Big Chill Festival at Eastnor Castle

The Big Chill first came to Eastnor in 2001 as a small festival with a dedicated following of fewer than 10,000 fans.  It was not a festival that aimed to attract huge crowds to mainstream acts, but rather specialised in up-and-coming performers, including a number of DJs.  The festival also had a cinema, poetry area and arts trail, and as we soon discovered, delicious food stalls and some very good shops selling clothes, music etc. The audience mostly camped in fields we made available around the main site which was in the Deer Park.

The licensing authority was generally supportive as they were keen to see an event like this come to Herefordshire and bring the delights of the county to the attention of a wider audience, whilst local people, who were understandably nervous of  the possible noise and disruption, were willing to give it as chance, perhaps encouraged by the prospect of free tickets if they lived close enough to be affected.  All went well at the first Festival, although the event caterers bought all the bread from the local supermarket on the Saturday morning, which was not popular with regular customers.  On the other hand, the organisers also spent several hundred thousand pounds with local suppliers and recruited local students to work on the site during the festival, so the economic benefits were well appreciated.

Over the last ten years, the Big Chill grew bigger, but it kept its relaxed attitude and low-profile security. At its height, it attracted 25,000 festival goers, with a further 5000 working on site.  It became an important event in the Herefordshire summer calendar and a useful way for us to fill the Park programme over the month of setting up and dismantling. More famous acts included Leonard Cohen, Lillie Allen and Kanye West when the main stage area was heaving with spectators.  The weather never let us down, amazingly, and the Park recovered, free of litter, after a few weeks. 

After missing 2012 because of a clash of dates with the Olympics, sadly the Big Chill decided it should close.  It had not attracted quite enough visitors and competition in the middle of the summer for the few headline acts every festival needs was too intense.

I am very sad it has gone as it was an exciting event and unfailingly attracted my elder children to come home for the weekend!  I understand the tradesmen of Ledbury will miss it too, but we are on the look out for a replacement event…

JH-B  10th February 2013

The Big Chill is opening its gates to early bird ticket holders today, and the festival starts in earnest on Thursday evening. Over the last two weeks, a team of festival workers has been setting up the site. The image with this blog shows the main stage nearly complete, but without wiring for sound and lighting. The duck that can be observed in front of the stage will move on to a more welcoming environment before the first chord is struck. Elsewhere on site, other stages are appearing, the fences are mostly up and a few festival goers are appearing in the area and buying last minute tickets.

This year, there is a great line up, headlined by Kanye West, the Chemical Brothers and rodrigo y gabriela. The famous DJ, Mr Scruff, is back, and there is an Art Trail presented by Saatchi Online. There is storytelling for the younger element and, importantly, cocktail bars, real ale and gourmet food for everyone else.

For those who want every day items, an hourly bus service is being run into Ledbury, two miles away. This should boost business and provide a safer transit than the verges of the local roads. Big Chill radio is about to go live, and we have had the great benefit of having a mobile phone signal here for the past week as the temporary transmitters in the Park have been turned on. The weather has been kind during the last two weeks, and we hope it lasts over the festival period. Glastonbury is for mud, and we do not want to compete.

3rd August 2011


Big Chill Set Up

The Big Chill has rolled into town, or rather into the Deer Park at Eastnor. Yellow signs warning of possible delays and denying access to area not normally associated with the event, except by the seriously, lost, have appeared like pilot fish in advance of the progress of a whale. Aggreko generators have sprung up amongst the oaks and whispered to life as well, providing power to the Production and Licensing Offices and other facilities for the team on site.

Before the stages are constructed, up to 15 miles of fencing is put up to make the site secure. The articulated lorries delivering these weighty loads arrived in good weather with firm ground conditions, which was a great help. Trackway goes down to make a temporary, all-weather road across areas where we cannot put new tracks, and bridges are thrown across streams and ditches to allow access from camping areas to the main site. Lighting in the form of strings of light bulbs stretches across the fields to guide the Chillers to and from the main arenas. Day by day, more elements of the festival appear, with the first arrivals due in a week.

It is a great activity to observe. All has to be in place before the authorities will allow the festival to start, so there is a great sense of urgency. Strange items are delivered to the Castle by mistake, so they are quickly transferred to the Park. As the start approaches, access to the Park gets harder, and 24 hour a day buzz increases. It will all look and sound wonderful when the time comes, and we hope thousands will have a memorable visit to Herefordshire and Eastnor for this great event. They always have so far.

28th July 2011

We were asked to talk to Countryfile about the Big Chill and the effects on the natural environment in the Park as a result of the festival and camping. It was part of a John Craven investigation for the programme, and with over twenty years’ experience of looking at country issues for the BBC, John was likely to be a wise and perceptive interviewer.

The Park at Eastnor is in the Malvern Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and parts of it are within a Site of Special Scientific Interest, although the sensitive flora and fauna are not in the part used by the Big Chill. There is also a herd of red deer, which have traditionally grazed the grassland and sheltered amongst the oaks, but for health and safety reasons they are confined to an area outside the event and public camping sites. So Countryfile would have some pertinent questions to ask about the impact of the Chill, and how the park could recover after the event.

The Big Chill agreed to let the cameras in, and the festival director, Melvin Benn, gave the lead interview. He explained how the Chill was motivated to work as far as possible on green principles, maximising recycling and minimising its carbon footprint. He emphasised the effort made after the Festival to clear all litter and the Chill’s Leave no trace policy.

John then came to see me at the Castle, where we could see the site from a distance in the setting of the Malvern Hills. He arrived in an authentic VW Camperbus, a reminder that he had attended an early, if not the first, Glastonbury festival. We discussed how the ground recovered and also the positive economic impact of the Chill on Ledbury and Herefordshire in general. Luckily, Melvin and I seemed to say much the same, and the litter pickers have been covering the ground since the festival closed with Lily Allen’s closing performance on 8th August.

We look forward to the Big Chill’s return in 2011. 

To see the Countryfile progrramme click on to BBCi player –

The Big Chill returned to our Park at the beginning of August, under new management but with the same guiding spirit. For nearly three weeks before the event and for about two weeks after it, the Park is transformed from a relatively peaceful area of woodland pasture into a festival site, with a temporary trackway, security fencing, lighting, Aggreko generating sets, Portacabins, tents and, of course, stages for the performers. It is an amazing process to watch, but with experience from Glastonbury, Leeds, Reading and Latitude festivals, the organisers had everything ready for the three-day programme.

The weather, the key factor in determining how the ground fares and the comfort of the festival-goers, was good, if not hot. A little rain in the build-up period helped to make the grass green, so the Park looked fine. All grazing stock had to be removed four weeks before the start, so we had to mow the grass, in long straight lines, before the set up started, but the trees helped to create a good rural atmosphere, and no-one felt they were on a golf course.

The Big Chill employed a number of local teenagers, but also including the son of Belgian friends of ours, who finished the fortnight speaking much better English, although with a slight Yorkshire accent. A number of businesses in the area also benefited by supplying good and services to the festival, balancing the inconvenience that some will have suffered when the traffic to and from the site was heavy. There were about 30,000 festival-goers and workers in the Park altogether, and most of them seemed to be in front of the main stage for Lily Allen’s closing act on a Sunday night. There was a great atmosphere.

We are lucky to have the Big Chill in Herefordshire and look forward to their return in 2011.     JH-B  20th August 2010