Proposed relocation of the Sidmouth FolkWeek (Sidmouth Folk Festival) campsite and dance venue.

Text of a front page article in The Sidmouth Herald, 18 October 2013 (slightly abbreviated).

FolkWeek campsite to move?

FolkWeek bosses have revealed an ambition to make the biggest change in the festival's history - by utilising a beauty spot for a new campsite and venue. The mooted move would see the event leave its long-standing Bulverton base for a 13-acre site on Salcombe Hill that would be home to tents, caravans and a music and dance hub.

Organisers, who want to expand and improve what the week of festivities has to offer, hope the planned swap will become a reality in time for FolkWeek’s 60th anniversary next summer. Applications were this week submitted for necessary permissions, including details of access to and from the town using dedicated transport. Festival chiefs have vowed to consult residents, authorities, landowners and suppliers. A final decision will be made before Christmas.

"It's a landmark change," FolkWeek director John Braithwaite told the Herald. "We've been at Bulverton for as long as I know, in excess of 30 years.

"This is a big, big move for us. Nothing is signed or sealed. A lot of consultation will be done. We plan things with our customers and the people of the valley in mind."

It is proposed the town council-owned Salcombe Recreational Field becomes home to a new venue with neighbouring land - between that site and the Norman Lockyer Observatory - used for camping. The plot will have capacity for 'as many caravans as needed' - and Mr Braithwaite said around 250 were expected.

He added there would also be 'enough camping for anybody who would like to come'. The current Bulverton site can take around 1,000 tents.

"We'll know by Christmas if we are going to move in time for our 60th anniversary [in 2014]," said Mr Braithwaite. "It would be great if we could launch a new site. This unlocks one of the constraints we currently have. It will definitely provide us with comparable facilities to any other festivals. It is a very, very pretty site [on Salcombe Hill]."

He added the new venue would be the 'same size as the Bulverton clubhouse with a different format'.

A FolkWeek spokeswoman said 'The proposed site would offer a great new location for the out-of-town festival events and visitor accommodation, while keeping the beating heart of the festival in the town.'

sidmouth salcombe eddc2.jpg (73154 bytes) Showing the proposed size and layout of the dance tent for 2014 at either Bulverton or on the Recreational Field at Salcombe Hill. A clear space for dance of 420 squ metres is indicated, giving a comfortable capacity of around 350 dancers. The limit shown is 850 - not all of whom would be expected to be dancing!

One letter in the Sidmouth Herald of 25 October objected to use of this field for the festival:

I read with interest Mr Braithwaite's proposal to move the folk festival activities to Salcombe Hill (Herald, October 18).

As it would involve the use of the Salcombe Regis recreation ground I trust he has consulted with the scouts; not to have done so before going public would be a grave discourtesy.

It may not now be generally recognised that with the agreement of the trustees (the town council), the scouts were given the use of the field for 364 days a year, with the country fair having it for one day.

The reason for this was that the scouts took over a derelict field that nobody wanted – it was covered in molehills, deep ruts, and some scruffy grass, and had been used for very rough grazing; there was a broken down hut.

Now that the scouts have created, and maintain, a lovely flat field, in first class order, there is bound to be a tendency for others to want to get in on the act.

By next August it is to be hoped that the scouts' new building will be going up and that those dedicated people who give so much of their time to the scouts will be able to give an even better service to the young people of our town.

CKM Smith
Barton Close

A further 'anti' letter appeared in the Herald on 1 November with one in reply on 8 November.

Reference can be made to earlier webpages giving details of the size and capacity of the Bulverton campsite as well as to calculations showing why caravans could not safely be permitted over most of the Bulverton campsite.

The proposed new site is near the Norman Lockyer Observatory. A licensing application was submitted on 14 October 2013.

The new site includes the Recreational Field (owned by the town council) and two fields next to the Observatory. Whilst the area of land proposed for camping is much smaller than that at Bulverton it may be more usable owing to a more gradual slope and (probably) less difficult conditions in wet weather. Better layout, more efficient use of roadways and exact placement of caravans and tents may be necessary to achieve the required density.

The whole area comprises around 13 acres - although a third camping field might be added if the owner is amenable and if the festival could afford it!. A bridleway runs between the proposed festival dance field and the campsite. This will form one of the lit walkways (and bring your wellingtons in wet weather!).

A major problem could be access for caravans up the steep gradient of Salcombe Hill - it would be safer to route them from the A3052 via Thorn Park, perhaps making this narrow and little used road 'one way' for the duration of the festival. If there was any delays in accessing the camping fields, a queue of caravans up Salcombe Hill (and some towed by cars with inadequate handbrakes) could be quite interesting!

sidmouth salcombe eddc1.jpg (184146 bytes)

In terms of distance to walk into town, the proposed campsite is about the same distance as Bulverton but down (or up!) a steep, narrow, unlit but very pretty hill.

Whilst Salcombe Hill is signed as a 16% (1 in 6) gradient, a short stretch is over 1 in 5 according to the OS map. Helpfully, there is a spot height on the OS map of 172 metres (= 564 ft above sea level) which agrees remarkably well with my Sat Nav reading of 560 feet. Over a distance of about 0.7 mile the road climbs from around 35 to 564 ft. In contrast, the Bulverton site is only some 75m above sea level, so starting from in town (say 10m above sea level) the walk up to Bulverton is 75 -10 = 65m compared with a 162 m rise to the proposed Salcombe site - a ratio of 2.5. However it will feel more like a factor of 3 or 4 because most of the gradient up to Bulverton is relatively gentle - and along a lit and largely safe stretch of road.

sidmouth folkweek fields0.jpg (332544 bytes)

sidmouth folkweek fields2.jpg (219740 bytes)

It is claimed in the Sidmouth Herald article that the Bulverton campsite can accommodate about 1000 units. Industry guidance figures are 30 units per acre for touring caravans and a similar figure for family sized tents - but these are often disregarded on 'temporary' campsites. However, with an eye to the future and increasing regulation, planning the new site to be laid out systematically (as is done at Chippenham folk festival) would be a sound move. Some car parking is shown on the dance tent field - otherwise there are two large and quite flat fields to the north east of the proposed site that look tempting for a large car park.

Here are some calculations from the mudcat forum:

On the licensing application maps for Bulverton this year caravan pitches are shown as 8 by 10 metres. Allowing for roadways etc, each might utilise 100 squ metres of the available land area. That's actually generous - 10m by 10m or 33' by 33'. A caravan and a car alongside it only need 20 feet of width (+ any awning) + clearance to the next unit. There are 4047 m2 in an acre. 135 m2 per unit yields the Caravan Club and similar guide figures of around 30 outfits per acre. Maybe you'd get 50 outfits to an acre including small motorhomes that took much less space - but the required clearances should be maintained. It has been asserted (in the Sidmouth Herald article) that the site could take 250 caravans - that implies nearly 6 acres? Small tents could nestle amidst the caravans.

It is becoming clear that the expected number of caravans and tents will be accommodated on the area of land shown by ensuring that they are 'close packed'  - but having an eye to insurance requirements in view of the 'near misses' with fire and vehicles demolishing tents that have been recent incidents on the Bulverton campsite. A few years ago one woman broke her ankle in her tent falling down into a hole in the Bulverton campsite - which seems to have been getting into a worse state in recent years. Here are some comments from someone who has attended Sidmouth festival for 23 years.

I am excited about the possible move to a new campsite. I have camped on the Bulverton campsite for 23 of the last 24 years - and once on the old festival site at Salcombe Regis. The surface on Bulverton has got rougher. In 2012, after being wet in previous weeks, the surface was badly holed by cattle. It was still bad in 2013 - particularly dangerous when unseen under a ground-sheet (a few years ago a friend broke her ankle inside her tent).

The slope also presents problems for campers - unlike a van, a tent can't be levelled - you slide or roll out of bed; tables, chairs and cookers are at an angle. (
note from SeeRed author - caravans can't safely be levelled either over much of the Bulverton site!)

My concern with the new site is transport. I, like some others, used to take a bicycle to Sidmouth. In recent years I have used the bus (both the festival bus and using my bus pass on the public bus, which has stops just 400 metres from where a path off Higher Woolbrook Park enters the bottom of the campsite). I would not cycle up or down from the new site (despite having 27 gears). My concern is that the present double decker festival buses are full at peak times - and we can expect more people to want to go to and from the new site. Is the lane useable by double decker buses? The excellent Stowford Rise social dance venue is only 700 metres walk from the bottom of the Bulverton campsite. Without direct transport between Stowford and the new site: only people who are able to use a car will be likely to go there.

The last comment is significant - anyone who wants to get from the Salcombe campsite would have to use a car or face a tedious journey into town and then by public service bus out to Stowford Rise - but will campers be allowed free use of their cars on and off the Salcombe site? Other long-term attendees also have concerns over transport arrangements. This calculation is from the mudcat forum:

A peak time for public transport is at the end of the evening in town up to the LNE. There's usually at least two completely full double decker buses (100 people, yes, that's illegal!) and several less full. You probably want to move 300 people in 30 minutes. Assuming you can use 15 seaters (up to the Salcombe site), that's 20 trips so perhaps 10 vehicles managing 2 trips each.

FolkWeek management are known to be keen to attract attendees who now use non-official or commercial camping sites to use the proposed 'new' site - indeed this has been cited as a prime reason for the proposed move. Yet many people prefer the quieter atmosphere of commercial sites near Salcombe Regis. Areas remote from the dance tent may be far enough away to be 'quiet' at night - maybe! The site is also a long way from the Stowford Rise social dance venue - although the number of people who camp on the Bulverton site and attend social dances may be quite small.

Consultation is promised - which in the closed world of Sidmouth local government means letting people have their say and then ignoring any comments that are not favourable to the proposed course of action - but we shall see!

The proposed move has a number of obvious advantages and disadvantages:

The proposed new site has a larger area of land that could potentially be used for caravans, owing to a more gentle slope than at Bulverton. Indeed, much of it is almost flat. However the range of slopes on these fields needs to be checked - as has been explained elsewhere:

On very wet grass even 1 in 30 gradient (a mere 1.9 degrees) may prove impossible (for a typical two wheel drive car towing a caravan). Between (say) 1 in 15 and 1 in 25 a typical caravan could be levelled using the jockey wheel and stabilisers and if properly braked, securely chocked and on firm ground, it should be safe enough. On slopes of less than 1 in 25 there would be less need for 'belt and braces' on firm ground, but still a need for caution on soft ground, especially if tents were pitched on the lower slopes.

According to the OS map of the area whilst the areas of land adjacent to Salcombe Hill are quite flat (and the field owned by the town council is almost completely flat) the fields proposed for camping have a uniform gradient of about 10 metres over about 120 metres to their western edges - a slope of 1 in 12 and unsuitable for caravans.

It is a slightly shorter walk into town than from the Bulverton site. However, despite that Salcombe Hill carries less traffic than does the Bulverton Road there is still a surprising amount. Excessive speed along the straight stretch past the campsite will be an issue, as will vehicles going too fast down the very steep hill. In all, it is potentially far more dangerous than the walk to the Bulverton, most of which is along a well lit road with pavements.

The only safe way of getting to and from the proposed new venue will be by car or dedicated minibuses - using a bicycle could be suicidal and walking could be classed as either heroic or suicidal! It has been pointed out that the hill is far too steep for users of electric wheel chairs - and buses refuse to take these. Any vehicle such as a shuttle bus that was required to make repeated trips up Salcombe Hill would need to be in good mechanical condition!

For social dancers, it is a several miles between the Stowford Rise dance venue (near Waitrose) and the proposed new campsite.This might encourage some people to opt for local B&B instead of camping - or maybe they would use the Core Hill campsite. An important consideration might be whether use of cars on and off the new campsite could be permitted at all times (and in all weathers). If not, all campers and caravanners could find themselves wholly dependent upon the bus service. There would also be no reason for the festival to provide any bus service to the Stowford Rise dance venue - this was tried in 2013 as an extension of the Bulverton service, but was not an overwhelming success.

Comments from FolkWeek relating to "keeping the beating heart of the festival in the town" suggest there is some (understandable) concern about making the proposed new campsite and dance (and food and drink) venue more of a self contained entity with less need for many people to venture into the town centre. To some extent this happens already but the festival may split more than ever into two - younger people who centre their week around the campsite and the evening 'dance and drink' marquee and those (including social dancers) who are very much 'town based'.

Much may depend on the proposed transport arrangements including those for dealing with 'peak time' travel between the town and the proposed new campsite. For local people, many of whom use their cars to commute home and into town (where they may have reserved car parking spaces), the arrangements for car parking at the new proposed site will also be of interest.

In summary; whilst the proposed new venue overcomes many of the logistical problems of the sloping Bulverton campsite and the isolated and under-utilised Bulverton dance venue, and whilst more caravanners might be tempted to the festival campsite, the overall feeling is that it could generate a 'festival within a festival' with food and drink and entertainment being freely available and with less need for patrons ever to leave the site. For attendees who wished to travel to or from the site, the only safe or viable means of transport would be by car or minibus and this would generate problems at inevitable 'peak times'. The road is really too narrow and steep for larger buses to operate safely - but again, we shall see......

An additional problem is that the whole area is well used by tourists and local people and is dotted with woodland walks in addition to the bridleway. Other festivals have had problems with 'illegal immigrants' gaining access to campsites and staying for the duration. The large length of boundary with the public bridleway running alongside might be a security problem if the festival achieved its aim of becoming a 'holy grail' for youngsters.

The reported comment "It will definitely provide us with comparable facilities to any other festivals" seems illogical. Festivals are generally very different to each other in what they can offer. Shrewsbury Folk Festival now takes place on the 53 acre West Midlands Showground, Glastonbury has over 900 acres (often deep in mud) and the two campsites and associated car parks at Towersey Village Festival cover some 25+ acres. At the other end of the scale, the Monkton Park caravan and motor-home site at Chippenham has a usable area of around 3 acres for large vehicles and caravans. Smaller motor-homes are tucked into place alongside the riverbank. Yet as a festival centred upon both high quality ceilidh and social dance it has an enviable reputation. But nowhere else has Sidmouth's Esplanade, and guaranteed sunshine.......

As a final comment on the proposed new venue for Sidmouth - Waitrose would lose out!

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