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Download Festival (Donington Park)
Member Name: rackerss
Download Festival (Donington Park)
Advantages: great music, great atmosphere, generally well organised
Disadvantages: loud planes overhead, no toilet paper, lack of lights in campsite
Download Festival is an annual rock and metal festival held at the legendary Donington Park (previously home to Monsters of Rock) usually in mid-June. I bought my ticket for the 2013 festival as soon as the headline acts were announced in September 2012 so had a long time to wait for it! The social media team did a great job of getting me excited through regular updates and information via facebook and twitter. They also have an app which was really good both in the lead up and while I was there. It was my first ever festival so I wasn't sure what to expect, but my boyfriend had been twice before and gave me loads of tips.
My ticket was £202 for 5 nights camping, entrance to the arena. I also forked out £12 for a locker (recommended - see below) and also I bought insurance just in case.
We arrived at 10.30am and the gates opened at 12 so there was quite a wait. With camping equipment for the weekend as well as food, drink and clothes we had quite a lot of stuff and it was heavy. The queue would inch forward every few minutes which was incredibly uncomfortable. This was by far the worst part of the weekend. I'd seriously consider investing in some kind of trolley if I were to go again as having to keep picking up heavy bags to move a few inches was unpleasant to say the least!
Once we were in we headed to Blue Campsite - there are 8 different campsites as far as I'm aware and they are all named after colours. They're all in different locations and you have to look on the map beforehand to see which one best suits your needs. The campsites fill up pretty quickly - especially the most convenient ones so it's definitely worth getting there early to get a good spot.
As I mentioned earlier I bought a locker with LockerHouse which was one of the best decisions. Everyone at Download is really friendly and I never felt unsafe, but it was nice to throw my purse, keys and phone in a locker so I didn't have to worry about it at all. They were located in the centre of the campsite and they also have electricity in them - the same as a car cigarette lighter. You can usually buy a phone charger that fits into one of these for about £5 and it was so nice to be able to charge my phone for free while I was there.
The facilities in the campsite were pretty good. Each campsite has a big block of toilets, a block of urinals and a load of taps for drinking water (or washing up). The toilets rarely had toilet paper, but other than that they were better than I was expecting. There weren't usually long queues and they didn't smell nearly as much as I thought they would.
There's also a help point in each campsite with really friendly people to help with any problems you have. My biggest issue with the campsite was the lack of lights. I couldn't see where I was going to go to the toilet at night and it was quite dangerous with guy ropes everywhere! Definitely bring a good torch or lamp!
The close proximity to East Midlands Airport means that planes are going over the campsite every few minutes. And they are LOUD. I live near an airport so I thought I'd be prepared for it, but I have never experienced anything so loud. I thought the world was ending every time one went over - and you don't really get used to it! But when you're listening to very loud rock music every day, you can't really complain about it being too noisy - it's just annoying when you're trying to sleep.
Weather obviously plays a huge part in any festival with no reflection on the festival itself. It did rain quite a bit when we were there and we were not prepared clothing wise. Macs and Wellies are an absolute necessity as well as a decent tent that won't let rain in. There are a lot of shops in the campsite that sell all kinds of camping gear and wet weather clothing, but at inflated prices so it's best to plan ahead.
You can also buy day tickets if you don't fancy camping or if you only want to see the bands on one day.
=Food and Drink=
I was incredibly impressed with the food variety here. I'm a vegetarian and I never had any problem getting anything. It was reasonably priced as well. A meal was around £5 - £10 which is a lot cheaper than I was expecting for a festival. There was every food imaginable from Mexican to Chinese to Yorkshire Puddings. It was mostly quite unhealthy, but there were some options if you're trying to keep away from really high fat foods (such as wraps with salad and yoghurt).
I know the alcohol selection is limited because of sponsoring issues, but I would prefer a greater choice. There was one choice for beer and once choice for cider as well as red or white wine and VKs in some areas. Drinking the same old thing all day every day gets pretty unpleasant, but I can't imagine this will change anytime soon! I brought a lot of my own alcohol to drink in the campsite, but in the arena you're not allowed to take anything in so it's only the options they offer.
Little snacks like biscuits or crisps were hard to come by so I'd definitely recommend brining snacks with you.
Most of the bands playing Download Festival are categorised as metal or a metal sub-genre. There are occasionally other genres playing such as punk or even electronica, but like I say, it's mostly metal. In 2013 the headliners were Slipknot, Iron Maiden and Rammstein with some of the other big names being Korn, Bullet for my Valentine, Queens of the Stone Age and Limp Bizkit. Previous years have included Metallica, AC/DC, The Prodigy, Black Sabbath and Linkin Park and it almost always appeals to a wide variety of rock fans.
I like the mix between old and new talent. Big classic names are mixed in with the new generation of metal bands to create a really diverse weekend. There are usually 4 or 5 stages with the main stage and second stage being open air and most of the other smaller stages in undercover tents and music goes on from about 11am to 11.30pm. The nature of the music means that crowds are often very energetic with violent mosh pits and lots of jumping. Everyone is really friendly though, so people help each other out if they're getting hurt.
The Arena is about a 20 minute walk from the campsite. One way to get there is across the racetrack which is quite fun. There is security at the entrance to the arena that conduct a quick search for banned materials (such as food, drink, glass, recording equipment), but this doesn't usually take too long to get through. I'd always leave plenty of time to get between the campsite and the stage so you don't miss the band you want to see!
There's a huge selection of food and drink in the arena and it's similar prices to the campsite. Alcohol is really only available from the big bars at either end of the arena - the food stalls don't serve alcohol.
The arena is huge, but still very accessible. It doesn't take too long to get between stages, but because of the huge crowds (around 90,000 people) it isn't too easy. Leave plenty of time if you want to change stages.
Other than stages and food and drink, there are also a few clothing tents selling merchandise and other clothing. The prices are usually quite high with fairly limited stock, but worth a look! There is also usually a signing tent (with huge queues) and some fairground rides. This year they also had a zipwire which apparently gave a great view of the arena and cost £15.
The main attraction is obviously the music! I found it really easy to get a good view of the stage and/or screens for every band I went to see. I am fairly short as well so if you're tall you should have no problem! The screens are placed in prime view and the footage on them captures everything you want to see. Sound quality was always fantastic - you could hear everything even near the back thanks to fantastic PAs. Some bands put on really spectacular stage shows with pyrotechnics and spinning drums etc.
=Getting to and from=
Donington Park is in Leicestershire and very close to the Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire county borders so it's a fairly central location in the country, making it quite accessible for most people.
I chose to get the Megabus to and from the Festival. The bus was £8 each way per person from York to East Midlands Parkway so a real bargain. Megabus was not the official bus partner of the festival, but it was the most convenient for me.
The Festival organised shuttle busses to and from the closest train stations (Derby and East Midlands Parkway) to Donnington Park. In 2013 it was £6 return from EMP and I believe £10 from Derby. This isn't too pricey, but you have to be careful not to lose your return ticket over the course of the weekend.
Both EMP and Derby are well connected to the rest of the country through trains and busses and East Midlands Airport is very close by if you choose to fly in.
Although I have never driven to the festival, I have been told there are pros and cons. The pros are that you can take large amounts of stuff with ease and you can leave items in your car and come back for them later which avoids my problem of lugging all my things through the long queue to get in. The cons are that traffic is very heavy around the park and there are lots of traffic jams to get in and out. I've heard of people being stuck in traffic for hours just to get out the car park! There is also the issue that everyone is drinking large amounts and so driving home on the Monday morning could be potentially dangerous and illegal, especially if you've been drinking the night before. There is also a cost to park your car in the car park.
Overall it was an unforgettable experience. Although there were some small organisational things I would like to see changed for future years, the fact is that it was organised pretty well considering the sheer amount of people and scale of the festival.
I would probably go again, depending on line-up of course, but I think I would look into the price of a nearby hotel. This is because I'm simply not a camping person and nothing to do with Download's camping facilities in particular. I would probably also invest in better waterproof clothing!
4/5 for Download Festival - recommended as long as you come prepared.
Summary: Donington Park's best
- Dacre Lakeside Park (Yorkshire)
- 5D World (London)
- Vue Cinema (Hamilton)
- Hercynian Lodge (Weston Super Mare)
- Bengal Flava (Coventry)
- Brighton Pride (Brighton)
- Chessell Pottery Barns (Yarmouth, Isle of Wight)
- Bamboo Hair and Beauty (Brighton)
- Planet Zoom at Strikes (Dereham)
- Kelynack Caravan and Camping (Kelnyack, Cornwall)