Doune the Rabbit Hole

A Festival of Firsts

Nicola Biggerstaff – 21 July 2022

Last weekend, Common Weal were at the Doune the Rabbit Hole Festival in Stirlingshire. Charged with organising the Douniversity speaker’s tent, the days were full of fascinating discussion on issues from climate action to equality and social justice, and even an interpretive dance workshop! We had our merchandise on display, and donning our own ‘Rude But Hopeful’ t-shirts, we were able to spread the word about the fantastic work we do to new supporters as well as catch up with our regular contributors who popped over to say hello. My colleagues and our volunteers are an absolute credit to themselves in pulling off such a massive feat, and finally being able to see them in person again (and meeting some for the first time!) made for a fun-filled weekend, with work and play in equal measures.

I now have a confession to make: not only was this my first ever festival, but this was also my first time camping! Coming from a family of anti-campers, with not so much as a set of outdoor chairs between us, I was so excited for this new experience and being out in nature. The weather set to be glorious, I arrived with my (much more experienced) friend, her tent in tow, to the beaming sunshine and rolling hills of the Cardross Estate on Friday afternoon. She showed me how to pitch, the etiquette of respecting tent space, and no, you do not talk about the toilets. With our space established and sleeping bags unrolled, we popped over to the stall to help set up. I had been forewarned of our proximity to the truck selling churros and coffee, so I knew my willpower would be tested this weekend. We gave in after an hour and, with the stall established and food in hand, my friend and I went exploring. 

The thing that immediately struck me was the relaxed nature of our fellow festival-goers. Knowing only of the hundreds of thousands-strong Glastonbury crowds and the horror stories of the Astroworld crush and the lack of crowd control at Wireless, I was blown away by the chilled-out atmosphere hanging in the air, almost conflicting with the now soaring heat. With my history of anxiety, I was worried about being looked at, being judged, if I was wearing the right thing. I was immediately put right at ease by the array of characters who passed us by without a care in the world. Mad Hatter’s, inflatable T-Rexes, men in flowing skirts and women in suits, families in hiking gear and everything in between. Glitter, neon face paints, bandanas for miles. I had no reason to worry, I could breathe freely. By the first evening, we had given up on make-up and could not have cared less about it. All we needed on our faces was a smile, and a wide-eyed admiration of those who continued to adorn themselves in the forementioned for the duration of the weekend.

That night we headed to the Jabberwocky main stage for the headline act: Amy Macdonald, guitar in hand, blew us away with a mix of new material and the classics we grew up with. Maybe it was the atmosphere, maybe it was the warm box of rosé we cracked open in the tent a few hours earlier, but it had been a while since I had felt so at peace in myself and my surroundings. I experienced an almost childlike appreciation for the present moment. My best friend by my side, our favourite music playing over us, almost made the last two years worth it, if only to make this moment more precious. We have been out in the last few months, even been to other open-air gigs as the pre-booked, Covid-postponed events finally got going this summer. And yet, this still felt different. Being further from home, there was a detachment from the everyday stresses that awaited us on our return, and we could truly let go for the first time in a long time. The relief may have caused me to shed a tear during Run. She wrapped up her set, we shrieked in delight, and after another hour or so exploring the late night line-ups, we retired to the tent for my first night out in nature. 

A lump of solid ground runs up my spine as I hit the ground in my sleeping bag. Not a great start. I let out an unhuman yelp which sends us into fits of laughter, eventually tiring ourselves out enough to drift to sleep to the humming of the remaining acts in the distance. We’re stirred the next morning by the slowly increasing heat in the tent and open it up. Again, I’m reassured that our dishevelled state will look no less out of place than that of everyone else around us. Dogs being walked by men in pyjamas, children running around their tents in circles, to the annoyance of their parents who just need them to stand still for their sun cream. I soon forgot about the inevitable back pain and watched humanity in its purest, kindest form wandering past, all together for the same purpose: to experience life, to remind themselves of what they missed, and to see some top quality performances in between.

All the acts we saw this weekend were our first time seeing them live, and we were not disappointed. Boney M, so the history buffs in us could make an attempt to squat dance to Rasputin, 10cc, to make my dad jealous, Baccara (yes, that Baccara), whom we had stumbled upon accidentally while finding a place to sit for lunch, and Belle & Sebastian, for the sole purpose of scaring my colleagues with the realisation that we were the same age as their debut album. As well as all the others we wandered through, all leaving us with that same sense of being grateful to just be in the presence of others again. 

Being out in nature is an essential human experience. To live communally, to be in regular contact with the earth beneath our feet, helps us remember that there is more to life than desks and plastic possessions. I would highly recommend this festival for my fellow first timers as an introduction to the experience. My only regret being, obviously, that I didn’t do it sooner. That and not applying sun cream to my hair parting. 

I will always be grateful for my job at Common Weal for allowing me to experience this weekend I will never forget. Same time next year, anyone?

1 thought on “A Festival of Firsts”

  1. janine ferguson

    Reading your Doune experience, echoes my own. It was a beautiful weekend and we have already booked the early bird tickets for next year.
    It was my 13 year old daughters first festival. On arriving home, she sat on the couch and stated ‘Mum, that festival really opened my eyes to new things, I felt free’. What more can you ask for. I had the pleasure of learning about Common Weal for the first time and my eyes were opened to a new thing!

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