Photos of the mud at Bromyard Folk Festival, September 2008 - a few cautionary tales if you are thinking of organising a festival on grass!
Towing caravans on wet grass is an art - you have to go neither too fast nor too slow. Four wheel drive is an advantage but most 'prestige' or 'city' 4x4 vehicles have smooth high speed tyres that provide little traction in thick mud. Indeed, a two wheel drive car with a good set of mud and snow tyres can outperform many 4x4s. There were many cases of embarrassed owners of £30,000 4x4s - keen to show off their machinery and getting hopelessly stuck, often because they didn't know what they were doing. The main entrance to the top field provided good examples of sideslipping - where vehicles crab sideways under tow in response to transverse forces that tyres are usually well able to resist.
On the final day, many car owners needed to find their front towing attachment. On modern cars this is usually a 'screw-in' eyebolt supplied with the jack and wheel wrench. One lucky owner of a Honda Jazz found hers quite easily (after I told her where to look) - and it screwed straight in. Another Jazz owner found that the thread in her bodywork was so corroded the eyebolt refused to screw in. It took me more than half an hour to clean out the thread (using oil from her dipstick and tools from my car) before she could be towed out forwards.
Some cars had to be towed out backwards using rear fixed towing eyes - an experience their owners would probably prefer not to have to repeat.
A couple of modern Fords proved interesting - one girl couldn't find her towing eye, but she had a friend with a similar car. However, Ford had chosen to make two (or more?) different sizes of left hand thread towing eyes - so you need the exactly correct part - and because the thread was left hand no normal bolt would fit either.
|Camping was on three fields, A,
B and C.
Field A was highest but was poorly drained. I chose this because it was closest to the football club (hot showers and hot water on tap!) and also because it was close to the ceilidh tent.
Only two other caravans made it onto field A before it was declared off limits. The lower part of area A was akin to marshland - as one of the festival directors found out when he tried demonstrating the off-road capability of his prestige 4x4. Some people seem to become folk festival directors because they need an excuse to justify the ownership and use of a macho 4x4.
Exiting from area A become difficult because the gateway was narrow and the ground sloped sideways. This would have been no problem on hard ground (vehicles would go where they were pointed) but was a problem in deep soft mud.
Most caravans and motorhomes were supposed to go on area C which is a low lying field that had been underwater during the previous week - the river runs alongside! However, it was constructed as a football training field and is well drained.
Area B was mainly tents - very wet but largely flat.
|Friday started out bright and
sunny. More fine weather was forecast.
I managed to pitch my caravan (left of picture) without assistance - but it was a close thing with wheels slipping all the time on the heavy morning dew.
Go too fast and wheels will dig deep ruts - and then stall.
Go too slow and the vehicle will lose momentum over any small bumps and then stall.
|The entrance to the top field
on the first day.
With only a few vehicles on site, the area around the entrance was already becoming impassable except for 4x4 vehicles.
And the mud was becoming so slippery that even 4x4s exhibited wheelspin.
The technique at this stage was to take the entrance at a moderate speed - fast enough to get you over the worst area.
Volunteers then helped by leaping from the sidelines - no-one seemed to bother with 'Elf and Safety. No reflective or hi-viz jackets either!
It worked for a short while but a violent rainstorm early on the Friday evening waterlogged much of the ground just as many people were arriving.
I spent a couple of hours snoozing.
|View of the same mud as above.
Although the ruts were not deep at this stage the ground was becoming somehow emulsified into a thick semi-liquid paste having remarkable non-grip properties.
For a while, 4x4s were used to tow new arrivals into place.
The bottom area of the field contained a particularly boggy area.
A large 4x4 became stranded for some time....
|£30,000 worth of motorway 4x4
proved almost useless in negotiating the thick sticky mud, even on the first morning.
This vehicle, driven by one of the festival directors, had to be rescued.
A few days later, he confessed that this was the first time on this site that things had been so bad and that "they had learnt a lot about how to do it next time".
|A home from home, surrounded by
a wide muddy track.
Fortunately the track was passable all weekend in wellingtons or stout shoes.
I kept my car and caravan coupled up - thus aiding subsequent escape.
After three days, the car wheels had sunk an inch or so into the ground - whilst the caravan was still supported on its stabilisers.
|After the Friday evening
rainstorm, the undisturbed grass was very squelchy but passable with care on foot.
By Monday morning it was becoming firm again.
|Thick sticky mud at the bottom
of the main camping field on Sunday afternoon.
Anyone who walked here sunk down about 125mm (5 inches).
The trick seemed to be to keep moving - if you stood still for any length of time, your boots were difficult to release from the mud that had enveloped them.
Tractors had difficulty changing direction and the rims of car wheels disappeared from view.
|Abandon hope all ye who enter
A small amount of rain had much rejuvenated the mud - just in time to inconvenience the many people who wanted to leave on the Sunday afternoon.
Staying until mid morning on the Monday proved the best course - but many people had to get back to work - poor things!
Novice tractor drivers received extra tips for going slowly around corners.
|Part of the main picnic(?!) and
Water run-off created an area of mud that was so liquid it slowly flowed back into place after being disturbed.
Fortunately the organisers had laid grid roadways to take vehicles down into the main camping areas (B and C).
These grids worked very well - despite becoming submerged in places.
|The main caravanning field,
Despite being at the bottom of the site (and covered in up to 300mm of flood water the week before!) it drained well owing to having been constructed as a football training area - with a matrix of underground drainage channels.
Needless to say, the churned up roadways became impassable even to 4x4 vehicles.
The temporary roadways worked very well - but first you had to get to them!
|Camping area B, Sunday
If you tried to take this corner too fast you just went straight on - even in a tractor.
The mud was still too liquid for deep ruts to form.
|Area A on Sunday afternoon saw
the mud at its worst.
Applying full opposite lock in an attempt to get a car correctly aligned for the gateway.
This car was being pulled around a right hand curve, despite the steering wheel having been turned fully left.
Steering was ineffective because the wheels were being dragged sideways through the mud rather than being able to turn.
|The top field on the final
departure day (Monday).
After some good weather overnight, the ground was much less of a problem than on the Sunday.
The mud was now much firmer and the ruts near to the gateway became so deep that vehicles being towed out 'planed' the peaks with their undersides.
|This was the easy bit.
Provided that at this point your car wheels were firmly located in the main ruts then no matter which way you turned the steering wheel the direction of travel was largely determined by the towing chain and the deep ruts - the wheels being unable to move out of these.
folk club pages
folkdiary for 2016