Saturday review

Bestival 2004

published: Fri 24th Sep 2004

Friday 10th to Sunday 12th September 2004
Robin Hill Countryside Adventure Park, Downend, Nr Arreton, Isle of Wight.. PO30 2NU, England MAP
w/e inc. camping £85, under 16 £42.50, under 5 FREE; day £35, under 16 £17.50, under 5 FREE
last updated: Mon 1st Nov 2004

In the heart of the Isle of Wight, on a cool and breezy weekend at the finish of the busy tourist season, Bestival came and chilled.

Unfortunately we weren’t able to attend at all on Friday but arrived in my beaten up old Mini on the Saturday afternoon to quiet roads and directions away from the familiar Robin Hill entrance to the off-site car park in a rather steep and stony field. I was quite impressed with the ‘park and ride’ service which provided a double decker bus approximately every 15 minutes from the car park to the main gate. I’m not sure how I would have fared had I been camping – don’t think I’d have got the wheelbarrow and my tent on the bus very easily, but as a casual day-tripper of the worst variety, I coped remarkably well. As we drove along the road I fantasised about cable cars for Glastonbury.

After the usual gate and wristband affair, complete with sniffer dog and a group of four white vested lads being pulled for a search which they loudly proclaimed to be because of their clothing, we entered the festival via the gift shop full of the obligatory tea towels, various horrid things with ‘A present from the Isle of Wight’ stuck on them, and then a board of Bestival t-shirts. A little surreal, if you know a place fairly well, to see it full of festies. Nicely surreal though.

At the top of the site was the Temple Cocktail bar. The promised ‘100s of stripy deckchairs’ seemed to be missing but there were a few brightly painted ones dotted around. There was also the local Farmers’ Market marquee with local produce (by local people!). This whole area seemed a lot quieter than I would have expected but this was probably because it was quite a distance from the main area in the valley below. I’ve seen it as busy during the summer holidays, but with a very different crowd.

As Magnet were finishing their set we finally descended the steep hill and arrived at the main stage. First impressions were that there weren’t a lot of people but as I have only previously been to Reading and Glastonbury, I realised that this was a different kind of vibe altogether. The area in front of the stage was full of chilled and happy people soaking up the afternoon sun with a cool breeze to remind them it was nearly autumn. Hoops were hula’d with varying degrees of competence and a number of interestingly garbed people appeared to be gently leading the frivolity.

Around the sharply sloping field were many of the usual festival sights. Brightly coloured flags flew vigorously in the increasingly strong wind and outside the Cocomo Bollywood Cocktail bar, and the vibrant and shimmering parasols fought hard to keep their position over the decadent day beds festooned with relaxed and cheerful visitors.

Despite the seemingly sparse crowds, there was a great deal of activity beneath the bright blue skies and big fluffy clouds. We were accosted (nicely of course) by some false-bearded individuals collecting money for the Myasthenia Gravis Association (an auto-immune disease) ( and we learned that Gavin Stone who had grown an impressively long beard over the past year was to be shaved at Bestival by ‘a top-name DJ’. I never found out who that was.

Having parted with a few bob, we thought it was time to investigate the prices around the site. At the bar it was £3 for Kronenburg 1664 and Guinness, £4 for wine, down to £1 for soft drinks, which seemed to be in keeping with festival prices elsewhere, and only a fraction dearer than local IOW bar prices in some cases (yes I have to pay £2.70 for my Guinness!). The ice-cream vans had their prices on display (except for one) and began at £1.20 for a small cone, up to £2.30 for a large 99. No drinks prices listed, but I paid £3 for a bottle of Evian and a Coke. Again, comparable to other festival prices and it was good to see advertised rates on the vans.

The festival spirit was very much in evidence and I was really struck by how laid-back the whole place felt. Plenty of people sitting around and relaxing on the hillside or by the fenced- off lake which bore the sign “No Swimming, Sharks!”, people dancing, sleeping strolling … I wished I’d brought my watercolours. The very smiley Welfare Tent people were giving away free tissues which advertised their ‘Talk to Frank’ drugs counselling service while their neighbouring stallholder cheerfully gripped the roof of his tent to stop it levitating in the blustery wind.

At this point in our meanderings we seemed to have reached the further edge of the site and the gates to the camping area which were accessible only with camping wristbands - a sensible precaution, not only to avoid non-paying campers but also to afford greater security for those within.

After twisting my ankle in what I had at first thought to be a rabbit hole, but soon discovered was a hole belonging to the mini golf course I hadn’t realised we’d strayed onto, I bumped into a couple who live on the Island, but whom I only ever see at Glastonbury. Amazing! I don’t think they really exist except in my mind. They had come for the Saturday only, because of the music on offer, and had no plans to return for the Sunday, although they were really enjoying their day.

As the Quantic Soul Orchestra played at the other end of the field, we took in the organic sculpture of a humming bird and passion flower, watched kids play in the sand bunkers, checked out the fancy dress and the wandering entertainment (particularly liked the Insecurity Guards), played ‘was this here before Bestival or is it new?’ with some of the smaller structures, and slowly made our way across the virtually litter-free field, back towards the main stage where the hula hoopers were still jiggling about and contributing to the wonderful party atmosphere that was changing up a gear in readiness for the evening ahead. The shrooms might have had something to do with this in many cases.

the site

Again we were struck by familiar sights with a new twist as brightly garbed festies came screaming out of the woods and round the corner of the Toboggan Run in place of the usual dads and kids (with mums looking after the bags). It may sound a little odd, but Bestival really seemed to suit Robin Hill, and vice versa.

The lovely afternoon ended for us back on the bus watching, while we waited, someone being manhandled into a police van by two police officers and quite a few more in attendance. It gave food for thought as we left this peaceful and relaxed place and headed back to the car.
review by: Paula Bailey

photos by: Paula Bailey

Friday 10th to Sunday 12th September 2004
Robin Hill Countryside Adventure Park, Downend, Nr Arreton, Isle of Wight.. PO30 2NU, England MAP
w/e inc. camping £85, under 16 £42.50, under 5 FREE; day £35, under 16 £17.50, under 5 FREE
last updated: Mon 1st Nov 2004

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