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 monument to members of the Somers Cocks, my mother’s family, stands on an outlying hill in the Malverns range, just inside the Eastnor Deer Park. It is visible for miles and is a popular resting place for walkers on the footpath that passes by. The views are long, with Wales in the west, the Cotswolds in the east and the Forest of Dean in the south.

Last year, we repaired damaged stonework and had scaffolding all the way to the top, making the monument look more like a pagoda from a distance. The cost of the work was grant aided by English Heritage and the Country Houses Foundation. The views from the top, if you had the courage to get there, were even better, and last year the weather was better too, so Nimbus Construction enjoyed the job.

This year, we have been re-carving the indistinct lettering and having it blacked with paint to increase legibility. The work is being undertaken by Philippa Fawcett from Bristol and her two assistants, Chris Baker and Richard McPhail. In the image, Philippa is shown with Richard.

Two hundred years ago today, ie 8th October 1812, the son of Lord Somers, Edward Charles Cocks, was serving on Wellington’s staff in the Peninsular War and was killed at the siege of Burgos. His father, who had just started building the castle that April and had already commissioned his architect, Robert Smirke, to build the monument too, immediately dedicated one of the panels on the monument to his son, so it is highly appropriate that we should be returning the elegant and moving words that record his short life to a condition in which all can read them.

JH-B    8th October 2012

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 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 the 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

Our Works Department has been restoring Golden Gates Lodge, a listed building in the middle of our deer park on the Ridgeway drive that used to bring carriages down from the British Camp on the Malvern Hills to the Castle gates in the village. Lucy, my wife, has been in charge of the decorations and furnishings. The Lodge has long been by-passed with the inevitable cattle grid speeding vehicular traffic on its way to the woods for off-road Land Rover driving or to a nearby farm, but the Lodge has been let and kept in good order.

Recently, with the Big Chill and other busy Park events, it has not been as peaceful a place to rent as it should be, so we decided to make it our second furnished holiday cottage. It joins another Park property, Peacock Villa which we have been letting successfully from this spring and has one double bedroom, sitting room, kitchen and bathroom on the larger, west side, and a double bedroom and bathroom on the east side. We have rebuilt the supporting wall for the lower garden, which has a wonderful view over the Park, and made a patio there for warm weather use.

The Lodge lies close to the footpath which crosses the Park and takes walkers up onto the ridge of the Malvern Hills and the Worcestershire Way. (See the cottage gallery for views of the surrounding area) The Ridgeway Wood, just behind the Lodge, is a Site of Special Scientific Interest, and visitors can follow the drive up to the gates at the top of the Ridgeway or join another footpath that crosses it and leads up to Clutters Cave, also on the Hills. It will be a great place to stay. JH-B 3rd June 2010

This year’s Big Chill attracted record numbers to our Park and they are booked to return next year, which is good news. In the meantime, the clear up has been going on for the last week or so, with litter picking being an important part of the job.

Everyone knows that litter is a feature of modern life, like queues at airports, speed cameras and unreliable weather. Put over 35,000 people in a relatively confined space with plenty of food and drink, and, luckily, warm and dry weather, and you have a formula for a litter problem. But it is a predictable one, and the organisers of the Big Chill believe their own “Leave no trace” motto, so picking up the litter, both during and after the event, is an absolute priority.

Here is an image of the team at work, sweeping up and down the main event field and doing an excellent job. I would like to have heard their comments, but am not fluent in eastern European languages, which also means I could not thank them eloquently enough for their work. After the Big Chill has left, our Park is litter free, which cannot always be said for the rest of the year. Then we will start restoring the areas of damaged grassland which could not be protected by Trackway, so that absolutely all trace will have disappeared…  JH-B    19/8/09

We have hosted the Big Chill in our Deer Park since 2002, and it gets better every year. The image shows what it looks like from the top of the castle, mostly camping on the left and mostly event on the right. The full details are all on the Big Chill website: www.bigchill.net and images of this year’s event from the site and there are highlights on www.youtube.com

Before the festival got going, there was an opportunity to take part in an attempt to make the largest zombie movie ever, called I spit on your rave, led by Noel Fielding of Mighty Boosh fame, and produced in a collaboration between Warp Films and Film4. Early arrivals dressed up and had their faces painted and then followed directions from the film companies on site, with the first rushes being shown at the end of the festival.

Our works team have the stressful job of ensuring that drinking water, which arrives in huge road tankers, and supplies for the showers reach all the areas of the camp sites. The Big Chill prides itself on providing good services to its ticket holders, and the same standards apply in the main arena as far as food and drink are concerned. Organic, exotic, local, hot & cold refreshment is all available, as are Thai massages and a Victorian funfair. It is a family-friendly mixture, which this attracted record numbers in sunny weather. We love having it here.   JH-B     11th August

Eastnor Park

As we prepare for the Big Chill which is taking place in the Park and on surrounding land between 7th & 9th August, a friend has sent me a quotation from the letter of Henry James to Charles Eliot Norton, written at the time James was staying in Malvern in March 1870 trying to recover his health after an extended visit to Italy.

He wrote: “I walked away across the country to the ancient town of Ledbury, an hour of the way across the deer-cropped slopes & thro’ the dappled avenues of Eastnor Park…,a vast & glorious domain & as immensely idle & charming & uncared for as anything in Italy”.

It is nice to have had a mention, if perhaps not entirely a flattering one. Although much of the Park remains deliberately as wild and uncared for as we and Natural England would like it to be, some of the area covered by the distinguished author would not match his description, as the image shows. It is tidily mown and awaiting thousands of visitors. However, readers can follow the changes in the Park over the next ten days and beyond on the Big Chill blog spot: https://bigchilldiary.blogspot.com/2009/07/looking-good.html written by veteran journalist, Simon Gandolfi. I hope the after images look as good as the before images.

JH-B
30th July 2009

Last weekend we hosted the great 24-hour mountain bike race, Mountain Mayhem.  Hundreds of competitors camped on site and took part in an endurance race on a ten mile course around the woods and hills within the Park and beyond. The weather was mostly dry, and not too hot, a relief for the mountain bikers if not the cold drink salesmen.

The race runs through the night, and you could see the lights traversing the slopes after dark. As the Park is not open to mountain bikes normally, this event was a good chance for riders to compete on the slopes that are reserved otherwise for walkers, deer and Land Rovers.

The organisers and sponsors did a great job, leaving the site undamaged and giving everyone a good time. It was amazing to see the range of equipment for sale and diversity of the competitors. One year, but I did not see them this time, one or two monocycles competed. When we were children, my brother and I used to ride our normal bikes in the park, with the Sturmey Archer three-speed gears. I now see why we did not get very far…           JH-B   1st July 2009

This year’s Big Chill was the biggest and best yet, with over 35,000 attending and great acts from Roisin Murphy, The Mighty Boosh, Camille and Leonard Cohen ensuring everyone had a great time.  Altogether, there were 400 artists performing across 7 arenas over three days.  There was a small traditional fun fair for children.  Even the weather was kind, despite some rain, and the festival had excellent reviews.  More day tickets were available to local people, which proved very popular.

 The Big Chill is booked again to take place in the Eastnor Deer Park on 7, 8 & 9 August 2009, and the first big acts have been announced.  They will include: Orbital, Basement Jaxx and Pharaoh Sanders.  More space will be available, and the site should work even better, with shorter distances between car parks and camp sites.

The festival will continue to be family friendly and relaxed, with a high-quality mixture of music, art and culture.  The Art Trail, which winds through a grove of ancient oak trees, will continue to be an important feature, with the chance to see the work of some of the finest young artists in the country.

We love the Big Chill.  It is exciting and fun, and it is great to see so many people having a good time at Eastnor.  Only 230 days to go……more Big Chill news to follow as it breaks.         J H-B