'End of the Road' has a certain ring to it. It could almost be the title of a children's novel. If it was, you might expect a few things from it, perhaps drama, surprise, wondrous delight and a bit of magic. Well, the good news is that the End of the Road is not the setting for a work of fiction. It's real and if you go there, all of the above can be yours for you and your friends to enjoy.
Like the best of magical tales, its' beginnings are sober and mundane. It's not quite 'Second star to the right, and straight on till morning.' It's more A350, A30 then onto the B3081. Then, when you arrive, it's five quid to park. This seems a bit of a liberty on top of the ticket price, given that, where we are, there aren't a great deal of sustainable travel options on offer. The clue is in the title.
The first character I meet is, true to the script, a tad mercurial. Camping wise, End of the Road is a park then pitch affair. But help is at hand in the form of 'Mr Trolley' who will hire you said item at a rate of five pounds for half an hour, and another five pounds should you over run.
"How long a walk is it to the campsite?" I ask
"About 10 minutes, maybe longer if you're pulling a trolley." He replies.
Mr Tumnus, sorry, Trolley, has clearly been doing his maths. The clock's ticking, and I'm still in the real world.
Take the stalls, the vast majority are selling food, and the emphasis is on local, fresh and healthy. There's something for most tastes, it's a gastronomic world tour in a field. There's a food stall doing Gratin Dauphinoise, and other things that are proper French. Then there's North African, Middle Eastern, and all sorts of Asian. Then from the Americas we have Buffalo Burgers, Chilli, Tacos and Burritos. Vegetarians are well catered for, my favourite is the shockingly good value, 'Wide Awake Cafe.' True to the organic spirit of the festival, there's plenty of space to sit, to eat and to soak it up. When it gets cold and dark, they light fires and people gather round and carry on. It's Health and Safety gone sane.
End of the Road is an ideal festival to come to with a group of friends. The festival takes place on the site of an old Victorian pleasure garden which, though the Victorians are long gone, is not done with pleasuring people. There's always room to gather, and delights abound in every nook and cranny. Whether you fancy quiet space, musical space, active space, sitting and reading space, or intimate getting to know you space, all you have to do is mooch around the garden, and as if by magic, your space will appear.
The garden itself is zoned, each part offering a different feel and experience. Should you require some hands on therapy, there's the Healing Garden, where all sorts of remedies are on offer. You can get reiki, massage, aromatherapy, reflexology and much more. I come here every morning for strong coffee and a bit of cake and it sorts me out grandly, I must say.
A bit more strolling reveals another forest clearing, within which is the games area. Folks can be found here throughout the day playing board games, table tennis and jenga. On a bit further is the 'Piano Stage.' It's a set out like a forties front room complete with flock wallpaper, vintage chairs and a piano. Anyone is welcome to pitch up and play, and there's always something on the go here. From prodigiously talented children to haven't-played-in-years adults, the ivories are tickled, songs are sung, and everything gets a clap. It captures the DIY spirit of days gone by and its good to know that we the British can deliver the goods, old school, when we have to.
Elsewhere in the woods is the comedy venue. In keeping with the magic, you make your way through the trees to get there. The performers do their thing in an organic looking sheltered stage. The audience sit on an overlooking slope, among the trees, upon the vegetation. I saw Joe Lycett here on Sunday, and very funny he was. There's a full programme of top notch stand up, in addition to a book club, a story teller's club and a series of 'One Hour Plays.' You can easily spend all day here if you want to, and many do.
The Big Top Stage has an intimate, students union bar feel to it. It's a bit dark, a bit moody, and perfect for a band like Veronica Falls. What I witness during their Friday night set perfectly illustrates another important aspect of this festival, its' family friendly spirit. There's a lady in front of me with a couple of children. She clearly loves them but they're tired and she wants to get on with her rockin'. So, she lays them down, on a blanket, and covers them tenderly. They snuggle down, and within a couple of minutes they're asleep, and mum can carry on bopping about.
It's common to see children here, with ear protectors on, having a great time with their parents at the concerts. The Very Small are wheeled about in trolleys and there's plenty to do for children of all ages. Down the path from the garden stage is the pavilion. There are various workshops on offer throughout the day, quite a lot of yoga, and even the opportunity to make your own stop motion animated film.
End of the Road is fine for families and perfect with a posse, but I get the feeling you could come here alone and quickly find kindred spirits. In fact, in true Narnia style, time seems to pass at a different pace, and you could, if the magic was with you, live a compressed mini life in the space of your festival weekend. You'd meet someone at one of the many workshops, yoga or tai chi sessions on offer. Then you could go for a coffee at one of the many fine stalls around the place. Moving to the next stage, you could catch a movie. There's a cinema tent showing fine films, ranging from Ong Bak to The Princess Bride. You could get married in a woodland ceremony involving Hearne the Hunter and a bowl of mead, I'm sure someone in the Healing Garden could conjure him up. You'd take a gastronomic world tour round the food stalls by way of a honeymoon. Then, you'd head for the music and live happily ever after.
Take Friday night. The acts are as diverse as can be. I head for the loudest cheering and presently arrive at the Garden Stage to smell of coffee beans, cigarette smoke and the gentle trickling of rain. This is the stage where the music gets space to breathe. You can slosh it around your ears like a fine wine. John Grant is on piano. Intelligent, thoughtful, and with a large loyal following, he's going down a storm. In stark contrast, the Dirty Three, are on the Woods Stage. With their layers of psychedelic noise, it's like having Jackson Pollock throw a bucket full of LSD into your ears. At one point, he describes a scene of being in one of life's holes, taking a load of drugs, and realising you're in quite a good place, before introducing a song called, 'Everything is Fucked'. I briefly wonder if somebody should tell him that with ticket prices they way they are nowadays, its either a trust fund, a favourable marriage or dare I say it, a job for anyone who wants to be part of the experience. But people are having much too good a time to spoil things. Beach House headline and are on fine form, all atmosphere, mood and texture. People stand, sway and soak it up. The best thing about Friday, for me though, is Zun Zun Egui, who headline the Tipi Stage. Atmosphere wise, it's a festival highlight, they wind everyone up a treat. You don't quite know what's going to happen next. Its a musical maze of loud and quiet, consonant and dissonant, and everyone loves it.
Grizzly Bear headline on Saturday and have a bunch of new stuff on offer, which is well received by those watching. They share that that they are enjoying the experience of playing here, a sentiment widely echoed by many of the performers on the bill. Stuart Staples of the Tindersticks says something similar earlier. Their performance on the Garden Stage is a definite highlight; cheek by jowl packed, and everyone cheering them on. Clearly, happy artists make for triumphant, atmospheric gigs. The Antlers voice a similar feeling on Saturday during a performance that is one of the most talked-about of the weekend.
Down the bill, more girls are doing it their way and whipping up a storm. Abigail Washburn is a brilliant start to Saturday, before Anna Calvi sucks in a huge crowd on the Woods Stage for a mesmerising performance. She's followed by Alabama Shakes who keep the mood bubbling along nicely. Again though, it's the Tipi Stage where the real gems are found. This time its Moulettes, who play on Saturday, enthralling those lucky, or informed enough to be there.
So, the site is beautiful and the line up is top notch. On a more mundane level, End of the Road still does not disappoint. The toilets are clean and have bog roll and hand wash, whatever the time of day. The stewards are nice and believe it or not, so are the professional 'Crowd Safety' people; talk about a festival first. Camping wise, there is plenty of space and there's choice too. You can have 'general' camping, quiet camping or of course, family camping. There are a fair few showers as well.
Grandaddy close the main stage on Sunday. A lucky few get to see the brilliant Justin Townes Earlegive a surprise performance in the Tipi tent, then, suddenly, the shop keeper appears and the magic is over. Until next year.....
review by: James Creaser
photos by: James Creaser
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