Sidmouth Folk Week 2010: Car parking and road signage.

Road signage seemed adequate except that warning signs to help protect walkers along the Bulverton Road were few and far between and there was no sign to direct drivers to the festival car park at the Bulverton if they were driving north out of Sidmouth. This was just silly - Box Office staff directed drivers from the town centre to the festival car park - how many of them missed the turning?

One man who helps run a local folk club was less than impressed with having to pay 10 to park on the cricket field - he's going to reconsider for next year! It would be interesting to know how much of this money actually finds its way back to the festival.

Car parking at the Bulverton proved to be easy this year simply because the weather was so good. The access lane had been filled in to a smooth surface (at least at the beginning of the week) and it all worked well - indeed, it could hardly have worked badly in such dry weather. However, there were a few disappointments in terms of the attitudes of stewards.

In dry weather it doesn't matter where you drive on the car park field. Straying from designated lanes can be a good thing - it reduces the damage to grass on much used areas and this can reduce the chances of a mud bath forming if it becomes wet. On one evening I parked on the end of a row of cars half way down the field. A young steward came running down (fast enough to break his ankle if he tripped?) and asked me to move my car further down the field. Why? "Because we have to keep the lanes clear" He also said something about needing to do this because of the mud - but the land was baked hard! The traffic lanes were not clearly marked, the field was about 5% full (and it was late at night with few extra vehicles expected) and parking anywhere would have been no problem at all. So, no points for logic there.

Some stewards seem to have retained their death wish from previous years. They parked cars to the inch by standing directly in front and waving them forwards an inch at a time. As with a horse, stand to the side and you may live to tell the tale. How many more times does this basic piece of H&S advice need to be given?

The second example was more tedious - I arrived late for Blowzabella, there were more cars than usual yet with plenty of spaces near the top of the field. But I was told to park near the bottom (and walk all the way back up again). Why? "Because we have to fill the rows from the bottom". Why? "Because we do" Why? Presumably because for logic to be employed at least three brain cells need to work interactively, and some teenagers seem to have only two.

In all, the parking at Bulverton just needs more common sense applied. One middle aged lady steward was very polite one evening - "just park anywhere you like in the rows except in this traffic lane" (and indicating where it was). What a pleasant change!

Maybe the lady concerned had actually read her 2010 Stewards' Handbook with the following message from John Braithwaite the Festival Director:

At Sidmouth Folk Week, we pride ourselves on looking after our guests. We want them to come back again and again, not just because they see great acts, but also because of the friendly and helpful way in which they are treated and the warm welcome they receive. Many of you are right in the front line when it comes to making that all important first impression, which will often set the tone for their week. Please keep smiling and (be) helpful all the time - our guests deserve it!

Finally, there is one delightful yet serious tale from the Bulverton car park - relayed to me third hand so it may be just a rumour. The Festival Health and Safety team apparently suggested that the entire car park field should be watered by fire crews to help prevent a car setting fire to all the dry grass and with the risk that this could spread to much of the field and to other cars.

It is actually quite a serious point: most modern cars have a catalyst of some description and these run very hot. If the engine has a misfire, quantities of unburned petrol can reach the catalyst and this will cause its temperature to rise considerably as the fuel is combusted not in the engine (as intended) but inside the catalyst. If the misfire is serious catalysts can become red hot and may be destroyed. Sometimes the catalyst can lose its efficiency because parts of it have overheated - so called 'hot spotting'.

However, the relevant point here is that even catalysts that are operating at a normal temperature can be hot enough to ignite dry grass. If there is sufficient dry grass on the field then, as with straw burning in the past, whole fields just might be set ablaze!

Towersey in 2010 presented a complete contrast to Sidmouth just a few weeks earlier: there were the usual 'unofficial' signs on approach roads directing drivers to the campsite and as usual these worked very well. Site conditions were appalling at the start with heavy rain on the Wednesday. Vehicles arriving on Thursday had to queue on the approach roads while extra metal sheeting was laid on critical areas of the field. Many vehicles had to be pushed through the mud. Later in the week, tons of shredded trees and hedges were imported (literally by the trailer load) and spread liberally on the most heavily trafficked areas. They provided a dry 'carpet' on which to walk. In all, it was not a good year for Towersey with cold winds and rain. Many cars got stuck and lorries had to be towed by 4WD vehicles through the worst areas of mud - and all this on a site that is almost level! But the land drains well - unlike at Sidmouth.

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