Scottish Highlands & Orkney - October 2019
THE ISLANDS OF ORKNEY
October 24th 2019 - November 2nd 2019
I have family living in the Scottish Highlands, a particularly pretty part of the world. I went as far north as the Orkney Islands, about as far north as you can go within the UK before the Shetland Islands. Orkney is a hot spot for archaeology, single malt whisky and traditional folk music - a great place to go if you want to escape dense metropolitan areas.
I was treated to a scenic walk along the edge of the uninhabited Brough of Birsay on an unusually clear autumn day. You could spot the Scottish mainland, dozens of miles across the horizon.
Sometimes you won't see another person for several miles. The air is a pleasure to breathe. Owing to persistent winds, few trees grow in Orkney, giving it a distinctive rugged appearance.
I flew via Edinburgh - a city I've actually not been to before. Sadly I only had about 45 minutes to explore before my connecting flight. It rained the entire time. Perhaps another day I'll get a better look.
Here is the family moggy, Millie. A very pretty kitty.
Boomtown Fair - August 2019
BOOMTOWN - A RADICAL CITY
August 7th 2019 - August 11th 2019
Boomtown Fair is a large annual music festival in Hampshire, UK that has been running since 2009. Presently it has a capacity of about 65,000 happy ravers and features a variety of live music, DJs, theatrical performance, arts fairs and political talks. The organisers go to great length to promote environmental awareness, which is ironic as festivals like these are arguably a disaster to the local environment.
Several months earlier at a pub in Brighton, my partner and I were invited by our friends to join them at Boomtown. I'd never done a large music festival before. I'd nearly gone to a few during my university years which were all cancelled by the event organisers at the last second. At 27 years old, perhaps too soon I'd feel too old to drop everything and go camping in the mud. Actually, I felt too old already, but after some convincing by my better half we went online and purchased tickets. Comfort zones be damned!
In the days leading up to the event, we watched the weather forecasting with increasing worry. Hopes of sunshine quickly faded when the yellow weather warnings emerged for storms, rain and wind. So be it, we shrugged, and went shopping for waterproof trousers and wellies.
Boomtown isn't anywhere near as big as say, Glastonbury, it is quite a new event (this was the tenth year) and had been growing quickly. I really feel like the event could use some better organisation at a ground level. Sure, the marketing and stage design is top level, but by crikey the stewarding was shocking! Arriving on site we were misled for directions to our campsite by multiple stewards. What should have been a 1 mile walk from the West Gate to our campsite turned into a 3 mile trek around in circles - not fun when you each have 90kg of hand luggage and it's raining.
Most people being their own tents (there are posher accommodation options for those who can afford it) and there are a selection of camp sites. You can 'slum it with the masses' at the sites near the festival centre e.g. The Lion's Den. Or if you don't mind walking it's a good option to camp further out where it's quieter at night. We eventually found our way to Whistlers Green - the most chilled area of the whole festival - the fringe zone for hippies and pagans to set up stalls for 'upcycling' workshops and carving wooden spoons.
The ground was very chalky, which made pitching tents extremely difficult. A lot of people arrived without suitable camping gear and failed to peg their tents down. As 50mph winds started hitting us many of the tents simply blew away, often slamming into neighbouring campers. I found myself up all night feverishly hammering down stranger's tents in the howling rain for the sake of self preservation. Again, the stewards were of no help whatsoever dealing with rogue tents - not even when I pointed out the health and safety hazards with snapping poles given it was a campsite with small children. They were simply untrained, unequipped and unprepared to deal with any kind of problem.
But I wasn't at Boomtown to point out health and safety, I was on holiday. My partner and friends did very well to shift my grumpy mood the next morning. We went exploring into the beautifully decorated Psy Forests, Tangled Woods and then the City Centre itself. The stages were ornately done with love and craft at each and every corner. There was also a surprisingly good selection of hot food available catering for veggies and vegans too. We had packed a lot of soup sachets and a camping stove, but we ended up buying hot jacket potatoes, Thai street food and vegetarian chili filled baguettes for dinner instead. T'was yummy, and good fuel for dancing!
Apparently after the previous year there had been complaints about the sound quality at the stages, so great technical care went into this year's set up to make everyone sound louder and clearer. It paid off and every band I got the privilege of seeing sounded amazing, even when standing toward the back. I won't try to list every single band and DJ I saw (I lost track anyway) but here were the highlights for me:
-Asian Dub Foundation
-Salt N Pepper
-Prophets of Rage (the energy at this gig was unreal, there was A LOT of moshing)
-Beans on Toast (manages to be political and positive at the same time)
Due emergency tent maintenance during the storm I sadly missed:
-Infected Mushroom :( :(
Here's a link to a poster showing the 2019 line-up.
There were other artists I wanted to see, but Boomtown schedule strategically to clash the popular events and avoid everyone at the festival pooling at one particular stage. I would recommend you plan your day in advance and make a decision on which artists to prioritise seeing. You won't get to see everyone you want to I'm afraid.
The festival prides itself on eco-awareness and caters well for hippies, pagans and other lovers of planet Earth. There was a very large presence from Extinction Rebellion. I spoke with various activist groups, we were encouraged at every turn to recycle and there was a good provision of recycling points within short walking distance.
I don't believe this is the fault of Boomtown as such, but this event increasingly attracts a variety of selfish prick colloquially known as 'The Bucket Head.' Bucket Heads, or "Roadmen" (a new word for "Chav") arrive en mass, take large quantities of bad acid, Ketamine or MDMA and proceed to get off their faces, causing a nuisance for everyone else. For these cheeky boys, a festival is a 5-day-long bender in a field, an excuse to be rowdy, classless and obnoxious. Theft was a problem too, so was sexual assault. The private security firms were widely critised for being ineffective at tackling criminal behaviour, targeting the wrong people, even in some cases acting as the criminals themselves. Reading up on the Facebook event threads afterwards, it seemed that hundreds of people had been a victim of theft or vandalism. Further scrutiny is required here.
At the end, my friends and I 'left no trace' but disappointingly so many people abandon their pop-up tents and the pastures are strewn with plastic rubbish. For all the promoting eco-awareness Boomtown makes, thousands of people are just inconsiderate wankers and dump their crap regardless. Some self-policing could be helpful here, if people are brave enough to call others out on littering.
Oh, and anyone who tried to get a National Express coach out of Boomtown on Monday will tell you it was like Dunkirk meeting the last helicopter leaving Saigon in terms of chaotic desperation!
Bucket Heads, bad weather and stinky compost toilets aside, it's all good memories from Boomtown 2019. The festival looked and sounded amazing. The bands played well. The vast majority of people were lovely. We arrived home tired, soaked and smelly. I think we slept for two days straight. I'm being asked if I want to go to Boomtown 2020? That will depend on the line-up