Being a massive festival lover (there’s probably a tiny hippy hidden within me somewhere), I ventured on my 5th consecutive trip to Latitude Festival in July this year.
I’ve been to a few festivals, including Reading and V Festival, but Latitude is by far my favourite. It’s like my happy place. It’s a festival of fairytales, the main arena being in the middle of the woods which is littered with creativity. I love the spontaneity and magic of it all, installations hidden in trees, improv performances, little nooks with sofas and tiny stages. Of course there’s also the main music and comedy stages where this year I saw Chvrches, The National, Josh Widdecombe and Reggie Watts (I’ve previously seen the likes of Elbow, James Blake, Potishead, Kraftwerk, Royksop and Robyn, Rob Beckett, Sara Pascoe and Damon Albarn. Just to give you an idea of the diverse acts Latitude hosts). But it’s the discovering new acts that I enjoy most, wandering around and taking a peek in the Cabaret tent or the Faraway Forest.
I visited Latitude just for a day this year. I’ve not braved the camping yet! I’ve previously stayed in hotels near other festivals and travelled to the site each day.
I’m not sure I’d be much of a camper anyway, but with the added thoughts of hoists, beds, electricity for charging my wheelchair and running an overnight ventilator, plus British weather…. Maybe I’ll take on this adventure some other time…. Or leave it for someone else! Anyway, I’m lucky that Latitude is close enough to home to travel on the day. Situated in Henham Park, Southwold, Suffolk, it’s just a 50minute drive.
Arriving at the site with no traffic at all (shock) I discovered the parking arrangements had changed since my previous visit. I was no longer directed to the yellow gate which directly leads to disabled and guest parking. I was sent through a red gate and led through large bumpy fields (which is my nightmare), my PA trying to drive slower than a tortoise to avoid breaking me, while a queue of festival goers built up behind us. All to be led to a parking space almost next to where we have parked for the previous 3 years! I didn’t really understand this change, as it meant disabled people had a much longer route over bumpy ground in their vehicle before parking.
Once parked it was just a few meters walk to the access wristband exchange, where we all collected our wristbands and my PA and I were given passes to the viewing platforms. (I did mention to them about the entrance difficulties and changes I found this year, they were very helpful and understanding, giving me permission to exit the yellow gate at the end of the day).
We then set off on the trek to the arena site!
This is a good 30 minute wheel at my pace because there’s lots of bumps and potholes, long grass and dirt. It would take an average walker 15 minutes I’d say. But I do have a rather fragile wobbly neck and spinal rods!
There are golf buggy stylee things which can take disabled guests to and from the arena site. Unfortunately these are not wheelchair accessible, although you could probably fold up a manual chair and transfer. For myself I’m best taking it at my own speed anyway otherwise my head could completely fall off speeding over those lumps and bumps!
I rather like the wheel, it’s all part of the festival experience. You pass the tents in the guest area, can have a nose at how dirty everyone is, and spot the contrasting tiny and extravagant tents, all the time I’m thinking my lovely bed will be waiting for me at home! I then passed the guest/vip cafe where I can smell bacon sarnies and fried eggs…. Yum. Once nearing the main festival arena you start passing things hidden in the woods. Artist painting live on large canvasses, Pamper Street on my right where festival goers are getting a massage or their hair straightening, this is the point where I start to hear snippets of music coming from various stages within the woods and the main site, different styles coming at you from various directions. I pass the Lake Stage, (a stage on the lake!) I cross a wooden slatted bridge (very large and very sturdy) with pink sheep to my right I enter the main arena.
The ground in the main arena is slightly smother, and as its a sweaty sunny day I risk releasing the neck brace! (I wear a neck support when travelling on bumpy ground or on any form of transport).
Me being an extremely, maybe overly, organised person, a bit slow due to the uneven ground, and wanting to do/see as much as possible, we’d made a plan of action the day before. Acts we would like to watch and areas we want to peruse. I’d suggest downloading the Latitude app a few days before you arrive, as you can see set times for majority of acts, save them to a list, get reminders, along with view on the map where they will be. Bearing in mind the grounds of Henham Park are enormous, the stages and areas are fairly spread out, which means you can have a nice stroll browsing stalls and activities without feeling cramp packed with people getting in your way.
However if like me and my friends you are a little on the slow side, and easily distracted by pretty things, you will need to leave plenty of time to reach your next destination.
Each viewing platform at the main music and comedy stages has an accessible loo. As does each block of ‘normal’ loos. However do bare in mind that these are just extra large (but not very large when one wheelchair just about fill it with no turning space!) porta loos. If camping then the disabled campsite does offer a ‘Changing Places’ bathroom with hoist and height adjustable bed. It would be a trek, but needs must, you could go back and use this facility when needed throughout the day. It is not ideal. But a massive step in the right direction.
Latitude at night is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. It’s also surprisingly easy to navigate in the dark as the pathways and forest areas come alight with twinkling fairy lights and light instillations.
Exiting over the same bridge we entered there are now fountains lit up with holograms, the atmosphere is busy and excited, with beer fuelled adults, families with children and teens at their first festival, capturing photos before heading back to their tents or cars.
Reaching the other side of the bridge a friend told us they had discovered a relaxing hideaway in the woods to the left. It was magical, little tents and pods with cushions to sit on, giant flower lanterns in the trees, a water feature with cosy nest in the middle you can get to via a tiny bridge (not by wheelchair unfortunately), and my favourite, wooden twine deer sculptures lit up behind the trees!
Retiring for the trek back to the car, we were sent a different route to our walk in. We were told that pathway is now ‘one-way’ and we had to go on the other path (which I knew from previous experience was a lot more difficult in a wheelchair). I queried that we had to use this route with the member of staff, but there was no budging him. So off we set into the wilderness! Neck brace at the ready!
This ‘pathway’ was very steep and had massive tree roots breaking the ground. I got my wheels stuck on these roots and slid around on the ground, luckily I had a PA and friend with me to help by giving me a shove when I got caught on a root or started to slide sideways! Which is extremely difficult (and a little amusing!) when there are thousands of other people trying to exit down the same path! I have a very hardy strong electric wheelchair which is good on bumpy terrain, yet I struggled.
Once in my accessible van, it was a pleasure and a breeze to drive through the yellow gate (which I was given permission to use even though in previous years it had always been the accessible entrance/exit!), sad to leave yet exhausted and excited to meet my warm comfy bed….
Although I came across a couple of access challenges this year, that I’d not encountered at Latitude Festival before, they added to the days laughs and it’s still my number one festival. I’m already looking forward to next year.
Bring on Latitude 2017!
Here’s what I got up to at Latitude 2017!
Photo credits: Hannah Goodson, Becky Franklin, myself
I have emailed my queries to the Access Team at Latitude Festival, and will post any updates.