. Sadly, performances on this stage were sparse and ended early in the evening after which there seemed to be very little to occupy the less agile.
The smaller music venues and bars were to be found in an area aptly named The Snake Pit. A series of winding tunnels constructed from tall reed fencing created the illusion of a wicker labyrinth which lead from one venue to the next.
During the day this was fun to explore and a really novel way of getting about. After dark, however, packed with impatient crowds surging from all directions practically climbing over each other, I felt like I was in an ant colony reacting to a gas attack! For fear of getting trampled we navigated our way to the exit and admitted defeat.
Back at the camp site the following morning we noticed gaps where previously tents had been. My neighbour explained that some people had gone home early due to boredom, a damning indictment considering it was only Saturday.
By lunchtime we reached the same conclusion. Driving towards home a few hours later we both agreed we had definitely chosen the wrong festival.
It's a shame Victoria had this negative experience at Eden Festival. Here at Limitless Travel, from personal experience and from recommendations from our community, we know that many summer festivals do have great access for those with disabilities and impairments. We recommend both Glastonbury and Download festivals as ones worth looking into. If you want more ideas of festivals to go to that suit your accessibility needs please get in touch.