This is another post that has been languishing in the drafts folder for a very long time. With the cancellation of the 2020 instalment and the subsequent inability to attend the 2021 instalment (it clashes with a wedding), I thought it was about time that I finished this one off.
Let’s start with a bit of history. July 2014 saw the first Thornbridge “Great Peak Weekender”, now known as Peakender. We were there. It was an absolutely fantastic event. Free camping at Thornbridge Outdoors, a friendly bunch of volunteers directing people to their camping areas, and several bar areas with more friendly volunteers. Lots of beers from Thornbridge and some now very familiar names such as Buxton, Redemption, Ashover, Wild Beer Co and Roosters.
You bought a pint glass for a pound (I’ve still got mine) and beer tokens were 50p each. Three tokens for a half of the “normal” beers, going all the way up to eight or nine for the stronger or rarer ones. It remains one of the best beer festivals that we’ve ever been to, a great vibe and really relaxed. When the rain came, there was enough space in the bar areas for everyone. We also had time to enjoy some nice walking on the Saturday and then back for more food and drink and good music at the festival site.
Fast forward to 2015, and some changes were afoot. Camping was now a paid for option, and all of a sudden the fields were absolutely rammed with vans and tents. Queues for the many bars got out of hand very quickly, as did queues for food. There were far too many people there and it just got worse on Saturday with even more day visitors arriving. The free shuttle bus into Bakewell was also a bit of a shambles due to confusion caused by the drivers who told loads of people the wrong pick up point which then led to big queues at the correct pick up point. The food and beers were great, but the festival experience had been diminished.
In 2016 we gave it a miss.
Fast forward to 2017, and the festival moves to the Bakewell showground. Festival tickets were still free. Camping was a paid option again, but we opted to stay at a site just out of town, and cycle to and from the festival. It got muddy pretty quickly, due to the awfulness of that summer’s weather. After enjoying a bike ride on the Saturday, we soon realised that we had missed a lot of beers that had disappeared in the blink of an eye during the Saturday afternoon session. There was a lot of rain, and a lot of people sheltering in tents trying to stay warm, even though it was August.
In 2018 we gave it a miss, because it looked like it was going to be exactly the same, except you now had to pay for tickets to the festival. You got nothing in return, not even a £1 pint glass. I kept trying to find out what we were paying for, but no-one would give me a straight answer.
So now we find ourselves in 2019. Our camping equipment has been upgraded, so we decided to go for the on site camping this year and give the festival another go. The weather forecast was far from perfect, but that would fit in with our previous experiences so we were prepared.
Which is more than can be said for most people, and for some parts of the site. We arrived on Friday lunchtime and were directed to the relevant part of the showground. The rain was starting to fall so we hoped that the ground wasn’t going to be too soft to depart from on Sunday. We will return to that later.
The rain was pretty relentless on Friday. We went over to the festival area to grab some lunch and some lunchtime pints. Nice food from the Greedy Greek Deli, and lots of interesting beers to kick things off. Three bar tents this year but they were already getting busy with people sheltering from the rain. The ground was getting soft under foot, and we were only an hour in.
I had a little run in with one of the bar team who tried to tell me that Yeastie Boys were not a brewery and that Real Fiction were a brewery. No, Yeastie Boys are the brewery, Real Fiction is the name of the beer.
After a few beers, we retreated to the dry for a while and watched more campers arrive in the rain. Then there was more rain. More people arriving. More people walking up and down the main “concourse” into the festival site. More mud being churned up. More people arriving without wellies. More muddy legs. The food area was fast becoming a swamp. The tents were pretty much full of people sheltering. The bands were playing to a hardy few who were standing in a swamp.
We ventured out for some pizza and more beer and retreated back to the dry. I popped out for another beer but the relentless rain and the lack of anywhere to sit was not ideal. Luckily the beer was great and freely flowing. Many casks and kegs were kicked – if you want something specific, you had better order it as soon as you see it, because the likelihood is it won’t be there when you go back to the bar.
The rain continued. This photo makes it look fine. It was not fine.
Saturday dawned. A lot of tents had been flooded out and people were moving around in the middle of the night. We donned the wellies once more and waded through the swamp for some coffee and breakfast. The food traders were rather suffering from being in the swamp, but the mood was still upbeat despite the atrocious conditions underfoot. Allegedly a massive “swamp hoover” was coming out to pump away the worst of it, but if it did then it’s hard to see what difference it made. We did meet some owls though.
The sun shone and shone for most of Saturday. We headed up to the Monsal Trail for a wander and to earn some more beer points. We wandered into town for a bit of shopping and some lunch (better than standing in a swamp) and then headed back to site for some more beers.
Regular MOFAD companions Andy and Kerrie arrived (previous Peakender attendees too) and we found ourselves a spot to plonk our chairs in one of the tents, as more rain was on the way. We trudged through the never ending mud for food and drink as the evening wore on and we had a fun night of beer and chat.
The rain pretty much held off, but the damage had been done. The ground conditions were awful and the “swamp hoover” hadn’t done a thing. We squelched back through smashed plastic pint glasses and muddy tents.
Sunday dawned. The sun shone again. The swamp was negotiated for some more breakfast. We bimbled around the craft fair at the market, we had some lunch. We stuck around for the end of the Eroica Britannia, the bike race for pre-1987 road bikes, as our friend Dan was riding it. We applauded him and lots of others across the line. We had tea and cake.
Then we had to get out of the quagmire. After a good start, we did get stuck in one of the muddy areas, and needed a combined pushing force, returning the favour that I’d done for a few others when walking around the site earlier in the day. We got out.
So how to sum it all up. The beer was great. The food was good. The site and the organisation, much less so. The amount of rain on the Friday was unprecedented (a word that has been massively overused in 2020) but we were told that they were prepared, and that the swamp hoover would save the day. It did not. The mud nearly wrecked everything. Having friends to join in the fun with saved it from being a total washout, both literally and metaphorically.
Mango Smash was probably my favourite beer. Hopefully 2022 will be a drier summer!