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Well spaced-out in a campervan is the only way to rock ‘n’roll

Well spaced-out in a campervan is the only way to rock ‘n’roll
The summer music festival season is in full swing and the Stendhal Festival in Derry has set the tone and the standard for campervan and camping facilities which are now expected as part of the festival experience.

Lisdoonvarna in 1982 was one of my first festivals. Jackson Browne headlined. The event has since been immortalised in the ballad by Christy Moore. We were camping of course. One of those orange tents with a fly sheet. The theory was that the outside layer shouldn’t touch the inside membrane and you wouldn’t get wet if it rained. I’m sure it works, theoretically.

When it rained, I mean. It’s Ireland, it always rains, especially at festivals. It’s to make sure that all us fair-haired, light skinned, freckled ones don’t get sun burnt. Music and mud were par for the course, you always brought your wellies.

Wellies are still de rigueur for the mud n’ music formula of Irish festivals, but these days, so too are campervans, caravans, and glamping. We’ve gone all posh.

Back in the days of Lisdoon I had a second hand Toyota Lite-Ace – still remember the reg, YCI 415, which I bought from Kevin Purcell. In a fashion it was a precursor to our current camper van in-so-far as it had a mattress thrown in the back and that was the full extent of the fit-out!! A far remove from our swish Vanderlust Ford Transit fit-out!!

Vanhalla is just back from a great weekend at Stendhal Festival in Limavady and we have only great things to report. The music was fabulous – with reggae legends The Wailers headlining – the set-up was superb, the vibe chilled out and friendly. I have never seen such easy-going and low-key security at a festival in all my life. The camping facilities as good as most campsites, without the electric hook up, which is understandable for a temporary weekend facility.

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From a campervan perspective the key to the success at Stendhal is the space. Lots of space, on solid ground. So much space there was no issue with setting up additional awnings, tents and wind-breaks. After the deluge of Thursday night there was a fleet of tractors on stand-by in the event of things getting soggy and bogged down, but they never had to be called upon. All vehicles were parked up with the assistance of volunteer staff on quadbikes, ensuring an orderly and spacious layout. Well-spaced out in a campervan (or caravan) is the only way to rock n’ roll!

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The Stendhal Festival in Derry is in its thirteenth year and has the novel format of running from a Thursday to Saturday, leaving fans the luxury of a lazy Sunday and plenty of time to get organised for heading home. The facilities for campers were top notch – plenty of clean toilets, fresh water points, a full range of waste disposal depots including grey water, toilet cassettes, and recycling, which were all respected. Not a cigarette butt, plastic bottle, or carton to be seen in the spic and span site when the revelry wrapped up. Sure, you still had to watch out for the occasional cow-pat, as Stendhal is staged in Ballymully Cottage Farm, nestled into the surrounding hillside panorama.

The festival venue makes the most of its expansive location and puts the natural undulating fields to use as ideal amphitheatres for its selection of stages and buzzing line-up. There’s lots of vantage points and chill out areas, and you are allowed bring in your camping chairs. If there’s one draw back it’s the dodgy connectivity which had a mind of its own, leaving some vendors to accept cash only due to the lack of reception. I will be eternally grateful to the boss man at the bar who stuck me two pints on Friday evening (as was totally out of cash and no way of getting any) on the promise that I’d pay him on Saturday when the card machines came back up. I think he was astonished on Saturday when I did duly turn up to fix up my tab, but still swore me to secrecy lest anyone thought him a softie.

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The Stendhal experience is fairly typical of festivals these days. Campervan tickets are always the first to sell out. Of course, the music matters, but the overall atmosphere, services, facilities, and family-friendly festival experience are central to positive reviews and fans flocking back year after year.

The two most successful festivals in these parts – the Electric Picnic and Glastonbury with a vast amount of expertise at their disposal both sell out each year before a single act or artist is even announced. People are buying into the experience as much as the music.

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Campervans and music festivals are all the rave

Forest Fest, which takes place in Emo, Co Laois is also hugely popular with the campervan/caravan community. Its facilities excelled and set a new benchmark last year to include free hot showers in the camping areas. This is the level of service being expected by festival goers with such an array of events and concerts to choose from each summer. The feedback from the Liberty Festival in Thurles last weekend was also hugely positive with fans on Facebook raving about the quality of facilities at the rugby grounds. The relatively new Beyond the Pale festival in Glendalough has already put its early bird tickets on sale for 2024, with its campervan tickets for next summer already completely sold out. The feedback from Forest Fest which takes place next weekend from July 21 is that it could have sold its campervan pitches twice over. Campervans and festivals are all the rave.

It’s a similar story at festivals right across the country – discerning fans are as much concerned about the standard and quality of camping facilities, food courts and refreshment offerings, safety and security as they are about the line-up.

I hope you’ve no alcohol or anything in that bag,” says the big burly security man with a beaming smile, folded arms, and Derry accent as he greeted us at the ticket check-in at Stendhal. He set the tone for the weekend. Smiles and songs all day long and into the setting sun.

Thumbs up Stendhal, we’ll be back! In our campervan of course. The only way to rock n’ roll.

PS One of the joys of music festivals is the new acts you get to discover across the weekend. In that spirit from Stendhal we can strongly recommend All Folk’d Up, Red Eye Pariah, Billie Marten, and Sasha Samara

SEE ALSO: What do you get for your Electric Picnic Campervan Pass…?

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About The Author

John Whelan

John Whelan is a vastly experienced midlands based journalist and editor who has contributed extensively to the country's leading national and regional titles, as well as broadcast outlets. He runs the media services company, Communicate Ireland www.communicateireland.ie. John is a keen camping and campervan enthusiast with an interest in music, culture, heritage and outdoor pursuits. He has written for the Sunday Times, Sunday Independent and the Woman's Way on these topics. He is also an author, and his latest book, The Last Beekeeper, reflects his love of nature, the landscape and our shared responsibility to protect the environment. The Last Beekeeper is available to preview and purchase at www.thelastbeekeeper.ie. Safe travels...

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